by Dr. Steve Kumar

Relativism is not a new belief. It is as ancient as the human race. It is not the wisdom of the mind but the error of the soul. Although relativism may appear to be sensible on the surface, it could only be maintained at the expense of reason. Relativism is an illusionary belief. Its view is internally incoherent and logically inconsistent. Alexander Solzhenitsvn was insightful when he said, “It is a terrible thing to be in a society where there is no law; it is equally terrible to live in a society where there are only lawyers.” Relativism is not only the enemy of truth but the enemy of the good.

The first flaw of relativism is that it begs the question. The relativist does not prove that relativism is true but merely assumes that it is true. This is arbitrary and invalid. One must demonstrate the soundness of one’s views before one invites others to embrace it. Relativism is presupposed to be true, presumed as a proven premise and used as an established truth in the process. What is the basis or the ground for relativism? To believe relativism is true one must accept the absolute laws of logic and rationality to qualify as a true belief but such laws are questioned under relativism, therefore relativism can never be regarded as true. Why should anyone accept relativism? As a theory relativism is not intellectually respectable or rational. It provides no logical criteria. In the light of relativism, no person (e.g. Hitler, Stalin, Judas) ever does anything wrong and therefore they could never be condemned. Consider the relativist’s dilemma: A mystical pantheist told a British officer in India, “My conscience tells me to burn a widow with the corpse of her husband.” The officer replied, “My conscience tells me to hang you if you do.” As evangelical philosopher Stuart C. Hackett notes, “If values are wholly relative to an individual valuer, there is no way of explaining how two persons can differ concerning an ethical question, or any other question, for that matter.” An unproved assumption is not worthy of belief. Seven hundred years before Christ the prophet Isaiah understood the error of relativism and pronounced judgment on those who regard evil as good and good as evil (Isaiah 5:20).

The second flaw of relativism is that it refutes itself. Truth by nature is non-contradictory. No theory is true if it falsifies itself. The analytical British philosopher Antony Flew rightly suggests, “To tolerate contradiction is to be indifferent to truth.” The trouble with relativism is that if it is true. it is false. Statements like, “There are no absolute truths!” “Everything is relative!” “Nothing is true!” are self refuting. These statements are grammatically sound but logically false. Take the statement, “A married bachelor drew a square circle on the blackboard that doesn’t exist.” They are deceptive statements. They break the very law they promote. The person who says, “Trust no one!” is in fact inviting you to trust him. Relativism is a false system because it promotes what it denies. Take the example of the existential professor who told his class, “There are no absolutes.” One of his students raised a thoughtful question, “Professor are you absolutely sure?” The professor was absolutely confused by the question.

Recently, a psychology student in Sydney who attended my lecture on relativism said, “Truth is subjective. We all perceive truth in our own way.” I asked her, “Is that really true?” She said, “Yes!” I informed her that if truth is truly perceivable then truth is not subjective. Furthermore if truth is totally subjective, how could she know what I know and how could she tell me what she knows? The fact that she disagrees passionately and is prepared to argue rationally indicates that the concept of relativism is not only meaningless but self-refuting. If a statement or position is self-contradictory then it is necessarily false. In the light of relativism it would be impossible to condemn cannibalism rape, racism, cruelty and other actions. The logician Richard Purtill from Western Washington State University correctly notes, “The relativistic view is incompatible with any moral objection.”

The third flaw of relativism is its own dogmatism. While relativists may argue that one must not be dogmatic or be an absolutist, yet relativists are equally dogmatic about relativism. They believe that relativism is absolutely true. Christian philosopher Gordon H. Clark rightly observes, “Objections to dogmatism are always dogmatic, and relativism is always asserted absolutely.” Relativists do not succeed in giving up absolutes–they merely redefine truth subjectively and arbitrarily. When the relativist says, “There are no rules” or “There are no absolutes,” what transpires is not the rejection of dogma but the affirmation of another. What we often fail to see is the unspoken assumption, “(It’s a rule) there are no rules,” or “There are no absolutes (except this one).” Nobody is right (except myself). In the battle for truth relativism is presumed to be the truth without justifying its dogmatic claim. No relativist can escape the charges of dogmatism.

Since relativism begs the question and fails to provide a logical ground for belief and since its assumptions are contradictory and incoherent. wisdom calls us to reject it. Relativism leaves us in the ocean of subjectivity and leads us to the death of truth.

