This past week I had a married couple as guests at my home, and as usual when they come to visit we invariably get around to discussing religion since Philosophy of Religion & Ethics is my current course of study. I’m not sure if they are agnostics or simply skeptics, though my guess is that it is more the latter. Both are highly intelligent and moral folks who are concerned with living good lives, being kind to others, donating to good causes, and being loving, attentive parents to their young children. But they tend to look strongly askance at anything of a religious nature, though they admit there are some good things that come out of religion that are beneficial to society. Fundamentally, John and Sharon (not their real names), are skeptical that any of my efforts in studying religion necessarily allow me to get any closer to truth than anyone else, no matter how much I may study. Why do they conclude this, and am I simply wasting precious time and energy studying philosophy? Since they both feel there are other people who study as much as I do yet come to different conclusions, their logic is that we cannot get to truth since everyone doesn’t necessarily come to the same conclusions concerning the existence of God, or further that Christ is indeed the Son of God who died on a cross and resurrected on the third day.
At core, John and Sharon have the view that what may be true for me, and others that accept Christ, may not be true for others who accept some other religion such as Islam or Hinduism, or who simply conclude that all religions are false. But it’s okay if it’s true for me and provides some benefit, and I shouldn’t be naive in believing that my truth might actually apply to them or others. I didn’t explain that this view is the typical postmodern thinking that Americans have gradually accepted over the past 40-50 years, which posits that there are no overarching, universal truths. Truth, according to postmodern thought is simply a social construct and a creation of the human mind. Yet John and Sharon admit that in their everyday lives, they behave as if there are universal truths. They feel that stealing is wrong, murder is wrong, and that it is not okay to abuse children. But if there is no such thing as objective truth, then why would they live their lives as if it is so, even asserting there are indeed some moral imperatives as just described? It is wholly inconsistent to on the one hand believe that everything is relative and evolving, while at the same time making statements as to how a certain state of affairs ought or should be when things are constantly undergoing change. If everything is relative and truth is what you make it, then the words oughtor should are in effect meaningless when used in communication.
While John and Sharon are skeptical there is objective truth, and that Christianity could even accord with truth, it is an interesting thing we all agreed that the moral sense of right and wrong is fairly universal within the human race. Even those who choose to do wrong (presuming they are normally functioning) know implicitly what is the good or right thing to do, but simply choose not to do the good or right thing because they have the free will to reject it. This sense of moral order in the universe is, in theological terms, called common grace, since it may be apprehended by all and is common to all humankind. So herein we may reasonably conclude that even though there is nothing we can know exhaustively, common grace can be reasonably construed (in an epistemic sense) as an objective truth, and is true wholly independent of whether we give it cognitive assent or not. In essence, I’m arguing that on this basis, John and Sharon would be wise to conclude that there are indeed some objective moral truths that are not just true for some, but true for all, including them. In other words, truth is truth, and truth has no dependency on them, yet it is there for them to ascertain should they choose to accept it. I feel they sense this, but are somehow afraid of the consequences of accepting this view.
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