The Parable Explained Part I
Before you even begin reading this make sure you read my previous post, or else nothing I say will make sense. See it here: nathanforster.com/2015/07/27/the-parable-of-the-painter
So it’s common in our society to say that if you have a particular set of beliefs about God, humanity, the universe, the afterlife (etc.) that what you believe is, well, what you believe: It’s true for you.
I have told people about what I believe (You know, the Jesus stuff) and I have had a variety of responses- further questions by some, awkward silence by others, and sometimes disdain towards me. But what often happens is that eventually an “It’s true for you” statement comes up:
“Oh you believe that, okay well that’s your truth. That’s not my truth, but good on you!”
Now I am all for people having the flexibility to believe what they want to believe about reality- after all we all have a mind of our own, observations of our own (etc.) to make an informed decision on one’s beliefs (In other words I am for freedom of religion or lack thereof). No one should be forced to believe anything unless they make the conscience choice to believe what they chose to believe and neither should people force their beliefs onto others.**
However there’s a difference between having the good flexibility in what people believe, and recognising that behind the “it’s true for you” statement is a theory about reality that people adhere to whether they are aware they are doing it or not. This theory about reality goes like this:
We can’t fully know if there is a thing called truth that exists ‘out there’; we therefore construct our own truth, not the other way around. So your theory of truth is as valid as someone else’s theory of truth- but it’s only a theory: don’t you say it’s THE truth. Because 1) you don’t know that and 2) saying that can be a tool for manipulating people.
Now I understand where people’s reactions are coming from in reference to the above accounts because 1) Some people really are clutching at straws when they make truth statements and 2) some people who said they had the ‘absolute truth’ have used it to manipulate others (Just think about the crusades, jihads, genocides etc where people couldn’t think on their own two feet and just obeyed what they perceived to be the absolute truth). However there is also fragility in this theory about truth:
First, that very belief (“We can’t fully know if there is a thing called truth…”) is also itself an absolute truth claim. Too put it into conversational language I witnessed a Q&A once where- after the speaker made a claim about Jesus being the truth- an audience member stood up and said “Well I don’t believe in absolute truth!” the speaker looked at him and then responded “You don’t believe in absolute truth? Do you absolutely believe that you don’t believe in absolute truth?” The questioner realised what the very statement behind dis-believing absolute truth was an absolute truth. So let’s be humbled: we all believe in something we think is the absolute truth. And that’s okay. Even saying “Well I just don’t know” can take the shape of absolute truth. And once again, that is okay. Truth statements (Even truth statements about truth statements) are by their very function narrow (And ‘narrow’ doesn’t have to be a negative term. It’s just a fact of reality that what we believe will at some point conflict with others)***
Secondly (and we desperately have to wrap our head around this one really badly in our world) It’s not believing in absolute truth that leads to manipulation of people, it’s asking “how does what we believe lead us to treat people?”. Now I can’t speak on behalf of other faiths, but know that Jesus said to love people no matter what their race, beliefs, gender, or orientation is. And guess what, I believe Jesus is the absolute truth (surprise surprise!) but Jesus as the absolute truth demands that I love people, respect people’s freewill etc whilst still disagreeing with what others might believe. Our culture has bought into a lie: that if you disagree with someone you must hate them. That’s just not true. There are creative ways to love people that go beyond needing to agree with their take on things. When 9/11 happened a New York newspaper said “This is what fundamentalism does”, that same day a pastor from New York responded quite rightly by saying “Actually, it depends on what the fundamental is, and in the Christian faith the fundamental is of a man dying on a cross for His enemies”. Manipulation isn’t based on the belief in absolute truth but depends on what the content of that absolute truth is. After all, yelling at people saying “There is no absolute truth!” can possibly be said and practiced in such a way that the very absolute belief in no absolute truth can itself be manipulative. Food for thought.
Okay, so what about the parable? When am I going to get there? And what’s it going to do with absolute truth? Well I feel that this blog post has already gotten way to long so I’m finally going to tease it out fully next week (Sorry! I didn’t anticipate this!). So stay tuned!
To give you a glimpse for next week…I do believe in absolute truth and I believe that absolute truth isn’t a detached concept but a person.
But until next week…
**Just to clarify though that’s different from someone asking me questions about my faith, in such case I will wear my heart on my sleeve- that is not forcing my beliefs on anyone that’s just answering a question. Also if I am speaking from a platform about my faith people have the choice to be there or not
***Some people think saying that one religion being right over the other is ‘narrow’ in a bad sense because, people will say, we should adopt the belief that says “It doesn’t matter what you believe, it’s all the same pathway to the divine just different routes” because, people will say, “at least that doesn’t exclude any belief”. But here’s the thing: that in of itself is a belief, and that very belief (“It doesn’t matter… etc”) is narrow towards people who do in fact believe that there is only one way and that it’s their belief. So that very belief (which appears to capture every faith on Earth) actually denies people who take seriously their faith’s beliefs of their faith being the only right one.