I first studied philosophy in high school English. We read L’Etranger and No Exit, and we memorized the principles of relativism and existentialism and other long-forgotten-by-me -isms. I remember one thing well: I don’t enjoy philosophy.
Twenty years later, philosophy penetrates my life and yours. Take a look at your social media feeds. What are most people posting about? Their perceptions of politics. And many are ready to have knock-down drag-out fights to prove to everyone else that their perceptions are right. And factual. And true.
Every knock-down drag-out my husband, David, and I have ever had resulted from differing perspectives of truth.
My best friend, Melinda, likes to say that David and I are a psychology experiment–the one where two people watch a video of the same car crash but have completely different recollections of what happened: “The car was blue.” “No, the car was green.” That’s us, and those different perceptions of truth make for heated but pointless arguments. How relieved we both are when we can find the truth by rewatching the car crash: The car was actually red. We can stop arguing now.
Rarely our arguments result from actual untruth…meaning one of us has lied. Those are the conversations that both begin and end with pain, because a lie is a betrayal. You can’t rewatch a video or Google the truth to settle a lie-spawned argument once and for all. Feelings have been hurt, and the relationship needs time to mend.
I think we as a society have largely lost the ability to distinguish between perception and truth, and that is one of the reasons politics are so ugly–particularly in 2016. My opinion about a candidate or a policy is not truth, so people who disagree with me aren’t technically wrong (even though I think they are!) or lying.
Many philosophies, and most of this postmodern secular society, state that there is no such thing as absolute truth. Christianity disagrees. In the gospel of John, Jesus talks a lot about truth, and it pretty much boils down to this:
I tell you the truth, anyone who hears My voice and keeps My word will never experience death. (John 8:51, The Voice)
If you are a Christian, then you believe one absolute truth: Jesus is the Savior of humanity. It is rare (though not unattested) that I see knock-down drag-out fights over that statement.
If you follow a philosophy that declares there is no absolute truth, then your perception becomes your truth. So when someone else disagrees with that perception, then you feel personally affronted. A “car-crash argument” becomes a “lie-spawned argument,” a betrayal.
We should follow Jesus’ example in John. When He declared truth and others disagreed, He countered by speaking the same truth in different ways. In that conversation, He did not back down. But when He encountered people who behaved or believed differently or even incorrectly (as in, Romans and Samaritans), He always responded the same way: by revealing the truth in love. He didn’t argue over the semantics of where the temple should be (John 4) or even about the punishment for adultery (John 8:1-11).
We would rather argue over the semantics. In a climate where opinions and perceptions are elevated and advertised on social media, Christians need to remember that there is only one absolute truth–that Jesus is the Savior of humanity–and that all Christians, by definition, agree on it.
Then we need to respond to disagreements as Jesus did: in love and with the one absolute truth. For if we show love, the world will see the absolute truth.