Relative vs. Absolute Truth

I fully believe that followers of any religion or worldview should be treated equally and with respect. This is true no matter how ridiculous your beliefs are. Whether you are a young-earth-creationist, a Scientologist, a Muslim, a Mormon, or someone who believes in astrology or crystal healing, you should be allowed to hold and practice your beliefs. That being said, this is only possible if those who hold each belief does not impose them on others. No matter how positive you are that your beliefs are 100% accurate, you don’t have the right to try and force others to agree. Arguing and debating is healthy, but only when each party is willing to do their best to listen to and understand the other side. You don’t have to “respect their beliefs”, but as long as the beliefs aren’t harmful, the person should be treated respectfully. After all, we are all just doing our best to accurately understand and interpret the world around us.

Dawkins_ScaleMy mother and family members are absolutely positive that God exists and the bible is true. If you utilize the Dawkins scale, my mom would be a strong 1, while I would be a 6.9. This is not to say that her beliefs are more likely to be right, but it means that I understand that the existence of god cannot be known with 100% certainty. Since the truth cannot be absolutely known, we shouldn’t be surprised that everyone believes something a little bit different. So assuming that your truth is the true truth, and since you know that it is true, imposing it on others without facts to back it up because it’s just true (hi mom, I’m talking to you here) gives you and your beliefs a special and undeserved advantage. Since when is her truth any more true than my truth? Can’t something be true for others but not for me, so we are both free to exercise our equally-true beliefs?

I partially believe this. As I already said, you should be free to believe what you want, as long as it isn’t harmful, whether or not it is true. If my mom wants to hang bible verses in our hallway and drink out of mugs with bible verses on them, then I should be equally as free to hang this right next to it and drink out of this. If my brother-in-law wants to compose and preach a weekly sermon, then I should be equally allowed to compose and publish my weekly blog posts. It’s part of being free to practice what you want to.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t relentlessly pursue the truth. Just saying that you believe something doesn’t make it true. Just because Christians refer to the Word of God as the Truth with a capital T doesn’t make it true. My mom saying “you know that God exists, don’t you? Because he does, you know. He exists,” after I came out to her doesn’t make him exist. I do not believe in God no matter how often people tell me he exists. But this does not mean that for them, he exists, and for me, he does not. As I said once before, something being true doesn’t depend on who you ask. It is either true, or it is not.

God either exists, or he doesn’t. Which means that what is “true” for some group of millions or billions of people, be it the theists or the atheists, is not actually true.

In regards to which religion is right, there is a certain amount that we can demonstrably prove true or false, and there is some that we can conjecture about but never positively know (which is frustrating for those of us who just want to know for sure but can’t). This is where holy texts come in handy. Consider what my family believes because of the bible and their Lutheran doctrine tells them: the earth is 6,000 years old, evolution is not real, homosexuality is unnatural, and the stories of Noah’s Ark, and Adam and Eve, and Moses, and Abraham, are all true. More centrally, they believe in the fall of man and how it led to the life of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and his death on the cross to redeem everyone for their sins, and his resurrection. Beliefs such as these correspond with events that supposedly took place, and we have the means to discover whether or not they are historically accurate. (Hint: they are not)

Other beliefs are harder to disprove. My family also believes that Jesus ascended into heaven, and that there is a holy trinity consisting of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They believe that Jesus will return, everyone will rise from the grave, and there will be a “New Creation”. They believe that baptism cleanses babies of their “original sin” and that at communion they are eating Jesus’ literal flesh and blood. These beliefs are harder to disprove, as they aren’t physical truths that can be proven true or false. The existence of a deity, unattached to any ancient stories to be taken literally, falls into this category as well. It can’t be proven or disproven, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do our best to discover the truth. Personally, I believe that it is all man-made nonsense and if it has no basis in reality, then we have no business believing it.

img_1171I like to use this cartoon as a way to illustrate the idea of “what is true for you is not true for me”. Of course, the first thing I notice when I see it is the abysmal use of commas when, as a matter of absolute truth, no commas should be anywhere near that sentence. But beyond that, the cartoon is illegitimate, because as an analogy for whose conflicting beliefs are accurate, here is a corrected form of the cartoon (although I wish they had edited out the commas as well).

img_1118This is how I feel about my family proclaiming their beliefs as absolute truths and trying to make me feel crazy for disagreeing. They don’t just believe that a deity exists, they also believe all of the specific, historically inaccurate ideas that I previously listed.

