I have. And yet it's a very popular and seemingly prevailing philosophy in our time. More and more, it seems as though people across the Western world in particular are becoming convinced that truth, especially as it relates to morality and spiritual belief, is the new beauty: it's simply in the eyes of the beholder. There are no absolutes. Truth is dependent upon a culture or a worldview or a single individual's perception of what is right or wrong for them personally...
Yeah, I'm not buying it.
Besides this flagrantly obvious point though (or flagrantly obvious truth?), I think a relativistic approach to truth is rather unsettling for other reasons as well. For one thing, it opens up a gaping door to all kinds of crimes and unacceptable behaviours in our society, justifying them in the name of personal benefit and relative truth. Take a recent case for example, involving an eyeglasses company which began to treat its customers wrongly on purpose in order to boost its rankings in Google's search results. Vitaly Borker, founder of DecorMyEyes.com, has literally encouraged threatening his clients and treating them horribly just so that the traffic to his website and thus his business can profit.
"I never had the amount of traffic I have now since my [first] complaint. I am in heaven" said Borker in an online posting divulged by the New York Times recently. To the Times itself, he added that "No matter where they post their negative comments, it helps my return on investment. So I decided, why not use that negativity to my advantage?"
Do you see the problem here? For Borker, there is absolutely nothing wrong with threatening to find his customers and "commit an act of sexual violence too graphic to describe in a newspaper," an example actually reported by the Times (Read the full story here). As long as he and his business benefit, his actions are right for him. His moral truth is relative to his determination of what is best from his own perspective. But I would hope that most of us reading this story are appalled that somebody would do such a horribly wrong thing. Why? Because we all recognize this behaviour to be morally wrong, regardless of Mr. Borker's perspective. We recognize that completely disregarding the well-being of others for your own gain is evil behaviour. Moral truth is not relative at all. It wouldn't matter what culture it happened in. Even if all of society affirmed these actions, it would still be objectively evil behaviour. The same principle can be applied to a serial killer whose moral truth includes the most horrendous of crimes known to humanity. Moral relativism is simply not a justifiable worldview. It suggests that if a person or group of people agree on something, regardless of what that something is, then that something is true for them. It suggests that stoning a woman in Iran for adultery is justifiable simply because that society deems it morally correct. It suggests that truth can be determined simply by the worldview of a culture within a limited context, and that in another culture determined by a completely different worldview the "truth" can be entirely different.
That's not to say that there isn't an element of context to be considered. An act of self-defense which accidentally leads to death is one of the most popular examples (although really the issue there is motivation, not the action itself). But relativism and context are two very different things. Context allows us to look at a specific situation and still objectively determine moral truth based on motivation and circumstance. Relativism leaves moral truth outside the realm of objectivity altogether and promotes a personal or cultural "truth" where right and wrong can be different from that of another culture. It would seem to me that moral relativism is really just a means for attempting to justify and defend our own selfish choices. It's no more than an excuse for our behaviour. Moral truth is objective when somebody kills somebody, but when I choose to have an affair, it's relative. This is an obvious double standard. If truth is not relative with the more extreme examples such as murder and corruption, then it makes little sense for truth to be relative in other instances either, such as with adultery, dishonesty or even spiritual belief.
In fact, I think one of the most confusing worldviews of our time is the notion that when it comes to spiritual belief, "what's true for you is true for you and what's true for me is true for me." That's like saying that today can be Monday and Wednesday at the exact same time (and while we're at it, why not make it Friday too?). It is completely nonsensical to hold a worldview which maintains that, for example, God can exist and not exist at the same time. It is equally nonsensical to suggest that Christians and Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists and every other spiritual belief system all lead in the same direction. They believe completely contradictory things. They do not all lead in the same direction. And on the flip side, it is flawed to suggest that because there are so many different spiritual belief systems out there, therefore none of them can be accurate. That's like saying that just because there are 26 different possible responses to one question on a multiple choice exam, therefore none of them can be correct.
We apply this philosophy of truth relativism to the ultimate questions of life in part because of our mistaken view of tolerance which supposedly obligates us to consider every worldview as equally valid. And we already know how problematic that is (see my post on the problem with tolerance here). But I think we also just don't want to accept that it might be necessary to change our own beliefs or choices in light of what really is true. If truth is really relative, then we're good to go! I don't need to worry about whether God exists or how I should live my life because my way is what "works for me." You can go and do your Christian thing or your Hindu thing or your Muslim thing if that's what floats your boat and finds your lost remote, but I'm perfectly alright the way I am. But this is not a reasonable philosophy. It's just an excuse not to think critically or question what you believe and what really is true. Deciding that something doesn't matter to you does not mean it won't affect you in the future, just like deciding that you don't want to write your exams doesn't mean you won't get a failing grade when you don't show up for them. The mere fact that you like your choices and beliefs and don't want to change them does not make them any more true than Hitler liking his beliefs makes them true (nor does it even necessarily make them helpful or good for you). What "works for you" could still be a complete lie. And something you may not want to believe at all could in fact be absolutely true.
So how do we determine what is absolute truth and what is a lie? Well, hopefully, by openly and honestly discussing these issues. By seeking truth together, as a team, instead of constantly trying to prove others wrong to win an argument, or pretending that being apathetic will make everything alright. That's part of the goal of this website. To seek truth together and to wake up to the misconceptions and taken-for-granted "truths" which prevail all around us without much serious thought being given to them. Will you join me? Let's stop this nonsense of pretending that it doesn't matter what you believe. If any one of the spiritual thoughts and ideas floating out there could potentially be true, then the goal of discovering what is absolute truth matters quite a lot. In fact, it could be life or death.
Truth is not relative. And neither is this statement.