An Argument for Truth

Photo by Pauline Morgan

Photo by Pauline Morgan

Jesus is recorded as conclusively saying: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 1 The concept of truth is very much avoided in modern secular society. Instead, we are meant to choose our own truth, and live as we see fit. We’re told that what’s true for you isn’t necessarily true for me, and everything is actually up for interpretation. Right from wrong is never clear cut, and morality is basically a subjective society-created idea. According to the modern academia, truth is an elusive and abstract concept, and we waste our time trying to pin anything down as true.

For Christians, however, those statements above directly contradict what is recorded in the Bible. Jesus clearly states that truth isn’t elusive—we can know it. Truth is tangible, and exists in the form of His word. However, the anti-truth philosophy of modern society has taken root, and the primary reason for this is that living without truth is simply easier. Fewer feelings get hurt, since no one is ever wrong. However, no matter how strongly and eloquently the argument against truth is worded, our society is structured around an undeniable “code” that each person acknowledges, no matter their personal opinions about God and the Bible.

The idea that each person is expected to act morally in their day-to-day life is undeniable; it can be seen in the existence of our justice system, in the importance placed on human rights, in the credit given to our internal “conscience” which is to help us decipher right from wrong.
Stephen Pinker, a professor of psychology at Harvard University, speaks about the morality of humankind in his essay “The Moral Instinct” and states that we inherit a moral code, one that becomes apparent with maturity, doesn’t need to be taught, and transcends cultural variations. Although a self-identified atheist, he acknowledges the mysterious moral rules which are universal, and above all.

Examples of these rules: no one believes that it is justified to rape; it is not acceptable to murder the innocent; each person should be able to live free from physical and emotional abuse and torture. These are a few truths (among many unnamed) which illustrate rights that everyone expects for themselves, which no law or power can take away, and which no one can argue with. These truths transcend cultural variations and personal preference. They are not respective to a person, persuasion of faith, government, or era of time. These moral truths are often broken, for reasons such as greed or selfishness or anger. However, those who believe these actions are justified are quickly labeled as sociopaths, no matter how cleverly rationalized the actions are.

In the mid 1900’s, postmodernism was developed as an attempt at reconciling conflicting ideologies by deeming truth unknowable. Much of this philosophy is based off of the ideas and writings of Frederich Nietzsche, but its general concepts can be traced back as far as to the works of Aristotle. This philosophy rejects objectivity and instead puts forth the idea that all concepts are subject to interpretation—in other words, there are no facts nor is there absolute truth. Postmodernism was meant as a reaction to the modernism period which began around 1900, which emphasized unity, objectivity, and totality. However, modernism led to totalitarian-style governments all over the world and oppressive systems which caused many conflicts in the first half of the 20th century.

Although postmodernism is useful in overcoming the oppression that occurs in communist and socialist governments, and though it is characterized by the openness of mind which many strive to achieve, it has many flaws and contradictions in its ideas that are hidden in its mysterious and scholarly sounding language.

For one, to claim that there is no absolute truth is quite an absolute statement, and has vast implications. This blatant contradiction is nevertheless a major pillar of postmodernism. This claim essentially dismantles postmodernism by itself, because it highlights the irrationality of a moral and social free-for-all. In order for postmodernism’s claim to hold water, each person must have the ability to create and destroy truth as he or she pleases, which is an impossible feat considering that absolute truth does exist over all, for, as said above, certain moral and physical laws cannot be argued against.

One sector of society in which Postmodernism has already shown itself to be a failure is in the definition of immoral activity which has not been technically deemed illegal. An infamous example of this is represented in the Nuremburg Trials, which took place in the summer of 1946. In these trials, major Nazi officials were brought before the judicial leaders of several world powers in attempt to hold them responsible for the events of the Holocaust and World War II. Although their crimes of homicide, torture, sexual abuse, and other ethical atrocities were clearly known to the world, each officer still possessed the right to be tried and convicted before a judge and jury to receive a sentence.

