“Why Is There So Much Acceptance of the Idea That Truth is Relative?”
Thanks for your question about truth. The current pseudo-relativist mindset makes apologetics and evangelism difficult, for the non-Christian is often very happy for us to be Christians . . . as long as we don’t insist or even suggest that what we believe is true for everyone. I call it pseudo-relativism because no one is a thoroughgoing relativist. We ALL have our absolutes. (For more on this you might want to look at William Watkins’ book The New Absolutes. Or for a shorter treatment see my article with the same title on our web site.)
Why is it so widely accepted? There are a few reasons, I think.
1. The influx of Eastern religions in the ’60s introduced a “both/and” mindset with respect to truth. In the West we have recognized the reality of the “either/or” nature of the universe: e.g., either the earth revolves around the sun or it doesn’t. It can’t be “both the earth revolves around the sun and it doesn’t.” Which is it? This is simply how the universe is. This reality is represented in logic as the law of non-contradiction. We presuppose it in our speech constantly. When the doctor says, “Take this medicine; it will help you get well,” he doesn’t also mean “Take this medicine; it will not help you get better.” Eastern philosophies and religions often have a pantheistic view of reality which means that everything is of one nature, and everything is divine. If all is one, then those things which appear to be opposites to us really aren’t.
2. Social realities—Plurality of beliefs: How can all these sincere people be wrong? we ask.
3. Democratic ideal—One person, one vote. Knowledge becomes democratic; everyone’s opinion is equally valid.
4. Science—Quantum theory: Paul Davies said that “Uncertainty is the fundamental ingredient of the quantum theory” (this theory, by the way, is a very significant one in science today). Some people think that if scientists can’t even be certain about empirical matters, why do we think we can know about spiritual matters with any certainty?
5. Religion—No one knows ultimate reality, people think, so one god is as good as another. Some tell us it’s our responsibility to create reality; some say we are gods ourselves.
6. Philosophy—Rationalism has faded away; political power is our basic category of understanding rather than truth.
I think, then, that there are several factors which figure into our postmodern frame of mind. This is the hallmark of postmodernism: a loss of confidence in our ability to know objective truth. Our job is to restore confidence in it, grounded in Jesus, the creator of the universe.
Thanks again for writing.