Tuesday, 20 May 2014

It's true, nothing is true, that's the truth!

I was recently in a discussion with a friend about a moral issue that divided our opinions. After we'd both laid out our convincing arguments, my friend closed out his side of the discussion with:
"Why does it matter? As long as it doesn't hurt anyone, it should be fine. As long as they do what they believe in."
While this is a popular argument, many don't see the contradiction in this statement. It's called the contradiction of relativism.

I wonder how many people from Gen Y actually know what the term "relativism" means? Until recently, I couldn't have given a damn. It was just another word like "socialism" or "utilitarianism" or "nationalism". Any word with "-ism" in it was for academics and intellectuals, not some peanut sports lover like me.

The startling thing is, the majority of Gen Y live their lives via relativist principles without even knowing it.

Relativism is the concept that there is no universal, absolute truth but that the truth differs from person to person and culture to culture. In other words, truth is relative to what each person or culture thinks*.

For example, if I was to say to someone that I was certain of the truth on a certain moral issue, and that anyone who disagreed with me was wrong, I'd be instantly labelled as intolerant, rigid, judgemental or close minded. 

"How dare you impose your beliefs on me."
"How can you say whatever you believe in is the truth? Surely it depends on people's beliefs."
"There's no right or wrong answer, it's different for everyone. You're so intolerant."
If you pick up a dictionary and look up the meaning of "tolerance", you'll find something along the lines of: the endurance of ideas or actions that you don't agree with.

So while you may not agree that my statement is true, I'm hardly intolerant for saying there is only one answer. In fact you are intolerant for not tolerating an argument you disagree with!

This is the problem with relativism. It will contradict itself every single time. The contradiction of relativism is seen in its basic principle:

It is true for everyone that nothing is absolutely true for everyone**.
For example:

"There's no such thing as objective truth"

Is that a true statement? If it is, you've contradicted yourself. If it's not, then it wasn't worth saying.

"You can't impose your morality on someone else."

Well you just did! That's contradictory if you're saying it as an absolutely true statement.

"Only scientifically verifiable statements are absolutely true."

But that statement is not scientifically verifiable though. Additionally, science can answer questions about the universe or the earth, but it cannot answer questions about why the earth is here, or why the universe was created, or why we are alive.

"Christianity is true for me. Islam is true for others. You have your truth and I have mine."

Is that true? Or only true for you or for some?

If I said two plus two equals four for me but might equal five for someone else, most people would laugh at me. Why? Because it is absolutely true that two plus two equals four.

Yet, if I say "Everything changes or moves because of something else. A tree doesn't move without wind or the ground moving. A ball cannot sail through the air without someone throwing it or hitting it. Therefore, because everything moves or changes due to something else, there must be an original unmoved mover and this is what I call God", plenty of people will disagree with me and tell me that is not true, or that it could be true for me but not for others. 

There can only be one truth. Otherwise you start to contradict yourself.

Relativists claim that there is no absolute right and wrong. Instead, right or wrong is relative to each person and how they feel or what they perceive right and wrong to be. 

This can't be true though. Take September 11 as an example. It would be impossible to watch burning people jumping from the Twin Towers and claim that while most might consider the actions of Al-Qaeda wrong, it was right for them.

As New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said  to world delegates from the UN after 9/11:

"We're right and they are wrong [to have attacked innocent people]. It's as simple as that...The era of modern relativism...must come to an end...There's no moral way to sympathise with immoral actions."
By now I am sure you can see where I am going. In this day and age, absolute truth is substituted for feelings, right and wrong is substituted for "tolerance" and "equality". If you claim something is true and that someone else is wrong, instead of discussing the issue to the core, people laugh at you and call you judgemental or intolerant, even though you're not judging anyone and by definition, your statement is not intolerant.

If we all live our lives in a relativist world, nothing is true for everyone. Therefore, I could do whatever I wanted, because while you might think it is wrong, I might think it is right. We will live in chaos and emptiness because nothing would really matter.

It is little wonder Pope Benedict XVI claimed that relativism is the "greatest problem of our time".

It is true that absolute truth exists!

All the best,
Dom Meese

* and ** from Absolute Relativism by Chris Stefanick.


  1. so you're premise is relativism is wrong because Catholicism is right?

  2. Not at all. My premise is relativism is predominantly wrong because it contradicts itself and does not stand up logically.

  3. Right, and which 19, or 20th century philosopher expounds relativism as you do? those i've read embrace this contradiction, this falling away of certainty, as the engine of creation, the perpetual new, the sea of infinite possibilities. Relativism, is posited as a weapon against tyranny, despotism, dogmatism. It simply undermines the absolute, for the sake of opening out new ground.

  4. Your comment is a classic example of the problem. As you say, you're embracing contradictions and uncertainty. Both of these things have historically, throughout humankind, been countered, and for good reason. Yes you can say it's changing, but why change a proven theory?

    Not many people would advocate uncertainty in anything and not many people would embrace contradictions.

    In my opinion, truth provides infinite possibilities. It is also the answer to tyranny, despotism and dogmatism.

    If everyone acts relative to what they believe to be truth, we will live in chaos.