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Truth Isn't Relative
Combined human experience, right reason, and the foundational consistencies in moral and spiritual traditions teach us that there is absolute truth in the universe.
A quote from a famous movie says, "Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view." This is the case in a great many things. Modesty, profanity, propriety, and even the great questions of morality and religion appear to receive different treatments that arrive at different conclusions based upon which perspectives inform the inquiring processes. Even within singular cultures and religious traditions, perspectives can change in even just a few years.
It is with this backdrop that the case for cultural and moral relativism is made, and if we dwell upon the predominant existence of variances, it would be difficult to arrive at conclusions opposed to such relativistic philosophies. But, in my estimation, there are other intriguing considerations.
There is another quote, from a not-so-famous movie, that says, "What we hold to be right, and good, and true is right and good and true for all men. Otherwise, we're just another robber tribe." I believe this also to be the case in a great many things.
While we rightly can be amazed at the variances in culture, morality, and religion across the world and throughout history, more shocking still is the pattern of certain foundational consistencies. This recognition of persistent conclusions across the human experience is the foundation of a philosophy called perennialism. There are various schools of this philosophy, many of which focus on religious understanding, but the context I refer to can be summed up in the analogy I often offer of a valley:
Each of us occupies different perspectives along a ridgeline, seeing and hearing and experiencing that which is unique to our point of view, and yet—there is only one valley. The answer doesn't lie in arguing over which perspective commands the most accurate view, but in bringing together our shared experiences in a way that values the unique nature of each individual perspective towards combining knowledge in order to map out the valley—the universal truth.
I have introduced the ideas of perennialism in order to explain my opposition to the general ideas of relativism. Relativism too often ignores the intricate connections of the human experience as a whole. It engenders a thought process that tries so hard to adopt an intellectual aloofness that it can close off senses attuned to that which the combined human experience teaches us has value.
Consider an extreme relativistic view that might suggest that, while infant sacrifice seems barbaric, it is only barbaric by nature of our point of view. Relativism tells us to exercise caution in exercising moral judgment upon those whose culture has developed differing norms and practices. However, the relativistic approach takes a simplified view of the full context of human experience and considerations.
Contrary to such an extreme form of relativism, the full scope of human experience and natural law tells us that life is precious and that the instinctual compunctions of humans to protect and nurture the weak and defenseless is a good and valued trait. One remote tribe's religious tradition of human sacrifice does not alter what a combined understanding of tradition across history points to being a universal truth.
Rather than deny the existence of universal truth and the discovery of constant principles and values, as relativism often does, it seems far more prudential to, instead, search for truth and apply that truth while relying on humility and empathy to combat the impulses of assumed superiority.
Justin Stapley received his Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Utah Valley University, with emphases in Political Philosophy and Public Law, American History, and Constitutional Studies. He is the Founding and Executive Director of the Freemen Foundation as well as Editor in Chief of the Freemen News-Letter. @JustinWStapley