3 Reasons Why Truth Claims Are Stubborn Things

Les Newsom  |  March 05, 2015

If it’s not true that it’s wrong to murder a cartoonist with whom one disagrees, then how can we be outraged? If there are no truths about what is good or valuable or right, how can we prosecute people for crimes against humanity? If it’s not true that all humans are created equal, then why vote for any political system that doesn’t benefit you over others?

Justin McBrayer in a recent New York Times Opinion piece titled “Why Our Children Don’t Think There Are Moral Facts" grapples with a question that religious types like ourselves have been posing to this generation for quite some time. When I was in college, Allan Bloom dropped the “bombshell” in his opening line of The Closing Of The American Mind,

There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.

Panic ensued. Years worth of spiritual hand-wringing by campus ministry types foretold a dystopian future where students believed in nothing. But that didn’t really happen. Rather, in the absence of real conviction about anything, it was not that students believed nothing, but they began to believe in anything. Why?

The quick answer is because grappling with the ideas of those who claim to know “the truth” cannot be easily dismissed. In the least philosophical language possible, consider the following:

1. Life does not feel relative.

Profound, right? Mind you, by this I’m not trying to establish a purely existential apologetic for claims of truth (whatever that is). Rather, I simply mean to say that truth claims show up in the most mundane of life situations. C.S. Lewis begins Mere Christianity with the simple, universal experience of getting into a “quarrel.” His point is that you don’t enter into a disagreement with someone without assuming some logical high ground, or the sense of being “right.” 

“Shoulds” and “oughts” meet you every day, almost before your foot hits the floor when you get up out of bed. “Why should I go to class today?” “What ought I do about this relationship I’m in?” “How should I handle this disagreement with my parents?"

This why it’s a bit weird when after extolling the virtue of moral relativity, your professor hands you the syllabus (i.e., a “guide”) for the class. The contradiction between the two only strikes you at test time.

2. Believing does not feel relative.

Religious types on campus often console themselves in their embrace of Christianity with the thought, “Well, these things that I have come to embrace are simply ‘true for me.’ I certainly can’t stand in judgment of someone else’s sincerely held beliefs.” Granted, this statement may *feel* true as it falls from the lips, but only if you don’t think about it long.

In other words, trite statements about theological openness rarely have the ballast to bring comfort when, for instance, we attend our first funeral. College tends to be the first time you lose a loved-one, oftentimes someone who was quite close. In the face of this kind of tragedy, doesn’t my heart long for something with a bit more substance than ideas that *might* be true?

The fact is: truth and believing are not opposites, despite our culture’s endless attempts to convince us that they are. Believing is shallow and comfortless if it has no substance beneath it, and we just know it.

3. The question is not IS there truth, but WHERE is truth.

Finding my path in life makes the longing for a Guide really practical. Truth is: I’m making truth claims every day and living on the basis of *some* life-ruling standard. The question that plagues us is not so much IF these truths are “out there” but where do I find them.

Is there a God? If there is, does he communicate with us? Am I able to hear him when he does? How can I distinguish between God’s speaking to me and my own wish projections that I just want to hear? Heady questions, indeed, but ones that confront me every single day.

RUF is committed to answering that question from the living and active Word of God, the Bible. Infallible, inerrant, wholly truthful, it is the only rule of faith and practice. We do not suppose that this truth is always an easy prospect to swallow, but perhaps in your own search for answers in life, you will give your campus minster and interns a chance to tell you why they believe God is there and he is not silent. 

(Hint: because they think it’s true…)