THE REALITY OF TRUTH

Truth is the light of God which reveals the true meaning of reality. The apostle John affirmed this point when he wrote about the logos of God, “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world,” (John 1:9).

Truth is fundamental. Without an objective standard of truth no individual can make a sensible choice in our world of ideas. It is the key that opens the door to the meaning of life. It is the fabric which holds our existence together and dives direction and purpose. Without it our existence is an endless repetition of triviality. Our struggle for existence would be as meaningful as blind man in the dark room who was looking for a black cat that wasn’t there.

An event from New York illustrates the point. During one cold night a drunkard was seen walking around a lamppost. A man stopped and asked what he was doing. The drunkard replied, “I am looking for the key to my house.” The man joined in the search but they found nothing. “Are you sure you lost it here?” the man enquired. “No! I lost it a block away,” “Then why are you searching here?” demanded the man. “Because there is enough light here.”

If God exists he holds the key to truth. The brilliant Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein is regarded by many scholars as the finest Twentieth Century mind. While working on his masterpiece, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, he came to an amazing conclusion: “Man doesn’t have sufficient perspective from within the world to build an external structure of truth and value.” From a human perspective truth is an impossible ideal but from a divine standpoint it is a reality. Without an objective absolute revelation from God humanity simply drowns in a meaningless sea of subjection. In a time when our culture is uncertain about the truth. When people believe that nothing is knowable, that no one can be sure of anything, we have something unique to communicate. Jesus Christ is the best reflection of God’s. In Him there is no fear of deception. We must first know the truth if we are to bring any reformation to our Society. As Tom Snydder concludes, “we must accurately perceive truth so that we can proceed righteously in truth.” In the light of our predicament Jesus Christ offers the remarkable solution, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

by Dr Steve Kumar

Many people approach religion the way they approach food: “I like it because it satisfies my need.” “If it feels good do it.” “Try it and you will like it.” Religion is not a matter of food or feeling. We must not see religion as being in the line of a cafeteria picking a principle in one religion and value system from another. For example: Taking a carrot from Islam, a tomato from Judaism, a potato from Buddhism, some garlic from Hinduism, and trying to cook up a religious soup.

In a world of many religions the idea of a multi-religious soup appears attractive, but before we whet our spiritual appetite, remember that there are no religious cooks who have such a recipe. Whatever is being cooked and served by religious syncretists falls short of our need. Religious questions are too valuable to reduce to the level of human taste.

Religion is not like food–it is not a matter of taste but a matter of truth. It is not a matter of feeling but of facts. It is not how it makes you feel but whether it is true. It may sound impressive to say, “I believe because I have a burning in the heart,” or because “I have a shiver in my liver.” Feelings do not validate a belief.

1. ALL RELIGIONS ARE DIFFERENT

No truth is as dangerous as half truth:

  • Humanism is atheistic.
  • Tribal religion is polytheistic.
  • Hinduism is pantheistic.
  • Buddhism is agnostic.
  • Islam is unitarian.
  • Judaism is monotheistic.
  • Christianity is trinitarian

He who says all religions are the same knows very little about religions. R.C. Sproul states, “That Jesus claimed to be God and Mohammed claimed to be a prophet is an essential difference. That Buddha was an atheist and Christ a theist is an essential difference. That Confucius died and Christ resurrected is an essential difference. That Jim Jones advocated suicide while Jesus preached patient endurance is a radical difference. That most religions teach salvation by good works while Christianity teaches salvation by grace is an essential difference. That Christianity features an atonement and a mediator who reconciles and redeems is an essential difference. That some men worship idols while others worship a transcendent God is an essential difference. The worship of Yahweh is a far cry from the worship of a cow.

Only the non-religious say all religions are the same. The World’s religions differ on:

  • Who is God;
  • What is the nature of the problem?
  • What is the nature of man?
  • What is sin?
  • What is salvation?
  • What is the ultimate destiny of life?
  • How do we solve the human problem?

For the Moslem, Mohammed is a prophet of God, for the Buddhist, Buddha is the path to Nirvana, and for the Hindu, Brahman is the invisible essence. But for the Christian Jesus Christ is not only the revelation of God but God himself.

2. ALL RELIGIONS CONTRADICT ONE ANOTHER

As we study world’s religions we discover that they are not only different but that they are contradictory. World religions give a confusing view of life and reality. A leading historian, after studying the World’s religions to determine what they have in common came to the following conclusion: belief in God–if there is a God, and life is worth living–sometimes.

