The desire for absolute truth is wrong.
As I’ve sketched it in relation to Christianity, it starts as a wish for absolute access to the Bible’s truth claims, achieved by absolute openness to the Bible through unprejudiced neutrality, with a goal of providing absolute security: certainty about the Bible’s truth values. But absolute access, absolute openness, and absolute security are all the same:
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
As I hope I’ve shown over my last number of posts, they are wrong because they are simply impossible. And they are even more wrong for Christians because these views presuppose either the claim of being like God (which is idolatry) or a disparagement of creation (which is a key, God-given resource for validating biblical truth values).
But this is more than overblown aspirations, more than finite humans coveting the absolute. In Christian terms, if this is sin then it is not simply a sin of commission—acting wrongly. It is a sin of the mind and of association—choosing the wrong friends, for the wrong reasons.
Specifically, it appears that Christians have developed an entrenched affinity for “modernist” philosophy.
Thus as I argued in my last post, the quest for absolute access to truth claims via absolute, unprejudiced openness and arriving at absolute security (through certainty about truth values) is a portrait of Modernism.
Originating in 17th century Europe, modernist philosophy favoured reason over the senses, experience, tradition, etc., as the best—and only—way accurately to assess truth claims and adjudicate their truth values. Its goal was to help people to decide on matters that concerned them, and to have certainty about the truth of their decisions.
Modernist thinkers like René Descartes, influenced by Plato, viewed knowledge as stronger (and so better) than belief. But how could he be sure that was basing his decisions on knowledge and not just mere, unfounded belief?
Viewing reason to be the ultimate arbiter of truth, Descartes’ “method” involved doubting our customs and former beliefs until they pass the test of reason (and so can be considered true knowledge) and rejecting our emotions and passions as outrightly deceptive. In effect, by starting anew from this neutral “view from nowhere” we would be free from false beliefs and reliant upon true knowledge alone.
The similarities with how some Christians approach the Bible could not be plainer.
So is Christianity bankrupt as a result? Not at all—at least not on this count. For again, these ideas are not inherently Christian. The question is, Why have these views been so broadly (and unwittingly) embraced, and what can be done about it?
As to why, I believe that many Christians have embraced Modernism not only as a hedge against relativism but because it is easier than the alternatives.
First, the finite, contingent nature of human existence implies that we live with various tensions (knowing versus not knowing, presence versus absence, present versus past and future, etc.). Part of our “job” as human beings, then, is to maintain a flexible and variable relationship between the poles of these tensions. For example, on some matters we know more (and so can be more confident of our views), whereas on others we know less (and so must be more humble).
Modernism is easy because it effectively collapses the tensions into hierarchies—by following its method we avoid struggling with the hard questions of how to balance these tensions, and with the resultant hard work of possibly revising our beliefs when the balance shifts.
Second, however, Christians who embrace Modernism even collapse key tensions in the Bible!
For example, many over-emphasize how much the Holy Spirit aids Christians in understanding the Bible and under-emphasize (or ignore?) the detrimental and universal effects of sin on the same. As a result, such Christians are often overconfident concerning how well they know the Bible.
As to what can be done, Christians clearly need to move beyond Modernism. Next post looks at how.