When is Truth not Absolute?

One of the confusing aspects of life for me is the discovery that some people believe that truth is not an absolute. I really have a problem with this attitude. I experience the problem in two specific realms: politics and religion.

In politics, the issue arises most often around the Constitution.

In religion, it arises around the Bible.

Very often, I feel as if all the foundations of life as I know it have been shaken and shattered and moved the way an earthquake shattered San Francisco in 1906. People try to tell me that the language of the Constitution does not mean what the plain sense of the words mean. Pastors try to tell me that the Bible does not necessarily mean what the plain sense of the words mean, either. In this regard, political and religious leaders tell me that what they call “truth” is evolving. The Constitution is a “living” document the meaning of which must evolve with social change. The Bible is a “living” document, and in thirty years, things we think are “sin” today won’t be sin any more.

I won’t try to address the concept of biological evolution here, but I will point out that the idea of such a thing is so appealing that the word has taken over the discussion of ideas. Some day I will have nothing better to do than count how many times the word “evolution” and its variants appear in conversation and writing in a single day, but for now I will content myself with observing that I hear this word constantly. The idea that anything and everything evolves is quite handy.

In politics, an evolving Constitution solves two problems:

  1. 1.      You need not struggle with the language of a new amendment, because an evolving Constitution allows you to appropriate any words you like and identify how their meanings have evolved as a result of cultural changes.
  2. 2.      You need not wait for the process of approval and ratification to start reaping the benefits of rights and services and powers that don’t seem to be evident in the “old” language of the Constitution.

 

In the world of religion things work out in a very similar fashion. The Bible was written thousands of years ago in languages nobody speaks any more. (People speak descendant languages, but let’s face it, French is a descendant of Latin, which does not mean that French speakers are fluent in conversational Latin.) The Bible asserts rules and regulations that nobody obeys. Furthermore, churches are shrinking as people increasingly declare the Bible and everything related to it irrelevant to modern life. If God meant the Bible to be our holy book for all ages, many ask if it doesn’t make sense that its language be reinterpreted in the light of our evolved understanding. A lot of things called “sin” in the Bible don’t look like sin to us, so surely God meant the Bible to evolve right along with us. To say that allows us to invite people to come back and hear messages that won’t grate on their nerves as much as the one about putting God above everything else.

Don’t think that I equate the Bible and the US Constitution. I don’t. The Bible is inspired and preserved by God himself. The US Constitution is the work of human beings. Most of those individuals lived in relationship with God and felt that God guided their work, but nothing about the Constitution is God’s revelation. Nevertheless, the Constitution shapes our nation the way the Bible shapes my faith.

The best way to describe how I feel is to say that I feel homeless. If my personal dwelling had been razed by an earthquake, I couldn’t feel more thoroughly homeless. I don’t know about everyone else, but I need some certainties. For example, I like being able to rely on gravity. I like knowing that what goes up must come down. I like knowing that even if I travel to Mars or leave the solar system, gravity will still work the same way, and the changes I see in the behavior of things is mandated by the fact that gravity is still working the way it always did.

Some things really are absolute. Some truth should not be changed, just because it comes to seem inconvenient. History reveals that the issues in the Bible and the Constitution that people keep trying to declare changed by evolution are the same issues that were problems in ancient times and during the Constitutional Convention. There is one extremely certain absolute: people in all times are the same. The most ancient documents ever found record that people are people no matter when you encounter them.

One of the problems with evolving truth is its impact on never-changing human realities. For example, human beings have always had problems coping with life and death. Since the beginning of time, humans have tried to usurp God’s sovereignty over life and death, because they want to control life and death for their own benefit. In human eyes, some lives need to be extended, while others are inconvenient and not cost-effective. Likewise, every human wants to be king, and history from the beginning of time records all the ways that desire can be perverted. People like Napoleon Bonaparte or Fidel Castro put on the act of helping others, but unless some power prevents it, they become destructive autocrats. The Bible is a repository of absolute truth about the meaning of life and death. The US Constitution is a guide for one of the most successful methods of protecting every person’s liberty while assuring order in society. To tinker with the meaning of the words of either the Bible or the Constitution is like punching holes in the bottom of a sailboat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

If you doubt that, ask the captain of the Costa Concordia. I am pretty sure that he wishes that a certain rock had not been in its absolute location last week. He would, no doubt, have preferred to be able to redefine that rock after the collision and thereby undo what was personally undesirable about its location. The wreck of the Costa Concordia is an example of what happens when wishful thinking collides with absolute truth.

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