by Ken Williams
In the first issue we spoke about a hurdle that often must be overcome before skeptical friends can begin taking the truth claims of the Bible seriously. This hurdle involved framing the conversation around the idea of worldview instead of religion. As we discussed, even though everyone (in reality) has a religion, some will find the word itself off-putting. Therefore, a better term to use is “worldview” and we discussed at length what that might look like in a conversation.
Often, there is a second and more profound hurdle – one concerning the nature of truth, and especially truth as it applies to God, Religion, and Morals. Most people today, see these topics as subjective truths. They want to treat them as a matter of personal preference not as knowable objective things.
Christian apologist Greg Koukle has a great analogy; he explains it this way: when someone says Moose Tracks ice cream is the best flavor, they are making a subjective truth claim. The claim is NOT about the ice cream but about their opinion of that ice cream. The truth claim is about the subject (them) and not the object (ice cream).
When someone says, insulin is a drug that can save your life if you have diabetes, they are making a statement about insulin (the object), not about the person (the subject). When choosing ice cream you can choose what you like, when choosing medicine you must choose what heals. When choosing ice cream you can choose what’s true for you; when choosing medicine you must choose what’s true.
“There is significant confusion on this point. Americans think of God, Religion, and Morality like ice cream and not insulin. They choose religious views according to taste, according to what they prefer rather than according to what’s true,” states Koukle.
In this article, I’d like to show that truth about God, Religion and Morality is like insulin, that claims about these things are either true or false and that they are not a matter of opinion or taste. There are 2 equal but opposite mistakes modern people make with regards to this issue. The first is heavily influenced by Eastern thought and usually takes some form of ‘All religions are equally true. No religion is better than any other. That’s great if your religion helps you but don’t try to push it on anyone else. We should all be free to choose what works best for ourselves.’
The second is heavily influenced by Western thought and usually takes some form of ‘No religions are really true, they are just a matter of opinion. That’s great if your religion helps you, but don’t try to push it on anyone else. Religious belief is a matter of personal preference, so keep it to yourself.’
We will explore each of these separately now.
1.The Eastern Version:
All truth is equal. Each person must find their own religious truth. There are many paths but one common destination. This very old idea has been re-invigorated over the last 30 years thanks to New Age gurus like Oprah and Dr. Deepak Chopra.
Their view can be summed up by the ancient parable of The Six Blind Men. This parable is often used by people like Dr. Chopra to describe their own view.
In this parable there are six blind men examining an elephant. Each one feels a different part of the elephant and thus reaches a different conclusion as to what the object is. One grasps the tusk and says, “this is a spear”. Another holds the trunk and thinks, “this is a snake”. The one touching the leg claims, “this is a tree”. The blind man holding the tail thinks, “I have a rope”. The one holding the ear declares “this is a fan”. And, the one leaning on the elephant’s side is certain, “this is a wall”. These blind men are said to represent the world religions, because they each come to a different conclusion about what they are feeling.
Like each blind man, we are to understand no one religion has the truth. Religious truth is relative to the individual; it is subjective not objective, it is ice cream not insulin.
This can sound very reasonable and persuasive in the right hands, but I think there is one glaring problem. If no one has the whole truth how does the one telling the parable know everyone else is wrong. Of course, the answer is that he has objective information that the other blind men do not. And, if they were healed and able to see (like him) they would all agree that in fact it was an elephant, not a tree, fan, or wall.
And so the parable actually proves the very thing it tries to deny. If you are not blind to the facts, objective truth is knowable. And in fact, any attempt to prove otherwise is ultimately self-refuting.
Take for example a person who says, “there’s no such thing as absolute truth”. A proper response might be, “are you absolutely sure? Do you really think it’s true, that there is no such thing as truth?” Another example, “you Christians are so narrow minded and judgmental, why don’t you let people believe what they want?” Again a response,” well, if you really believe that then why are you judging me right now for believing the way I want to believe, isn’t that narrow minded?” And so we see that every attempt to deny truth actually does just the opposite. Truth exists, it is knowable and in denying it, you affirm it. This sounds simple, but can be quite effective. Click here to see this tactic being used on Dr. Chopra himself (note: this is not meant to make fun, but to instruct).
2.The Western Version:
We will continue to unpack and expand upon this version in future articles, but let me lay the foundation in this issue.
Peter Kreeft, in his book Back To Virtue, discusses a spiritual timeline of Western Civilization. This is helpful in understanding where we came from and where we are today. Interestingly, it coincides with our Western history timeline.
In the beginning, there were two separate but converging streams of Western Civilization. One was in Classical Greece, where they were working on head knowledge, i.e. how to think, especially how to think and reason about virtue. Virtue, meaning, what is true, good and beautiful. This we can call Hellenism (#1).
The second was in Jerusalem, where the Jews were working on heart knowledge, how to act, especially about how to act virtuously towards God and our fellow man. Think of this as Hebraism (#2).
The Medieval period was a time of tying together this head knowledge of Greeks and heart knowledge of the Jews under the Lordship of Christ; this was Christendom under the Catholic church (#3).
At the end of this long period (during the Dark Ages), these knowledge’s began to unravel back into separate streams. The Renaissance (#4) tried to return to the Classical Hellenistic ideals minus the Christian theology. The Reformation (#5) attempted to go back to a “simpler” pre-medieval Christianity.
Lastly, the streams became secularized. In The Enlightenment (#6), the head knowledge of Hellenism (#1) was fractured. Logic was divorced from wisdom and God was replaced with science. The scientific method would now decide what was true, not God. Romanticism, (#7) was a reaction against the Enlightenment. Romanticism looked to secularize the heart (Hebraism #2) by divorcing it from moral responsibility. Personal desires of the heart now would decide what was true, not the Word of God. Today we may not use these terms, but rest assured, we still live in this divided world.
Instead of a timeline, think of our present situation as a two story house. The bottom floor (#6) is where fact, “objective” and scientifically verifiable truth lives and resides. Western culture believes the top floor (#7) is reserved for things like “values”, subjective moral and religious truths. The things on the top floor should stay where they are, remain private, like a bedroom. The modern west believes that only the things on the bottom floor should be part of the public domain. The things that go on upstairs ought to remain private and have no place in public discourse or policy.
In the rest of these articles I want to argue that God, Religion and Morality deserve to be on the bottom floor of the house. There are very good reasons to believe that Christianity is objectively true. In fact, I believe that it is more reasonable and rational to believe in the Christian worldview than any other.
Christianity (uniquely among all religions) is not mainly about a set of moral rules. It’s about a person. It’s not a theory about what YOU can DO to work your way up into heaven. It’s about what GOD came down from heaven (into history) and has already DONE for you!
The foundation of our belief, the Gospel, is a historical event rooted in objective truth claims. In 1 Corinthians 15:19, Paul says, “if only for this life we have hope in Christ we are of all people most to pitied.”
Perhaps we would become more effective ambassadors for Christ (me first) if we concentrated less on What Would Jesus Do (WWJD) and meditate more on What Has Jesus Done (WHJD). The more objectively real this truth becomes to our hearts, the more we can’t help but do what Jesus would do, which is to help the blind see the elephant in the room.
This article was originally published in our Excelsior! monthly newsletter.