by Dr Steve Kumar
In 1984 our world was horrified by the tragic news of the Avianca Airlines jet that crashed in Spain. But even more disturbing was the discovery of the reason for the accident. Investigators discovered that the “black box” cockpit recorders revealed the shocking truth. Just a few minutes before the tragedy, the computer-synthesized voice from the automatic warning system announced, several times, “Pull up! Pull up!” The pilot however dismissed the warning as malfunctioning, and said, “Shut up, Gringo!” and turned off the system. Moments later the plane crashed into the side of the mountain killing all on board. When truth is ignored our lives are at risk.
The search for truth has always been in the forefront of the thinking mind. The French philosopher Michael Montaigne once observed, “Man is born to inquire after truth.” The ancient philosopher Plato expressed it eloquently when he said, “Just as our heart is designed for love, our mind is designed for truth.” His student Aristotle, said, “A friend is Plato but a greater friend is truth.” Truth is vital to existence. Truth matters to the human race! But is there such a thing as absolute truth? Can we really know the truth?
Sometime ago a group of students were invited to the White House. A spokesperson, in a carefully prepared speech, advised them to be good and moral, not to rob, get involved in drugs or bomb buildings. After the speaker had finished his speech, a student from Harvard asked, “Sir! Can you please tell us on what do you base your morality?” The official was puzzled and replied, “I’m sorry. I don’t know.”
The twentieth century provides many attractive ideas to the curious minds but the most subtle of all is the idea that there is no absolute truth. Allan Bloom, the philosopher from University of Chicago, reports in the opening pages of The Closing of the American Mind that “there is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of, almost every student entering the University believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.” “We are caught up in a revolution,” observes Dennis McCall which is ushering in “a cultural metamorphosis-transforming every area of everyday life as it spreads through educational movies, television, and other media.” A case in point is the Howard University professor Jane Flax, a radical feminist, who opposes conventional beliefs about truth, logic, knowledge, personality and language. Following other post-modernists she is crusading to replace it with radical feminism, multiculturalism and relativism. This new wave of thinking is radically transforming our large universities, including Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Northwestern and others.
REVOLUTION AGAINST THE TRUTH
During a recent Harvard graduation address one student said, “I believe that there is one idea, one sentiment, which we have all acquired at some point in our Harvard careers–and that, ladies and gentlemen, is, in a word, confusion. They tell us it is heresy to suggest the superiority of some value, fantasy to believe in moral argument, slavery to submit to judgement sounder than your own. The freedom of our day is the freedom to devote ourselves to any values we please, on the mere condition that we do not believe them to be true.”
Historian Arnold Toynbee points out in the study of history we are the first of twenty-one civilisations to attempt “civility” without a moral reference point. Our post-modern age finds the idea of relativism very attractive. A number of recent movies The Mission, At Play in the Field of the Lord, The Black Robe, Do the Right Thing, and Dances with Wolves, portray Christian mission or western culture as guilty of cultural imperialism. The lyrics of musical groups like Offspring, Nine Inch Nails, Green Day, Bash, Nirvana, Hole, Live, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and many others express postmodernist cynicism.
One day a rabbi, a priest, and a liberal minister were discussing the nature of truth. The rabbi said, “I speak according to the Law of Moses.” The priest declared, “I speak according to the tradition of the church.” The liberal minister said, “It seems to me. . . .” Here we have classic relativism. According to relativism, moral judgements are individual opinions with no validity for anyone but oneself. The Encyclopaedia of Philosophy defines relativism as “the view that what is right or wrong and good or bad is not absolute but variable and relative, depending on the person, circumstances or social institutions.” In the words of Hamlet, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” What is true or right for one person may not be necessarily true or right for another person. Relativists insist truth is not based on a fixed absolute external reality but is decided by a group or individual for themselves.
Oscar winning actress Shirley MacLaine declares, “Everyone has his own truth, and truth as an objective reality simply does not exist.” Popular New Age guru Joseph Campbell teaches, “The person who thinks he has found the ultimate truth is wrong.” It is no exaggeration that many describe our century as the age of the Death of Truth. The spirit of relativism is the major force behind the rejection of absolute morality. It is the backbone of radical feminism, the liberalisation of homosexuality, euthanasia, the rejection of Christian particularism and the promotion of deconstructionism. The crisis of the West is the crisis of Truth. The tragic reality of our time is not the lack of knowledge but the rejection of Truth. Truth today is relegated to technology, beauty is confined to the beholder and goodness is ridiculed night after night as millions are idiotized before a box. We have become expendable entities in a disposable world. As we sink deeper into the abyss of nihilism there is still time for us to reflect and return to God’s transcendent Truth. While postmodernist prophets like Richard Rorty and Stanley Fish and others argue that “the truth is there is no truth,” what should the disciples of Christ say to our post-modernist prophets of despair?
For the modern mind the final truth is there is no final truth. Jean-Paul Sartre, the existential atheist, promoted this idea in the Sixties: “There was nothing left in heaven, no right or wrong, nor anyone to give me orders. . . . I am doomed to have no other law but mine. . . . For I . . . am a man, and every man must find his own way.” Michael Novok, in his Templeton address, observed that the most dangerous idea which dominates the West today is relativism. Theologian Carl F. H. Henry describes our generation as “Intellectually uncapped, morally unzippered and volitionally uncurbed,” and in an important work, The Death of Truth, the author captures graphically the modern betrayal of truth.
Theologian David Wells, in his significant book, No Place for Truth, illustrates the widespread influence of relativism in Western churches. The Barnes Report confirms that nearly four out of five Americans are relativists, of the 88 percent who claimed to be evangelical, 53 percent believed that there is no such thing as absolute truth. “Relativism,” observes Professor Arthur Holmes, “has intruded into religion too, so that the Bible’s teaching is too often viewed as culturally relative and in need of change.” According to sociologist Peter Berger the intellectual struggle of the West is. “One long effort to cope with the vertigo of relativity induced by modernization.” Philosophers Jack Meilland and Michael Krausz insist that “Relativism is one of the chief intellectual and social issues of our time.” The idea of relativism is not only gaining popularity within the intellectual community but it is increasingly becoming as Harold A. Netland rightly notes, “the creed of those outside academia as well.”