The prime defense put forward by the attorneys of the Nazi officers was that each individual was acting in accordance with the laws of their country, and no criminal activity could be legally held against them in other countries they were not citizens of. Also, there was technically no International Law which could be applied against them in this situation. Legally, these lawyers were right. The Nazi officers were acting as their government ordered, and no specific laws were broken. Upon the guilty verdict against the Nazi officers, complaints of injustice rang through Germany. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, a leading prosecutor at Nuremburg, explained the process of the rulings in his closing remarks: “As an International Military Tribunal, it rises above the provincial and transient and seeks guidance not only from international law but also from the basic principles of jurisprudence which are assumptions of civilization and which have long found embodiment in the codes all of nations.” 2 In other words, in the situation of the Nuremberg trials, a universal law inherent and upheld by all was used for the standard of right and wrong. This law was higher than any created by citizens of the world. If postmodernist ideals were correct and applicable to society, the acts of Hitler and his army were justified, as they were simply acting as they knew best, and with the best interests of their country in mind.

Thomas B. Warren, a Christian philosopher and theologian with education from Vanderbilt University, sheds light onto the matter of religion and the Nuremburg Trials with this proposition in a debate with Dr. Antony Flew. The debate was centered on the existence of God, and this excerpt illustrates a logical philosophical procession which is necessary to explain the moral fiasco of the Nuremberg trials:

1. If the moral code and/or actions of any individual or society can properly be subjects of criticism (as to real moral wrong), then there must be some objective standard (some “higher law which transcends the provincial and transient”) which is other than the particular moral code and which has an obligatory character which can be recognized.

2. The moral code and/or actions of any individual or society can properly be subjects of criticism (as to real moral wrong).

3. Therefore, there must be some objective standard (some “higher law which transcends the provincial and transient”) which is other than the particular moral code and which has an obligatory character which can be recognized. 3

The debate brings up an interesting point which I believe is key in dismantling the idea of postmodernism. If each person, entity, or country can decide their own law, how can a judge and jury claim that their laws are superior to the individual’s? Under postmodern philosophy, this is against the nature of humanity.

Yet, consider: if all things are right, then nothing is wrong. If each person’s perspective is equally accurate, then individuals such as Adolf Hitler, organizations such as the Klu Klux Klan, atrocities such as sexual molestation, and ideas such as racism are all inherently a part of society and must be embraced. According to Pinker, “moral goodness is what gives each of us the sense that we are worthy human beings…a disrespect for morality is blamed for everyday sins and history’s worst atrocities. To carry this weight, the concept of morality would have to be bigger than any of us and outside of all of us.” 4 As Christians, we can understand what this standard of morality is based on–the commands and examples given to us in the Bible. From it we see the hope of a perfect justice, complete love, and the example set in Christ, the Prince of Peace.

Our moral compass sets us apart from every other creature on the earth. From an evolutionary view, morality is baffling. The common evolutionary explanation for morality is that morality is biological, and serves to better the species as a whole. 5 However, evolution of the “morality gene” would signify that there were at one point humans without morality and then at another point a human being or human ancestor with morality. What right would this newly “moralized human” have to subject their morality on their immoral peers? Here again lies the fallacy that the most endowed person gets to determine right and wrong, an idea which doesn’t hold water and results in catastrophe, considering humans are highly imperfect creatures. Another theory for the existence of morality is that it is a result of our magnificent intelligence. However, if the standard of morality is based on human intelligence, it can be changed by whichever human possesses the most intelligence, or even, the most powerful. This is not and never will be the case. Murder and torture was not okay simply because Hitler allowed it.

The only resulting option to explain morality is that deity outside of humanity (God) influenced and implanted this moral code into the fabric of humanity. This is the only way an objective standard outside of the power of humans can exist—if something with a higher power set it in place. A higher power would explain the fact that everybody holds certain truths to be evident. Without a standard law set in place by a higher power, right and wrong are determined by what the majority of people believe. And as we are all taught from a young age, what everyone is doing isn’t always the right thing to do.

This uncomfortable truth goes against the majority of modern science being taught and researched. Acceptance of this truth would require major societal changes. However, the easiest choice does not always fall into place with the right choice. Truth is rarely easy to swallow—especially when we’re being told we’re doing something wrong. Jesus says, “Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me?” 6 The truth about truth has been laid out; it exists, and needs only to be found. The truth is actually fairly simple, and its essence is nicely summarized by Jesus:

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.”

Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?”

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” 7

His life is the truth that we Christians have embraced and have decided to base our life actions on. It is the highest and most authoritative truth which exists, and any moral guideline set in place by man should come second. This truth sets us free, in the way a lack of truth would destroy us in its chaos.

Notes:

  1. John 8:31-32
  2. Trial of German Major War Criminals 1946, p. 398
  3. Warren and Flew 173
  4. Pinker, Steven. “The Moral Instinct.”
  5. Ibid.
  6. John 8:46
  7. John 14:1-6