Is there objective truth? Is there a proper way to live? Is there right and wrong? Beginning with Socrates who answered “yes”, and witnessed to his philosophical convictions and what he taught with his life. We might call what Socrates witnessed to “ethics”, but what if the requirement were/is stronger? The antithesis of a belief in objective truth is relativism.
There are no facts, only interpretations.
—Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power
If relativism signifies contempt for fixed categories and [for] men who claim to be bearers of an external objective truth, then there is nothing more relativistic than fascist attitudes.
—Benito Mussolini, Il Duce
As a rule, only very learned and clever men deny what is obviously true. Common men have less brains, but more sense.
—William T. Stace
“What is truth?”, Pilate asked. -Jn 18:38
Whether you know it or not, you have a philosophy. No, really. Whether you want to acknowledge it or not, you do. I do. Everyone does. As the maxim goes, “Actions do speak louder than words.” Our every action, our every choice, our every thought, our anxieties, our fears, our dilemmas, what we rejoice in, what we cry over, what we love, what we despise, all reveal our most intimate philosophy each of us has internalized and adopted, consciously or unconsciously. Really. Honestly. Pardon, or don’t, the expression, “God’s honest truth!” or, popular too, “And that’s the Gospel truth!”, when we really want someone to believe us. Funny, no?
Relativism is deemed necessary to preserve peace and equality in our diverse world. It’s widely accepted because it is rarely scrutinized. It is simply assumed to be true, since it’s cheap, and it’s easy; certainly easier than thinking, seeking the more profound, the truth. I have a thing about cheap…and easy. You truly do reap no more than what you sow in this life, at least. Truly. Cheap love, cheap faith, cheap grace, cheap hope, cheap relationships, etc. I have a thing about cheap. Relativism sounds good – like free money. Just one teensy-weensy problem. You knew that was coming, didn’t you. Didn’t you? It doesn’t work. Relativism is intellectual alcoholism or drug abuse. It is easier, at least it seems initially, to anesthetize than to live life soberly, or in the case of relativism to look the Truth dead in the eye…and deal. As you may know, I have a problem with the Truth. I like it too much.
The one dogma of Relativism is that it is absolutely true for everyone. And, there we go. It contradicts itself from the beginning. Ooops. Problem. Think. Think. Think. Quick, think. Think fast! But what about science? Relativism says, “ONLY scientifically verifiable statements are true!” (Whew! Almost got caught there!) Except, the previous statement is scientifically unverifiable. Think about it. Science never claims ONLY what can be proven through repetitive experiment is true. Where would that leave new, yet undiscovered knowledge? False? Never. That would be a fantastic and ludicrous scientific statement, take it from a professional applied scientist. Science says what can be proven through repeatable experiment MUST be true. Science DOES NOT claim the contrary. Anyone telling you differently is lying to you. Trust me. I studied this stuff and practice it every single day. Trust me. In fact, science leaves completely to mystery the more important questions in life, much more important.
People say, “Show me God!” I say in return, “Show me love. Give me a pound of love. Show me hope. What is its volume? Show me trust. What is its mass?” Why is an ineffable God such a stretch? People live in and through, literally, Hell (on earth). Why is a metaphysical Hell so far fetched? What’s the great leap of faith on that one, seeing constantly around us physical Hells through pain, suffering, disease, discrimination, violence, injustice, etc.?
I have a theory, and some of my saint friends would seem to support me. I think Heaven or Hell begins in this life. Just whiffs, but through the mystery of free will (I am fascinated by the theological implications of man’s free will and God’s gift of it, the questions seem to ALWAYS come back to it) we do start to choose here in this life Heaven or Hell. God does not sentence us. No, if truth be told, as Matt defines truth, God help us all, in this life we choose our own eternal disposition, or at least we begin to. Beginning here and now, in this life. Not sure if that is theologically sound, or if that would merit a Nihil Obstat or Imprimatur, but as a Catholic expressing a personal opinion, neither do I require either. Trust me, I checked.
So, if Relativism, albeit intellectually and certainly morally is easy and cheap and untrue, then, logic goes, there MUST be something true? I love Pilate’s question. I have spent quite a bit of time meditating on that one over the last couple of years. Quite a bit of time. That passage of scripture calls to me. It calls to me.
Pilate would fit perfectly in the 21st century, no? A realist? A cynic? A secularist? A man “with a future?” One of “our kind of people!” A company man? You can see why he was hired, no? But then again, you can see why the most notorious Nazis and Communists were hired, too, no? I meet Pontius Pilates constantly, constantly. Disinterested in anything but self-interest. Too many of them. Too few Christians. Oh, they have the t-shirt, but love is more than a t-shirt you don’t know what it says or means. You just wear it, cuz you’re “supposed to”. Habit. Constantly, constantly.
Since Relativism doesn’t work and is incapable of being consistent, I then find “selective relativists”. Strongly pro or opposed to certain topics, but indifferent to other, morally related grave issues. They like what they like, whether they know why or not, and damn it, that’s it! Brilliant. Just ‘effen brilliant. Constantly, constantly. There’s a joke I heard once about opinions. They’re like (posterior orifice of the body, I cleaned it up), everybody’s got one and they all stink. So, my thing is informed opinion. My opinion is you are entitled to your opinion if it is rationally, not polemically, informed. And, you better be able to back that up, at least around me. Call me unreasonable.
My deeply Relativist friends stamp their feet in tantrum saying, “You’re entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts!” I say OK and show them the facts, which makes them furious. Somehow, I’m the bad guy. Somehow. How such conclusions are reached in a mind with an intellectual darkness and confusion I, gratefully, do not believe I am burdened with? Amazing. Mystery. Mystery. I know how. Remove the facts which do not fit your predetermined conclusion, and “it’s all good!” Stupid. Insane. But, that warm self-satisfied, hearing-what-you-want-to-hear feeling is a narcotic. I like it, too. Except, I believe I can sense the difference between cheap-and-easy and truth. You can tell it’s the truth, because it’s harder. The truth is always hard, no? Usually, it’s the hardest answer to accept. That’s how you know it’s the truth. Because of what it asks of you. We DO NOT WANT to hear that answer, trust me, but we MUST. If we can accept the Truth, I hear, the rewards are not bad. Even in this life…and, inevitably, in this life, the Cross, too. Always. Ultimately. Inevitably. If you are a disciple of the Truth.
“What is truth?”, Pilate asked. -Jn 18:38