November 21st, 2006

Crying Man

Consistency, Context, and Christianity

This is a response to an essay by my friend Josh on his own personal philosophy. It seems that his essay confused some of his friends (including myself). I think that this is because he was trying to get his thoughts down quickly and failed to make some of his assumptions and reasoning clear. So I will attempt to clarify his argument, and point out where I agree and disagree with what he says.

To save scrolling, I have broken this response down into three parts. This is the first. I’ve also placed a complete, printable version of the essay on my website.

What I think Josh means

Josh starts out by rejecting what he calls relativism. By ‘relativism’, I am assuming he means the denial of absolute truth. That is, the idea that there is no such thing as objective truth and reality is essentially just a construct of our own perceptions. Looking down this road and seeing where it ends, all knowledge becomes meaningless—including the knowledge that there is no truth. If there is no truth, then there is no point in saying anything. I might as well stop my essay here.

On the other hand, claims to complete, 100% objective, literal truth are arrogant and fail to take into account the finite nature of human understanding and language. We cannot make our own reason the arbiter of truth, since our own reason is fallible. Neither can we claim complete understanding of everything by divine revelation, since our understanding is still subject to a finite brain. A judge can only make a certain, correct judgement if they know all the facts. To claim absolute objective certainty about transcendent truth is in essence the same as claiming to have all the facts. In other words, this is claiming omniscience and in some ways is equivalent to claiming to be God.

So, we must discount ‘relativism,’ or knowledge ceases to exist. On the other hand, we must be wary of claims to knowledge of absolute truth. Hence, we acknowledge that absolute truth exists, but must admit that complete and universal understanding of it is impossible for human beings. How then do we proceed? It is at this point that Josh’s argument becomes slightly difficult to decipher (and I do hope he will clarify it for us). As best I understand it, Josh proposes realism, rationalism, pseudo-subjectivism and post-modernism as the way forward. This seems to mean three things:

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Crying Man

Blind Men, Elephants and Unverifiable Truth Claims

This is a response to an essay by my friend Josh on his own personal philosophy. To save scrolling, I have broken this response down into three parts. This is the second. I’ve also placed a complete, printable version of the essay on my website.

What Josh is not saying

I do not think Josh is silly enough to say that all religions are different aspects of the same fundamental truth. Or even that truth manifests itself differently in different cultures. On the surface this sounds very humble and tolerant. It does not condemn everyone who disagrees with me. I would argue however, that this is in fact an arrogant claim pretending at humility. To say that all religions are different aspects of truth when applied to their own context is essentially to say that your understanding is superior to all the religions.

The classic metaphor for this understanding of religions is the story of the blind men and the elephant. To save time, I will quote the short, Wikipedia version:

In various versions of the tale, a group of blind men (or men in the dark) touch an elephant to learn what it is like. Each one touches a different part, but only one part, such as the side or the tusk. They then compare notes on what they felt, and learn they are in complete disagreement. The story is used to indicate that reality may be viewed differently depending upon one’s perspective [or context].

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Crying Man

Where I disagree

This is a response to an essay by my friend Josh on his own personal philosophy. To save scrolling, I have broken this response down into three parts. This is the third. I’ve also placed a complete, printable version of the essay on my website.

Christianity

If all religions base themselves on unverifiable claims of revelation from God (or gods, or enlightenment, or whatever), then arbitrary criteria are the best we can do. We should at least be honest about it. However, I do not believe that Christianity bases itself entirely on unverifiable claims. I will not comment on other religions, since I must admit my ignorance of them, however I will claim to know a little about the faith to which I hold.

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