Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Playing The Absolute Truth Card

I suspect that many people who play the Absolute
Truth card may actually fear truth.  If they play
the card, they don't have to think about the
argument of the opposition.
Absolute Truth is a concept that is very big in conservative Christian circles. Actually, let me clarify, it is a very big phrase. It's use rarely goes past the phrase. It is more like a card played, than a concept wrestled with. It is often used as the antithesis to relativism (I don't think they are opposites, by the way).

I was commenting on a friend's facebook status when the Absolute Truth/Relativism dichotomy was brought up. The author made the point in reference to a discussion on tolerance saying, "tolerance is now interpreted to mean that all ideas have equal value and that there are no absolutes; big problems there".

I responded:

"I don't see it as all ideas have the same value, but rather that all ideas get the same starting place. Each player comes into the game with "10 dollars" and you have to hold and/or build your ground from there. This is such an adjustment of position for many Christians in America that they often see this as a bad thing or themselves as persecuted. When they came into the game before, they were given favored status and a higher position. It was assumed that theirs was the correct position. Now they come into the game having to stake their territory like everyone else. Christians used to be able to presume that their position was absolute... it was granted by default. Now they have to put up or shut up.... this is tremendous culture shock. Many Christians are rising to the occasion, while others are having a temper tantrum."

As I look back over conversations when I have heard the absolute truth card played, I suspect what is really being stated is a longing to return to a time in America when Christianity was the dominate voice. - When we didn't need to work so hard at developing a good argument. - When it didn't matter how we lived, because it only mattered what we said.

Do I believe there are things that are true regardless of what I think? Sure. But I have no idea what those are and neither do you. We can drop 5 people in a room who feel they have the absolute true position, even though they all disagree with each other. In that moment, from our perspective, those truths have ceased to be absolute.

I appreciate N.T. Wright who said in a teaching (I paraphrase) - I suspect that at any time a good third of my theology is wrong, the problem is I do not know which third it is.


Brandon said...

Awesome post! How can anyone really know for sure what it absolutely true. And even if it's true in this moment, has it always been true and will it always be true? Who is to say?

Sammy said...

This is why I absolutely hate it when a Christian group claims they have the absolute truth. Every group which makes that claim cares solely about believing in the right doctrines. Anyone who believes differently is unsaved. That seems quite arrogant and narrow to me.

For most of the US's history, Christianity was rarely challenged. As you said, they presumed their position is absolute. They aren't used to having to defend themselves. Plus, I think more and more people are realizing that "we have the absolute truth and if you want to be saved you must unquestionably believe in all our doctrines" is silly.

I don't really care what someone believes. I care about how they treat their fellow humans.

Don said...

The older I get, the less I find that I "KNOW". I keep moving "knowns" to the "I'm not so sure anymore" column. Oh yes, and the "unknown" column has grown geometrically!

And, you know what, I absolutely love it that way! It's what keeps me on my journey!

Bruce said...

Great post Andrew. I am in the midst of a long discussion on my blog with a young man who is certain he is certain. :)

Like Don I have lived long enough to know I don't know much and I am more full of s**t than I like to admit.

Ryan said...

I agree with you that there is no such thing as "absolute truth", since it a convention of Modernism and essentially means "truth which cannot be doubted". Deconstructing any claim to truth is possible (even this very statement!) to the point of taking an idea of truth on faith that it actually IS true, but that of course assumes the ability to understand and "know" truth resides solely within us and cannot come from an external source. While all truth claims can be doubted I don't think that means all truth is relative and subjective (I think this is what you're saying, too, or am I misunderstanding?).

Lesslie Newbigin has a great book entitled "Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship" that I highly recommend. He tears down all the Modernist ideas that so many Conservative Christians use to support their views and shows how those ideas really are NOT based upon the revelation of Jesus Christ. That they really come from a Modernist paradigm that has weakened Christianity in America.

Anyway, interesting topics and good conversations :). I suspect "truth" and "knowing" will continue to be hot topics in the future, which sounds fun to me!

Andrew said...

Thanks Brandon. I agree, the books should never be closed on a topic.

Sammy - Yep... nowadays theology is fun for wrestling with friends over coffee, but at the end of the day it is how we treat people that matters.

Don - the categories never get settled... I think it is the settledness that appeals to fundamentalists.

Bruce - It does amaze me that folks get to our age and remain so narrow. Life teaches another lesson.

Welcome Ryan! Thanks for commenting

It sounds like we are on a like path. I don't think all truth is relative, but I do think that the whole discussion of absolute and relative truth is a bit of a distractor. It tends to lead people off topic from evaluating the ideas being discussed. To me, that is the most important point - the idea being discussed. When absolute truth is brought in I usually find it is being used for one of two things: divide the group into teams or to make a topic untouchable (we may consider points a,b,and c, but item d is a no-no).

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