When I was sixteen years old, I remember my American History teacher making us memorize Bunn’s Law of History. The law was named after my American History teacher, Mr. Bunn. Mr. Bunn made it up. But a lot of people seem to have bought Bunn’s Law. I still have it memorized:
ALL TRUTH IS RELATIVE TO THE PERCEPTION OF THE INDIVIDUAL.
All truth is relative. Absolute truth does not exist. Objective truth does not exist. What does that mean? This is the cardinal argument used by Christianity’s opponents today. They aren’t claiming that their perspective is absolutely right; they’re just offended that we think that Jesus Christ is the only Savor. They’re mad that we think biblical Christianity is the only religion given by God for people today. Why can’t we just accept all religions as true?
A culture that’s forgotten how to think
Some have observed that we live in the most irrational age in human history. This irrationality, called postmodernism by some and relativism by others, is seen in everyday statements that defy the laws of reason—statements like these:
“For you there is a God. But for me there isn't a God. Maybe we can both be right.”
“For me it's wrong to have an abortion. But for someone else, it might be right. It's all relative.”
“All religions are valid, if the people are sincere.”
What areas do you see relativism infiltrating the church? The culture? What’s the difference between saying that truth is relative and saying that there are some issues that Scripture does not address?
While no one wants to sound judgmental, relativism simply doesn't work. Try it in math class. “For me, Miss Root, 1+1=3.” WRONG. Absolutely wrong. Addition is not a matter of opinion, but fact. 1+1=2, whether you like it or not. 1+1=2 even if you think it's 3.
Truth is not relative, but absolute and objective—true whether you realize it or not. When Miss Root gives you an “F” for saying 1+1=3, she isn’t being judgmental. She just wants you to understand truth. Miss Root is more concerned with teaching truth than she is in boosting her students’ self-esteem. Miss Root realizes that 1+1 actually equals 2, and that no other answer is correct. Truth deals with facts, not opinions. Remember the difference:
Certainly our assumptions color the way we see things, but the truth is the truth no matter how we feel about it. If a tree falls in the woods and there is no one there to see it happen, did it still happen? Of course it did. Check back later—the tree will be on the forest floor. Videotape it; you can watch it at home. Truth is that which corresponds with reality. Don’t ever say “For me personally...” if you’re talking about truth. That is NOT humility; it’s unbelief. People will pressure you to do it, but don’t. Never relativize the Almighty God!
Relativism doesn't work with morality, either. You can be sincere and still be wrong. Think about it—is right or wrong really just a personal thing? When people say things like this, challenge them on it. Say, “You don’t really believe that, do you?” Think about it...
"I personally don't think ax-murder is right, but I can't impose my morality on others. It's all relative.”
"For me, the Holocaust was bad. But if the Nazis were sincere, it was right for them."
"If someone sincerely thinks it's right to destroy all species on earth except humans, pillage the environment, pave over the rainforest, and leave the planet a barren wasteland, then they should do that. Just so long as they're sincere."
And relativism especially doesn't work with religion. Religions make truth claims. These claims may be true. They may be false. But they do attempt to describe reality as it actually is. And when religions contradict each other, it may be that none of them is correct. Or it may be that one is right and the others are wrong. But they cannot all be true. When we say there is a God, either there actually is a God who exists (whether we like it or not), or there is no God at all (and never will be no matter how much we pray or believe in him). We're talking about reality here.
Either there is a God or everything is absurd. If there actually is a God who made us, then humans have a purpose (God)... a reason we exist. If there is no God, then there is no purpose to life. We have no meaning. The only significance we have is what we give ourselves. We have no objective worth. We're $7.32 worth of chemicals, and nothing more. Everything is arbitrary and absurd...
...arbitrary because there is no objective reason to make one choice over another.
...absurd because every action is therefore meaningless.
The atheist French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre was right on this point. If God doesn't exist, then it really doesn't matter what you do. Who’s to say your right? Who’s to say your wrong? If we weren’t designed to act in a certain way, then it doesn’t matter how we act. Period. If it's all relative, then there's ultimately no reason to make one choice over another.
Francis Schaeffer used to tell the story of a little old lady crossing the street. You’re walking down the street and see a little old lady trying to cross a busy intersection. If truth is relative, then you have 3 equally valid options.
1. You can try not to make eye contact and hope she doesn’t ask you for help.
2. You can stop and help her cross the street.
3. You can push her in front of a car.
There is absolutely no reason to choose any one of these options over the other if truth is relative. But the fact that 33% of the time people don’t push Ethel in front of a car seems to indicate that they think that pushing little old ladies in front of cars is wrong. And the fact that almost everyone in every culture at every time considers murder to be bad would seem to demonstrate that human beings were created with a universal moral law that tells us that some things are right and others are wrong.
Think about that nagging question that 5-year-olds ask. They ask it constantly, and drive their parents crazy when they ask it. “Why?” they ask.
“Timmy, don’t play with matches.”
”Because I said so.”
“Because you could start a fire, and we don’t want that.”
“Because it could burn down our house, and we don’t want that.”
“Because we’d have to live outside, which wouldn’t be good."
“Because we might get sick, which isn’t good.”
“Because sickness can kill you, and you don’t want to kill anybody.”
“Because it’s bad to kill people."
“Because...Because God said so."
Ultimately every question goes back to a grounding in God. Why is it wrong? Why right? Why prefer one course of action over another? If we keep a mind as open as that of the 5-year old, we ultimately have to start with God—or everything is absurd. Either God is and has spoken, or nothing really matters.
Think about these discussion questions over the next week. You may want to jot down your thoughts.
1. Knowing that young people today have been raised in a postmodern culture, what differences do you see in their attitudes from those raised a few decades earlier? What remains the same?
2. Of the guidelines on how to be an apologist listed in Lesson 1, which strikes you the most? Why? Which is hardest for you? Easiest? Why? Who do you know who could model for you strength in your area of weakness?
3. How can you tell the difference between manipulating someone and trying to persuade them?
4. Think of a non-Christian that you know. If they were to say that they don’t see how anyone could think his religion was the only true one, how might you respond?
5. Look over the discussion questions on the first page of Lesson 2. What answers could you come up with?