The question is that if all religions are from God why do they all disagree? Why is there so much confusion? I agree with G. Bailey, “If all religions lead to God, how is it most of them, having been given a thousand years at least, haven’t yet arrived?” To say all religions are the same is: Not logical, not factual, and not honest.

What is the evidence that all religions are one? How do we know all religions are one? What is the basis for this belief? I spoke to a lady who said she believed in all religions. So I asked her, “Do you believe the Christian message that Jesus is God?” She said, “no.” She actually rejects Christianity but gives the impression that she is broad-minded. There is nothing like comparative religion to make a person comparatively religious! To reconcile the basic teachings of Jesus with those of Buddha would require the skill of a magician.

3. ONLY ONE RELIGION CAN BE TRUE

How can all religions be one when they contradict each other? Religious relativism which accepts all religions as equally true commits intellectual suicide. Where all views are right the word “right” loses all possible meaning. “Right” has meaning only in the context of wrong (true and false, positive versus negative, yes and no). When everything is right nothing can be wrong. When nothing can be wrong, nothing is right.

Ultimately religious relativism leads to the death of all religions. When a religion cannot be tested or falsified nothing true can be affirmed about that religion. Hence statements like, “All religions are true” are empty phrases which have no logical or empirical basis. One cannot hold to this view and be a serious thinker.

In a country of many religions we must respect the rights and the freedom of others to hold their view. Tolerance is a virtue which we must prize highly, but we must not, in the name of tolerance, compromise the truth by regarding all views as equally true. A world where two opposing or contradictory views are right is cosmic madness. Honesty and respect must dominate our search for truth but unity must never be achieved at the expense of truth. Truth would often require that we agree to disagree but one should always do so in love.

If all religions contradict one another there can be only two logical choices: either all of them are false, or only one of them can be true. The French philosopher Pascal was right: “I see a number of religions in conflict, and therefore all false, except one.”

WHY CHRISTIANITY?

Christianity is different from all other religions. There is no faith like the Christian faith. Billy Graham says it rightly, “There are many religions in the world, but only one Christianity, for only Christianity has a God who gave Himself for mankind. World religions attempt to reach up to God; Christianity Is God reaching down to man.” In world religions we have man’s answer to man’s problems but in Christianity we have God’s answer to man’s problems. Christianity is the story of the God who searches for man.

C.S. Lewis, the former atheist, expresses my conviction, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.” Religion is man’s search for God; man’s effort to find God, Christianity is God’s solution to man’s dilemma. In religion man asks the questions but in Christianity man finds the answers.

Christianity says man is sick. Man has a problem–look around–look at the hatred, prejudice, murder, injustice, cruelty, greed, selfishness, envy. What will change human nature? Not education and not moral teaching but only the power of God. There is only one cure for the world’s sickness and that is the Gospel which is really God’s medicine for a sick world.

1. REMARKABLY UNIQUE?

What is so remarkable about the Christian faith? Why believe the Christian faith? What Is so special about it? Hinduism has the techniques of Yoga, Buddhism has the Eight-fold Path, Islam has the Five Pillars, Judaism has the Torah but Christianity offers a resurrected Saviour.

Christianity is remarkably different from all other religions. Take Buddha out of Buddhism and we will still have Buddhism; take Krishna out of Hinduism and we will still have Hinduism; take Mohammed out of Islam and we will still have Islam; take Confucius out of Confucianism and we will still have Confucianism, but take Christ out of Christianity and we will eliminate Christianity.

Christianity is not a system of ideas or speculations of a certain philosophy or a principle of ethics, but Christianity is a focus on a Person. The good news is that God has personally come to visit us in the unique historical space-time event of Jesus Christ. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1 & 14 NIV)

I will never forget the occasion when I was asked to speak at the University of Calgary with James Erwin, the American astronaut who walked on the moon. The most moving statement he shared on that occasion was that, “The greatest event in history was not when man walked on the moon but when God walked on this earth.” That is the greatest event!

Christianity is not essentially a religion about God but a relationship with God. What we need is not just religion but reality. In all other religions the leaders pointed a way to God but Jesus pointed to Himself as God.