When I came out to my sister and her husband and suggested to them that although I believe differently than they do, I should still be given equal rights to exercise my beliefs, my brother-in-law said: “But if what you believe is equally true for you as what I believe is for me, then there is no true, foundational truth. Isn’t that absurd?”

Yes, as a matter of fact, that is very absurd. You have beliefs—beliefs that you are 100% positively sure of—that directly conflict with science. The Earth isn’t 6,000 years old for some people and 4.6 billion years old for other people. Its age can be empirically measured, and it doesn’t care how old you think it is. The truth is the truth no matter how much one resists it. It’s true whether you believe it or not.


Read next:

my family's creationist beliefs

18 Replies to “Relative vs. Absolute Truth”

  1. The earth is 6,000 years old – No Idea.
    Evolution is not real – What do you mean by evolution?
    Homosexuality is unnatural? What do you mean by unnatural? What do they mean?
    Noah’s Ark – True Story.
    Adam and Eve – Real. Created Beings. First Humans.
    Moses and Abraham- um yes?
    The fall of man – True Story.
    Life of Jesus Christ – Yes he lived (lives)
    The Son of God – Yes he is
    His death on the cross to redeem everyone for their sins – Yeppers
    And his resurrection – Without a doubt.

    Beliefs such as these correspond with events that supposedly took(did take) place, and we have the means to discover whether or not they are historically accurate.

    (Hint: they are not) – Incorrect.
    Your parents are very wise, young Padawan.

    Like

  2. I always say I’m not going to comment on your post and just click ‘like’ and keep my ignorance to myself. LOL. But your posts trigger my mind to active thinking. Thanks for that! I would categorize myself as a solid 6 on the Dawkins scale.
    I was going to try to figure in entropy to the God equation. If you drop a bit of milk into black coffee there’s initially a strong disturbance until the milk diffuses into all of the coffee.
    The ‘belief’ in the existence of some form of God has been a part of humans for 6 million years and modern man for 200,000 years. So, it’s not like the bible or Koran was dropped in to the equation like a spoonful of milk in coffee and suddenly we have a God-belief that needs to flow to low entropy. There’s something in our psyche that seems to need to have a story to believe in. An explanation of who and what we are. It seems to be part of our nature. Every part of this earth has their own story to believe in whether it’s God, sun god, god of rain, lightening or we just make up some supernatural being. We seem to need to have a reason for our existence even if we cannot explain it. Maybe it’s what puts us a tad higher than an animal or insect? And who doesn’t like a good story that explains EVERYTHING?
    So, you would think after 6 million years this God entropy would have dissolved to low entropy. We would have battled it out, talked it out and the god-of-milk would have finally come to a natural balance.
    But it hasn’t!! It’s still in crazy high entropy with people being killed, cities bombed, hate and anger over my god vs your god, which tells me there’s an untruth here. Truth will settle and become peaceful and a lie causes more and more and greater disturbances.

    And..nice catch on the use of commas in those pictures.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. A good post. I only beg to disagree on the sentence ending the first paragraph:. :

    —we are all just doing our best to accurately understand and interpret the world around us.—

    Believers do not, in my opinion,their best to understand the world around us. Precisely because they are believers, and they are happy about that. Each religion tells their own stories, and since those teachings are brain-forming, the answers are anchored there. It reminds me of that thoughtful saying by Richard Feynman:
    “It’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong”.
    .-

