Is it not precisely the height of arrogance for Christians to proclaim to know the truth? It amounts to declaring that everyone who holds a contrary opinion is objectively wrong... and surely everyone in enlightened society is well aware by now that notions of truth, especially those pertaining to spirituality and morality, are far better thought of in relativistic terms... right?! When Christians, or other deluded folk, obnoxiously claim exclusive hold on absolute Truth, Kahlil Gibran's quotation:
is surely the reasonable response of any sensible person! Or is it? And should it be? Obviously, I am loathe to think so; though should you disagree, you would far from be alone in doing so.
In our day, notions of moral and spiritual relativism are pervasive and ubiquitous. Our inability to completely understand anything in our universe leads us to the conclusion that we cannot know absolute Truth; if there even exists anything concrete to know. It is less than clear, therefore, how we ought to adjudicate the altercating opinions of extraordinarily intelligent people to determine answers to fundamental issues (like the origin of the universe, how life came about and persists, let alone morality). From this stems the notion that there does not exist any absolute framework by which to measure truth, and so it is merely a personal decision as to which standard you should adopt; each just as worthy (if not as profitable) as the others. Needless to say, this is somewhat contrary to Christianity's, and indeed most theologies', claim that there exists an absolute standard of right and wrong; an underlying universal Truth.
Relativism, though, is scarcely an invention of modern times; and indeed, it dates back many thousands of years 1. It is the opinion of the author that often relativism is used to avoid commitments, which might otherwise have been imperative should an absolute truth have been established. For example, if it were determined that there was existed a God who will condemn all who play golf, relativism might be used to excuse oneself from transgression: "How do we know if such a God exists anyway... it's probably not true, and so I'll play golf irrespective." Indeed, this may well have been the intent of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who authorised the crucifiction of Jesus after being inundated with a mob of angry Jews (stirred up by the religious leaders of the time):
The trouble with relativism, though, is that there is no rational basis for doing anything. Consider morality, for example. What is fundamentally wrong about the murder of another, unless there is some absolute universal truth that sanctifies human life? What about rape? Or exploitation? One can claim that laws (implicit or explicit) can be developed to help the "majority" of society; but that does not provide a reason to submit to such laws, or that such laws should exist, or who should enforce them. One can also try to explain why humans feel innately that these things are wrong because of evolutionary principles, but this still does not satisfactorily answer the 'why should I submit' question (and does not really justify the innate conscience anyway 2).
I am not claiming, however, that atheists (and other non-Christians) are amoral. As a Christian I believe God to have created us as moral creatures; and a failure to consciously recognise God and/or absolute Truth does not change that. In fact, such people are often just as moral and just as good as Christians. There are of course, many immoral (not amoral) aetheists; and indeed many immoral things have been done in the name of Christ (often by people who have only nominal allegiance to Christ).
Of course, if indeed there does not exist a God, and we therefore will not ultimately stand in judgement for all of our deeds/thoughts/etc, then relativism makes perfect sense; for if there is no entity with the innate authority to be absolute judge/arbiter/interpreter, then there cannot be an absolute moral standard. There may of course, still be an absolute Truth (that being that God does NOT exist); but as stated from the outset, relativism cannot make so strong a claim. If we do not like the non-existence of a God, that would just be our tough cookies.
But what if a God does exist? If a God exists, who will preside as judge over us when we depart this world (eg: Hebrews 9:27Hebrews 9:27
English: World English Bible - WEB
27 Inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once, and after this, judgment,
WP-Bible plugin), I am sure most of you would agree that there is an absolute moral standard underlying the universe. That is, as part of God's creation, we are subject to God's moral code, and the underlying Truth that pervades the universe is the existence and presence of God. Scripture makes just such a claim. We read in the Bible that God identifies Himself to the Israelite people as:
Attesting to the fact that there is simply nothing else to which God can compare Himself. He simply... IS! He IS that underlying Truth. Similarly, in addition to what Jesus said to Pontius Pilate, he makes several claims about truth. Among the better known of these includes:
That then, is one of the remarkable claims of Scripture: God exists, and will judge every single person... and it is a singularly remarkable claim! How do we know that it is true? How do even begin to start seeking it out? Knowing the limitations of human thought and observation; the only way that we could hope to know what underlies the universe is if someone/something else (bigger than us, and presumably outside of the universe) tells us. But... I will leave off this path of thought until a later article: "Objection! The Existence of God". For now, though, we leave the investigation of whether God exists, and return to the question with which we began: "Is it not precisely the height of arrogance for Christians to proclaim to know the truth?"
Firstly, we must remind ourselves of what Christians mean when they say they know "the truth". They mean that they know God; that He exists, and something of His character and role in the universe; and in the very least, that He will stand as judge over all of mankind. They claim to know this because of what is revealed in the Bible, and sometimes even by direct revelation. If they are right, then their claim is uniquely right. Either this God exists, or He does not; and if he exists, then it is universally true for everyone, whether they want to acknowledge it or not.
They do not mean to claim that they know everything. Whilst they believe they have answers to the most important questions, they also understand that their knowledge and understanding of God and His world is incomplete; just as although I know the appearance of my dear Mum, and her character, I do not know her every thought, or deepest secrets. One day, though, they are assured that they will know God much more intimately (eg: 1 Corithians 13:12).
So, is it the height of arrogance for a Christian to claim to know the truth? I think not. God has called them together to be His people, and His people (the Christians) are simply humbly stating what they know (or believe) to be true; and not just for them, but for all mankind. Indeed, upon beholding their blessed assurances of the unspeakable joy of knowing God, and living a meaningful and purposeful life, it would surely be the height of arrogance to withhold that truth from others; seeing as that God had not withheld it from them.
The trouble, then, seems that people do not want to be told what Christian's hold to be the truth. Are you such a person? Is it because you want to be "free" to lead your own life however you want? I tell you most vehemently that there is no true freedom in that. Or is it because Christians, or their religions, have hurt you before? I tell you that truth does not change just because its messengers are fallible. Or is it because you doubt it could be at all right? I challenge you to consider again the radical, but in my humble opinion well-supported, claims of Christianity... because it matters. It matters if you will stand before God. It matters if there is an absolute moral standard by which you will be judged. And it matters if He loves you, and you were designed to be the receiver of such love.
In the words of Sir Winston Churchill,
Will you? Are you prepared to seek humbly for the Truth, and then submit to it? And if you find that its not what you wanted, are you prepared to change your views? I, at least, will ever try to be one of those who study the truth I am fortunate enough to stumble upon; and then to live my life according to my best understanding of it.
May we all come to know, as I do, the wonderful existence, love, grace and favour of the Most High God.
God bless you,
- I do not wish to go into this in any great detail, but Wikipedia has a good starting point for this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_relativism#History ↩
- A good starting point for an investigation into this is Timothy Keller's "Reason for God". ↩