2. RELIABLY TRUE?

There is much evidence for the Christian faith. But the greatest evidence is the resurrection of Christ. There are three major facts which prove the resurrection:

A. The Empty Tomb

(i) The Jews never denied it.

(ii) The Roman guards saw it.

(iii) Six of Jesus disciples saw it.

(iv) Peter proclaimed it to 3000 people who could have refuted it.

According to D.H.Van Daalen, “It is extremely difficult to object to the empty tomb on historical grounds. Those who deny it do so on the basis of theological or philosophical assumptions.” There are many reputable scholars who accept that the tomb was empty.

B. The Appearances of Christ

The facts demonstrate that on several occasions different individuals and groups saw Jesus alive after His death. He was seen not only by believers but also by sceptics, unbelievers and even His enemies. On one occasion He was seen by more than 500 people.

C. The Origin of the Christian Faith

The origin of the church proves the resurrection. What gave birth to the church? How did the church come about? Why did the church come into being? All the scholars agree that Christianity came into being because the disciples believed that God had raised Jesus from the dead.

Professor Moule of Cambridge University says, “The origin of Christianity must remain an unsolved enigma for any historian who refuses to take seriously the resurrection.” If the resurrection is true then we don’t have to speculate on the meaning of life. We have something concrete on which to base our trust and hope.

3. RELEVANT FOR ME?

Is the Christian faith relevant to me? How relevant is it in the context of my 21st Century lifestyle and existence? How does Christ handle the great questions of life here and now?

If Christianity is true then it must be relevant. Christ answers the question of history; He offers a solution to the problem of sin; He removes the burden of guilt; He releases us from the fear of death; He changes despair into hope and He provides power to live a victorious life with God.

Confucius saw the evil of life and said, “Duty!” Buddha saw the misery of man and said, “Meditate!” Mohammed saw the cruelty of life and said, “Fatalism!” Krishna saw the suffering of life and said, “Karma!” Jesus saw the agony of life and said, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”

Christianity is not a set of views, not a system of ideas but a change of heart. It is a vital and dynamic relationship with a living Christ. As disciples of Christ we can affirm that without Christ we cannot live and with Him we cannot die.

by Dr Steve Kumar

A skeptic is someone who thinks that nothing can be known for sure while an agnostic is someone who thinks nothing can be known about God, or doesn’t know for sure whether there really is a God. It is even suggested that an agnostic is a person who hasn’t had time to become an atheist. Since the rise of secularism the philosophy of agnosticism is escalating. Individuals who reject atheism as arrogant and theism as incoherent turn to agnosticism to nurse their unbelief. Agnosticism is often accepted as a viable belief system and a sensible alternative in the face of modern sophistication.

HISTORY AND ETYMOLOGY

The word agnostic was first coined by Thomas H. Huxley, the grandfather of Aldous Huxley, and it comes from the Greek word “agnoo” which simply means “I do not know.” Huxley did not categorically deny the existence of God but affirmed that we don’t have any knowledge of God, who is beyond the knowledge of man. There may be a God but we can know nothing about him. Thinkers who followed this line of thought in the history of philosophy were Herbert Spencer, David Hume, Auguste Comte, J.S. Mill, Leslie Stephen and Immanuel Kant. The popular agnostic Robert Ingersoll expresses the general sentiment of his fellow agnostics when he declared, “Is there a God? I do not know. Is man immortal? I do not know. One thing I do know and that is that neither hope nor fear, belief nor denial, can change the fact. It is as it is and it will be as it must be. We wait and hope.” The Apostle Paul on his visit to Athens confronted the agnostics who built an altar “To the Unknown God” (Acts 17: 23). Agnosticism is not a modern invention but an ancient illusion.

The philosophy of agnosticism has two main classifications which we may call the “hard-boiled” and the “soft-boiled.” The soft-boiled or the ordinary agnostic believes, “We do not know God.” The hard-boiled agnostic argues that, “God cannot be known”.

THE BASIC ASSUMPTIONS OF AGNOSTICISM

1. Immanuel Kant reasons, “we know not this (God) thing as it is in itself but only know its appearances, namely the way in which our senses are affected by this unknown something.”

2. Since the human mind is limited it cannot think about reality.

3. Nothing can be known or said about God.

4. The wise man will always suspend judgement about matters of ultimate reality.

CRITIQUE OF AGNOSTICISM

First, Agnosticism is self-contradictory and self-defeating for it presupposes some knowledge about God in order to reject all knowledge about God. Christian philosopher Stuart C. Hackett rightly replies to Kant’s position, “If there were no reality, and if I therefore had no knowledge of it whatever, it would never occur to me to deny the possibility of knowing such a reality.”