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Nan,
    If you don’t mind, I would like to clarify one of your opening statements: “This is true no matter how ridiculous your beliefs are” TO SOMEONE ELSE. If beliefs were ridiculous to someone who holds them, why would they believe them? No, no matter how ridiculous someone’s beliefs might be to someone else, they make sense to the one who believes them.
    Having said that, I agree we have to be respectful to everyone, no matter if we agree with their beliefs or not. Making the decision to see people as they are, without regard to their beliefs, is the ultimate in respect. Good people are good no matter what they believe, and deserve to be respected.
    As you know from past comments, I am an atheist. I do not believe in the existence of any supreme all-knowing all-powerful being. Given my life experiences and understanding of how life works, there is no possible way any sentient being could be in charge of the chaos that is life. Accidents cannot be planned, that is what “accident” means. Diseases affect everyone, not just one group of people. Death comes to everyone equally, believers and non-believers.
    In my eyes, truth is relative. It is true that the sun will rise every day for the rest of your life. Your life is short, the sun’s life is long. If Trump were to blow up our planet, the sun would not rise because there would be no earth for the sun to rise over, but there would also be no us to see that. But given that the earth does not get blown up, still the sun will die someday. It is not eternal. And even if the human race is still around on the day the sun does not rise, it will not be able to sutvive without the sun to feed it. So which is the absolute truth? Will the sun rise every day of your life? Or will the sun eventually cease to rise? It all depends on your point of view?
    I have gone into a place I did not intend to go with this comment, I apologize for that. But my point is, not everyone believes the same truths, therefore they are relative. But this is no reason to dislike or hate anyone. Everyone deserves respect, and it is our responsibility to give that respect to them.

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      1. Youch, my mistake, and I apologize to both of you. I meant to say “CA” but obviously my mind went on the blink. I know I’ve been wanting to contact you, Nan, on another matter, but have not found the right vehicle for that yet. But, certainly, this comment was directed to CA.
        Oooohh, the foibles of the feeble mind…

        Liked by 2 people

  5. The problem with explaining empirical evidence to people who generally reject it is it only sounds reasonable to those who are prepared to try to understand why it sounds reasonable.
    And thus, why it is more reasonable to believe it and trust it.

    If one is 100% certain that the bible is the First and Last Word about everything then how difficult is it accept that evolution etc is simply the work of Satan leading people astray … or what ever such people believe.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The trouble with “Does God exist?” is that it depends on what “God” refers to. If the word “God” refers to the winds, the sunshine, the clouds, the stars — then that God exists. If, however, it refers to some totally mysterious person whom nobody has ever seen — well, why should we even care if that God exists?

    And there’s the problem with “truth”. We cannot just take a sentence and ask if it is true. We first have to inquire about everything referenced by that sentence. If people don’t agree on the references, they won’t agree on the truth of the sentence.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. When a person is sick they need to see a medical doctor. When a person is delusional they should be told. Surviving death is such a delusion. Believe what they will, but please keep the rest of the world out of it and stop praying for the end of the world.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Their argument is weaker than you make it out to be. Just as they claim their “god-given” morals are objective and ours are subjective, they neglect basic definitions. Their morals come from a god, a subject, so they are subjective.

    And with regard to your 6.9 Dawkins scale atheism (I am a 7 on his scale), it is simply a matter of comparision. Since there is no such thing as absolute proof. Are you as sure about your god as you are fairies or leprechauns? Bigfoot? Ghosts? None of those can be proven to “not exist anywhere,” and the Christian god fits right in to that group. Holding off at 6.9 because you can’t be absolutely sure of anything, really, is granting too much credit where none is due. When I say I am sure, I am inferring that I am as sure as anyone can be.

    Good post!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. As humans we all have a need to believe in something. It gets us up in the morning, it keeps us alive and functioning. With some people it’s Allah, or Jehovah, or the FSM or God or a six armed deity. None of them are real, except to the people who believe in them. And some of us have moved away from the invisible and unexplainable, and turned our beliefs inward.
      We believe in ourselves.

      It’s one of the hardest thing a former religion believer can do, because we have to shift years of praying to Someone, years of being told we ‘are not worthy”, and turn our focus inward, to our own self. It can both terrify and satisfy, to know we can think for ourselves.

      I applaud you, CA, for sticking to your (new) beliefs, and for the way you’ve dealt with your family over this.

      It’s amazingly empowering, isn’t it.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Judy, you wrote that now we believe in ourselves. I totally agree, but according to some believers (in particular one who commented on my blog), this makes all of us “inherently … selfish and prideful.” sigh

        Liked by 1 person

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