Monday, November 05, 2007

The Issue of Relativity

Soooo, I've been thinking about the issue of relativity in the postmodern worldview. For many churches and Christians, the idea that "truth is relative" is the biggest contention they have with postmodernity. Well, like it or not, the postmodern worldview is "emerging" no matter how many Christians fight it with their "Truth Wars" of what-nots.

However, I think that a problem with the Christian understanding of this single aspect of postmodernity; "truth is relative", is their lack of understanding, and the poor job that we do teaching and learning about this thing that seems to scare the living day-light out of the Church. One problem is that the Christian use of the word "truth" and "Truth" is loaded and inconsistent.

Let me explain. "truth" (little "t"), is usually used do proclaim accuracy, sincerity, and honesty. So the general phrase, "I tell you the truth...." can be translated: "I tell you in all honesty," or "in all sincerity...". When we are young and have hit our younger sibling in the head with a baseball bat (not that I've ever done that, but I've HEARD of it happening:) while playing baseball in the neighborhood, and you claim it was an accident to your mom; she usually will say "are you telling me the truth?" Meaning, "are you being accurate and honest about the story you are telling?"

Truth, however (with a big "T") is usually coined by religion and should always be known that the hidden assumed word before "Truth" is the word "Absolute". Absolute Truth means "something that is universally true to all people, times, and places; and not subject to being relative." Generally accepted, Absolute Truth means God, although pragmatically speaking, people in Christianity have also hold the Bible to be Absolutely True, as well as specific believed doctrines.

Anyway, both "truth" and "Truth", used interchangeably and incorrectly by many Christian leaders in many Christian groups, were thrown around a lot on my college campus. It is a word that carries many bad memories of people using it to condemn and disregard others who had differing beliefs/understandings.

So let's look at this with new language. Let's talk about REALITY. Reality also comes in two forms, that which is, and that which is PERCEIVED. We will refer to them as "Reality", and "reality". There is a "Reality" out there: that which exists and is. Then there is our perception of "reality": that which we know/understand. The difference is that "Reality" may not change, where as our PERCEPTION of reality can change.

Let's look at a couple of examples. Recently we've been told that Pluto is not a planet. When I was growing up (as with most of you), we were taught that Pluto was the furthest most planet in our solar system. Remember "My Very Eager Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas"? Well now, it's just "My Very Eager Mother Just Served Us Nine...." Kinda messes up that learning tool for memorizing the names of the planets! But it wasn't that Pluto USED to be a planet, and just now ceased to be a planet. It is that the "Reality" of Pluto was that it never was a planet, we just perceived the "reality" that Pluto was indeed a planet.

Let's look at other misperceived realities. How about Copernicus... He's the guy that let us realize that the solar system doesn't revolve around the Earth, but instead, it revolves around the sun (heliocentric). Oh, and that guy Columbus, didn't he teach us that the earth wasn't flat after all? See, it's not that actual Reality changed, but our perception of reality changed into a better understanding of that specific aspect of overall Reality.

I have a quote on the sidebar that says "position determines perspective". This is a great quote that plays well into this topic. Let me give another analogy. Mt. Rushmore. We all have seen pictures of this national treasure. Let's take an imaginary journey to the site where there are no guardrails to keep us from walking up to the mountain. We walk up to the mountain and with our face 2 feet from the sheer gray wall. What is the reality we see? A rock! So the reality in front of us is that we have a rock. then we take a couple of steps back and our perception changes to show us that our new reality is that the rock is a mountain. reality has now become different to us. Then we go back to where the observation deck is, and once again our perception of reality has changed. Now we perceive this mountain is actually a beautiful sculpture!! This is a fantastic new reality we've discovered. That doesn't diminish the smaller "realities" that we experienced, there is in fact a rock and a mountain aspect to Mt. Rushmore, but these realities by themselves do not in fact reflect the Reality that is Mt. Rushmore.

Now let's take this back to religion. I first want to state that in all other fields of study, this understanding is built-in. That's how progress has been made, because new people come along in Science, History, etc.. and challenge the perceived realities! In Christianity however, there are very few Christians who try to challenge the perceived reality, and those who do are outcast and denounced from pulpits nationwide! The message that sends is that Christians know Universal Reality (speaking of God here) in all of its facets, and there is no need to challenge this Reality any further. The honest truth is however, that they are comfortable with their perception of reality and that be it because of fear, arrogance, or whatever, they do not want their perception changed. I can understand this! When your personal reality is pulled out from under your feet, it can be a frightening and unpleasant thing, but one that ultimately brings you into a new perspective of that Ultimate Reality!

Add to this also, that honestly, no one has, can, or ever will be able to know this Ultimate Reality! That's part of what being a person of faith comes in. We don't have to know everything about God in order to worship him and live the life he wants us to live! In fact, perhaps knowing all that is God would hinder us from living that life, and becoming the person we are supposed to become. We are on a journey, and what is a journey if it ends? It is the journey that motivates us, and once we think we know completely Ultimate Reality, there is no room left for the journey.

So where does this leave us as spiritual beings? to continue the journey and to seek out new perspectives of God both inside and outside our accepted realities! truth and reality can come from ANYWHERE! We say God is Truth and Reality, and we say separately that God is in all things. Does that not mean that aspects of truth/reality can be found in all things? People have found realities in church, nature, philosophy, music, art, etc.... My faith in God and Christ has been enhanced even by some of the profound truths I've found in other religions. The Islam Idea of the holiness and Sovereignty of Allah has put any Christian Theology of God's Sovereignty to shame. The Hindu/Buddhist idea of meditation and enlightenment has brought me new and beautiful perspectives on the realities of God that I've experienced.

So is truth/reality relative? Yes it is, how can it not be? The Bible has not captured all of who God is and all he does into 66 books, confined into human language, held down to a specific culture and time period. God is so much bigger than that! He is still active and revealing himself in the world, and even today, with all the cultures, history, and language, we cannot capture the Reality of God, only perceive differing realities of God. The Bible is an important perspective, a NECESSARY perspective, esp. of Christ!

So before we claim we "know the Truth", maybe we should rethink what that statement is actually saying. no one can know the "Truth", and thus we should be willing to differing perspectives of reality so that we can find truth about Truth in other people!

I know my analogies aren't perfect, but I'm looking for a better way to teach/explain the postmodern idea of "relativity of truth" that has been irresponsibly thrown around and horribly misunderstood!

Your Thoughts?


  1. Justin

    I haven't read your blog, but I wanted to comment on your wanting to be SPIDERMAN. If you click on the below link I think you'll find something you are describing, in one form or another.

    At any rate, I will comment more when I've had a chance to read. Good looking site though.

    - Shadraq

  2. I like what Obie Wan says, "You'd be surprised that the truths that people cling to depend greatly upon our own point of view."

    Our perspective of life and the like is often seen through blinders of our life woundings and experiences. This is how we develop our bias' and comfortable religions.

    Thought provoking blog. If you continue to write where your head and heart take you, you just might survive this leg of your journey.

    - Shadraq

  3. Great Quote're def. speaking my language with old Ben Kenobi!

    great thought, i agree, but also gives me something to think on.

    Thanks also for the encouragement and kind words!