“If it’s true for you, that’s wonderful; but I hold to a different truth.” That is fine when we are talking about which running shoes are the most comfortable. But when we are talking about which standards will bring peace to our communities, we cannot afford to treat the idea of truth so frivolously. Whatever truths we are designing or picking out for ourselves are not building a peaceful society.
Many have placed their trust in the wisdom of the masses: “society” determines what is right and what is wrong. After all, when we are the only ones holding onto an old standard, it becomes intimidating when society assigns our beliefs an unflattering label. Being principled does not seem virtuous if we differ with society’s current mores. Indeed one who was once considered principled, can now be considered intolerant. From society’s definition of compassion, we trade moral standards for a relativistic truth: if it feels good to you, then follow your heart. This way, truth (what is good) becomes relative, dependent upon the beliefs of individuals and their societies.
The problem with relativism has been clearly spelled out far more eloquently than I could ever hope to write. I discovered this blog last week: http://www.allaboutphilosophy.org/absolute-truth.htm However, I would like to add examples based upon what we are witnessing through news sources. I argue that relativism forms the basis of hopelessness and violence.
The most obvious example is ISIS. ISIS could be described as a very loosely connected society at this point. Their actions, their truth, is molded by their society’s interpretations of Islamic law. If truth is truly relative to individuals (and majorities within societies), how must we respond to ISIS beliefs if we are to be consistent? Should we say, “If it’s true for you, that’s wonderful; but I hold to a different truth?” We could argue that they violate our current standards of morality but there does not seem to be a tie-breaker in that standoff.
Another example where relativism fails is when individuals determine standards of entitlement. I deserve to be respected. I deserve to be happy. I deserve to be paid. When one feels entitled to X and someone is keeping them from having X, then it seems reasonable to react. When one believes (a person) should have X and someone is keeping (that person) from having X, then it seems humane to fight for X. But if all truth is relative, then how do we determine who is entitled to X and who is not? The natural response to injustice is frustration and anger. If appropriate response to such feelings is determined by the majority in a society (or the majority of a sub-society), it seems logical there would be violence. If there is no absolute truth maker, then to whom can we appeal? If justification for violence is relative, logically, there will be more of it.
The ad hominem about rules made by “old dead white men” has been powerful enough to intimidate many into abandoning ancient religious creed, and few seem to be reflecting on the alternatives: rules made by arrogant young men and women? One could argue we are evolving into a higher order of understanding, so we need to change the rules to match. But the evidence does not point to improvement in terms of peace. When we determine what truth is and then sway the masses, we set ourselves up as the rule-makers to which others bow with pressure. Old dead white men called that idolatry.
In arguing that there is absolute truth, I agree with the premise of All About Philosophy that we should use reason and logic to find the source of absolute truth. As I reflect on the horrific violence that appears to be escalating, I pray for peace. In order to do that, I have to believe there is a rule-maker that is greater than myself. I have to believe there is a being who is wiser and has standards of benevolence and justice that are based on wisdom beyond what I can come up with. In order to make sense of that, I have to give up my own idols and be willing to quest a source of supremacy. I believe when relativists think through their belief system and find themselves on the throne, there is a sense of hopelessness. When we have no solutions, it is humane to long for a real source of redemption and rescue. I believe in providence I believe in absolute truth, and I will continue that pursuit. There is a whole lot of peace in that quest.