Agnostics are either stating something real or true about God or they are not saying anything real or true about God. If they are saying something true about God then they are no longer agnostics because they have true knowledge about God. But if they are not saying anything true about God then one should not believe what they say. Someone rightly told Herbert Spencer, the famous agnostic, “You know too much about your unknowable God.” It is for this simple reason that one popular writer insists that most agnostics are atheists; they say we don’t know anything about God but they act as if they had received a divine revelation.” Think for a moment of the aphorism of a mystical agnostic, “He who knows doesn’t speak and he who speaks doesn’t know.” Obviously he has just spoken hence he doesn’t know either. He destroyed his own assumption by his own criterion. In a similar vein the Greek philosopher Gorges spoke too soon, “There are no true statements,” then realized that he had just made one.

Sometime ago when the press published the evidence of medical research connecting smoking with lung cancer, one smoker was so annoyed by the finding that he cancelled his newspaper subscription. He had made up his mind and did not want to believe the facts. Agnosticism is not a neutral option but a definite denial of the evidence of God. It is not a conclusion one arrives at after observing the evidence but an a priori philosophical presupposition about God. The agnostic in essence insists, “I have made up my mind don’t confuse me with the evidence.”

Second, the agnostic position is either meaningless or self-destructive. How could one assert that there are no universal and ultimate truths about God yet at the same time maintain that this position is universally and ultimately true. The agnostic is not in a rational position to deny any knowledge of the existence of God. Given the agnostic’s finite and limited perspective it is logically meaningless for agnostics to categorically deny the possibility of knowing God. The former agnostic John Warwick Montgomery rightly charges the agnostics for failing to see their irrationality. Agnosticism, states Montgomery, “is tantamount to traditional atheism, and suffers from its basic fallacy: it presumes that one can (apart from any revelation of God, to be sure!) know the universe so well that one can assert the nonexistence of God or the non-existence of compelling evidence for his existence. But such comprehensive knowledge of the universe would require either (a) revelation, which is excluded on principle, or (b) divine powers of observation on the part of the atheist or hard boiled agnostic. In the latter case, atheism and the extreme agnostic position becomes self defeating, since the unbeliever perforce creates a god by deifying himself.” Philosopher Elton Trueblood points out, “We cannot know that nothing can be known unless we already know everything.” Arguing on the same promise the brilliant Christian philosopher Gordon H. Clark notes, “for if the object were quite unknowable, one could not know either that it existed or that it was unknowable.”

Third, if nothing can be said about reality and no truth can be affirmed of God, then agnosticism which speaks about reality (that reality is unknowable) is not true. The affirmation that no one can know anything about God is both an affirmation and a denial. If no one can know then the agnostic cannot know either. In which case he cannot say no one can know. How does the agnostic know that he cannot know? He merely substitutes one absolute (God’s truth) for another absolute (his subjective feeling that God is unknowable). If God is totally unknowable how did we arrive at this position? The Harvard philosopher William E. Hocking correctly observes, “When the agnostic says that we cannot know anything about the reality beyond nature or experience, he implies that there is such a reality.”

Finally, agnostics do not actually suspend judgement on matters of reality. Their judgement is in the negative and they live as though God does not exist. Consider Montgomery’s valuable analogy: If an agnostic receives a report that a bomb is about to go off in two hours in the room where he is presently seated, he will not ignore message. Because of the value of life and the seriousness of the circumstances he would not sit there, as Montgomery notes, “in blase indifference (the usual agnostic posture), but would clear the room and engage in a most diligent search of the premises to determine whether concrete evidence supported the claim or not.” If the agnostic is open-minded he will not sit in his chair of agnosticism and subjectively speculate the meaning of life but will seriously consider the evidence of God’s revelation. The Apostle Paul rightly declares that the knowledge of God’s existence is available to man, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse,” Romans 1:20.

A leader may boast of his leadership, a cook may boast of his cooking, but when a man boasts of his humility he is boasting of something he does not have. The same is true of an agnostic. He is so certain about what he does not know. He affirms that nobody can know about God, but says “I know you are wrong.” He knows for sure that no one can be sure of God.