Book Review: The New Tolerance, Part 3: “Absolutes” (Moral Truth)

By | August 18, 2014

(This post is a continuation of the reviews found in part 1 and part 2.)

While the authors complain about the use of the word “tolerance”, I was more confused by the way they used the words “absolute truth”. Being as it is that I have grown up in conservative evangelical circles, I’ve heard people talk about this many times before. But I’ve never completely understood what they’re talking about. The authors speak of people not believing in absolutes (absolute truth) and conversely believing that truth is based only on what a person chooses to believe. I thought this idea was ridiculous. If you believed the earth to be flat or the sky to be green, I don’t believe most people would think that it was actually true for you. I believe they would just think that you are dumb. But it finally dawned on me, when speaking of “absolutes”, they’re talking about moral truths. Why has no one ever more clearly explained this? (The authors of the new tolerance finally do half way through the second chapter.)

The first thing that comes to mind when I hear the word “truth” are facts: the earth is a sphere, my name is Doug, I feel tired. Those are all substantially true even if different types of truths. For example, “A triangle has three sides.” is true by definition. Other things can be true in essence or by observation. For example, “The sky is blue.” is true in that the sky is, in appearance, what we mean when we say “blue”. Yet other things can be true by experience, such as “I feel tired”. In each case however, there is some substance behind the claim of truth. Something doesn’t become true simply because we label it as such.

So what makes moral truths true? What is the substance of their truth? I think many Christian would say in effect, “The Bible says it and that settles it.” “The New Tolerance” even suggests that God chooses right and wrong arbitrarily (p. 50). However, this doesn’t sit right with me because I think it seems like mere labeling as described above. If these things in the Bible really are true, why are they true? What are they based on?

I believe that God created everything and therefore the universe doesn’t deviate outside his character. To put it another way, reality is based on God’s character. Subsequently, morals—what is right and wrong—is based on reality, which is based on God’s character as described. In this way, certain things are truly (absolutely) right and wrong based on if they are in line or out of line with reality. So in my mind, things aren’t right or wrong simply because the Bible says so. They’re true because they line up with reality, and the Bible points us to this reality. Reality is God. Or put another way, Jesus is truth (not merely true).

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