In a globalizing world, studies have shown that our generation (millennials) is the most tolerant to date. We are the most accepting of not only racial, religious, class, gender, and sexual orientation differences, but just about everything else. The development of the internet means that, world-over, our generation embraces thousands of sub- and micro- cultures on top of a variety of dissimilar beliefs and lifestyles. While this is great progress, it also has one problematic implication: the prevalence of the view that no one’s beliefs are wrong, i.e. that everyone is right. There’s nothing wrong with this viewpoint (no irony intended), except that it doesn’t make the most sense.
Since we all believe in different things––different religions, different morals, different principles, different philosophies––the individual beliefs of any two people are quite often divergent and at odds with the other’s. Although this increased tolerance is a huge step forward towards world harmony, it is not logically sound. It is illogical for everyone to be right, unless one believes there is no absolute truth. And that is the question. It is possible that there is no overarching law or truth in the universe, and that each individual is guided by themselves and their society alone. Everyone can be right because there is nothing except one’s personal beliefs for oneself. While societies define moral behavior around what is mutually beneficial to the majority of the society, there is nothing else to direct the society and nothing at all to direct the individual. Yet as a person of faith, and particularly as a person of the Christian faith, I cannot believe this: I cannot agree with everyone’s beliefs, nor can I believe that those beliefs are individually right for them–– even though they’re not for me.
As much as it hurts or confuses the part of me tied to my generation––the part who accepts everyone and wants to believe no one can be wrong––one simply cannot leave absolute truth unaccounted for. To begin with a simple example, most people today would agree that the enslavement of another is wrong, that it is base and immoral; the laws of our societies confirm this. However, slavery used to be a perfectly acceptable practice, the standard results of conquest and war, and the necessity for cheap labor. Although no one wanted to be a slave, they were a normal part of society and everyday life. Owning a slave (or several tens of slaves) was no more immoral than walking to the market to buy groceries.
I think many would believe that our current societies, which officially abolish slavery and human trafficking, are now guided by a “better” morality than those previous ones. It is morally “better” that slavery is abolished. The same could be said of LGBT issues or the acceptance of other differences–– that it is a “better” moral law to accept others regardless of their differences. However, if one is judging one morality as relatively “better” than another, there must be a known point of comparison. One cannot tell that the chalk has been moved to the right, except that it is now on the left side of the sidewalk crack instead of the right. Because one knows the sidewalk crack has not moved, one consequently knows that the chalk has, and has moved to the right.
So what is the point of comparison in judging moralities? The only thing it can be is some kind of unchanging, static, omnipresent moral law, one that is so great that societies revise their moral laws so as to be closer to this single point of reference. If some moralities can be judged as “better” than other moralities, this point of reference has to be the existence of an absolute and universal truth.
If there is indeed an absolute truth, it stands to reason that everyone cannot be right simply for the sake of “being right” for themselves. While a hedonist may believe that it is acceptable to steal under certain circumstances, it does not change the fact that stealing is wrong. Yet this presents the difficulty of reconciling absolute truth with the notion that someone’s beliefs can’t be wrong. As a Christian, I recognize the absolute truth to be the truth presented by God through His prophets, et al. in the Bible. However, this “absolute truth” of the Bible has been interpreted both in favor and against slavery, homo- (and other-) sexuality, women’s rights, and a host of other meaningful issues. Furthermore, other religions derive the absolute truth from a variety of interpretations of completely different sources. We can’t all be right, but at the same time…we can’t all be wrong. Although none of us believes ourselves to be wrong, the reality is that we, and our societies, are human, and inherently imperfect. God has presented Himself to many societies in different times and ways, and this fact cannot be taken for granted. While no one may be wrong, no one is wholly right; instead, we each have, in our beliefs, only a partially right view of the absolute truth. Ultimately, we will believe the absolute truth to be our individual beliefs, yet this must be done with the understanding that this doesn’t inherently make others wrong. Increased tolerance and acceptance is not negated by the presence of absolute truth; it simply changes the frame through which we must see it.
Mere Christianity by C.S Lewis
Millennials: The Me Me Me Generation by Joel Stein, http://time.com/247/millennials-the-me-me-me-generation/
This blog is written by me, Katie Buerger (unless noted otherwise) and maintained by UPCaM@Case. I am a current sophomore at CWRU, and have been an UPCaM member since my first year. Because I am Spiritual Potpourri’s exclusive writer, this means the opinions and perspectives given in blog posts are limited to my views. I think myself to be open-minded, but I am human. I do research my topics (all the sources are listed at the bottom of each post), but I ultimately can only write from my perspective as a Christian. I try to write to a general audience (not exclusively to Christians), but I do at times make assumptions about the knowledge of my readers. However, I would like to assert that my views are not representative of UPCaM’s or Christianity’s – they are mine alone.