By Andy Wrasman
When speaking with famous atheist, Richard Dawkins, on his Fox News program, The O’Reilley Factor, Bill O’Reilley told Dawkins, “I can’t prove to you that Jesus is God, so that truth is mine and mine alone. But you can’t prove to me that Jesus is not God, so you have to stay in your little belief system.” O’Reilley’s statement fits into a view of truth called relativism. It is common to hear relativistic expressions within and outside of the Christian community.
Relativism holds that truth is relative to each person’s experiences, culture, and needs. Since such guideposts for truth are not universal, truth is subjected to individual determination. Approaching all truth claims from a relativistic approach fails in three specific ways: failure to distinguish between subjective and objective claims, denies basic laws of logic, and is an inherently self-contradictory worldview.
First, relativism fails to distinguish between objective and subjective truth claims. Subjective truth claims are relative to each individual, because these claims deal in preference and personal opinion, often based on experience and feelings. For example, the best seats at a movie theater are the front rows. There are less people there to bother you, you don’t have anyone sitting in front of you to block your view, you always have a middle seat, and the screen encompasses the totality of your vision. I think the majority of the population would disagree with my claim, judging from my experiences of sitting by my lonesome in the front few rows of movie theaters. Others claim that the middle rows are the best. Others assert the back rows are superior. “The front rows are the best” is a true statement for me, but it might not be true for you, because determining the best row in a movie theater is based on subjective values.
Objective claims on the other hand lie outside of one’s individual partiality and experience for determining their truthfulness. They are unbiased claims that are determined to be true based on external realities that can be verified or tested. Objective claims pertain to facts, not opinions. Sticking with movie examples, the Best Picture of 2013 according to the Academy Awards was 12 Years a Slave. That is an objective claim. It can be factually verified to be true or false. If it were simply stated that 12 Years a Slave was the best movie of 2013, it would be a subjective claim, because everyone has a different opinion on the matter, but the specific Oscar winner of the 2013 Best Picture award is not a matter of opinion. A movie either won or did not win the Oscars for Best Picture. Relativism fails to realize this distinction by handling objective claims as if they were subjective, which is what Bill O’Reilly failed to do, when saying that “Jesus is God” is his truth, but not Richard Dawkins’ truth.
A second failure of relativism is its denial of basic laws of logic. When relativists state that all religions are true, they reject the Law of Non-Contradiction. The Law of Non-Contradiction states that “A” cannot equal “Non-A”. This means a statement cannot be true and not true at the same time in the same respect. Plugging statements into this equation, “Jesus is God” (Christianity) cannot equal “Jesus is not God” (Judaism and Islam). Already, the Law of Non-Contradiction has disproven the notion that all religions can be true, however the Law of Excluded Middle further demonstrate relativism’s denial of reason. The Law of Excluded Middle states that “A” is either “A” or “Non-A”. This means an objective claim is either true or not true. Jesus is either God or he is Not-God.
A third failure of relativism is that it is a self-contradictory worldview. Relativists declare, “All truth is relative, and there is no absolute truth.” Yet, in their rejection of the existence of absolute truth, relativists are making an absolute truth claim themselves. If a relativist says, “There are no absolutes,” ask him, “Are you absolutely certain?” If a relativist says, “All truth is relative,” ask him, “Is that relative?” Such simple questions in response to relativism reveal the self-contradictions within such a worldview.
To answer this question directly, objective truth is not a matter of opinion. Jesus is God or Jesus is not God. We cannot have it both ways. The truthfulness of these two positions is not contingent upon our subjective experiences. This means that it is intolerant to claim that all religions are true, because it would require the erasure, or change, of all exclusive teachings within all of the world’s diverse religious faiths to make them one. If relativism is not intolerance in action, then it must be ignorance that fails to distinguish between subjective and objective claims, denies basic laws of logic, and embraces an inherently self-contradicting worldview.