On May 5, 1994, Michael Novak received the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. Upon receiving this award and honor, Novak addressed the assembly gathered at Westminster Abbey with a chilling message with the title “Awakening from Nihilism“. His plea was to fight and avoid the poisonous gas of relativism. He calls it “vulgar” and O how putrid relativism really is. The reality and central aspect of Christianity is truth–for Truth is a man and he is our chief cornerstone. Pilate asks the question that plagues Nihilists and moral relativists:
What is truth? (John 18:38)
Pilate missed the point. And so do these men and women who claim there is no truth. Truth isn’t a what but a who–Jesus Christ (John 14:6). This means that truth is not relative to man because it is not from man, but rather from God. God is truth and he has established truth in our world. There is no avoiding it. You may deny truth, but to do so is to abide by vulgar relativism the path by which we “prepare the jails of the twenty-first century”. God is the ground of all truth. And because of this, truth matters. Michael Novak tells us why in light of the rush of the tide of relativism in our pluralistic culture.
One principle that today’s intellectuals most passionately disseminate is vulgar relativism, “Nihilism with a happy face.” For them it is certain that there is no truth, only opinion: my opinion, your opinion. They abandon the defense of the intellect…Those who surrender the domain of the intellect make straight the road to fascism. Totalitarianism…is the will-to-power unchecked by any regard for truth. To surrender the claims of truth upon humans is to surrender Earth to thugs…Vulgar relativism is an invisible gas, odorless, deadly, that is now polluting every free society on earth. It is a gas that attacks the central nervous system of moral striving…”There is no such thing as truth,” they teach even the little ones. “Truth is bondage. Believe what seems right to you. There are as many truths as there are individuals. Follow your feelings. Do as you please. Get in touch with yourself…” Those who speak in this way prepare the jails of the twenty-first century. They do the work of tyrants. (cited from Michael Novak’s Templeton Prize Address, Awakening from Nihilism, 1994)
Indeed, abandoning truth is abandoning logic. For, if one emphatically states that there is no truth, how can we be certain their claim to relativism is true? If the statement, “There is no truth” is true, then truth exists. Similarly, if the statement, “There is no truth” is not true, then truth exists. The claim itself is self-defeating. In an attempt to justify moral failures, the relativist will just claim that there is no absolute moral truth. “What is right for you may not be right for me” is a common adage. “That may be true for you, but it isn’t true for me.” This sounds good and very accepting and politically correct. By having this attitude, you would by no means be found guilty of throwing “salt bombs” or labeled a “Jesus-juker”. However, no one really wants this.
Nobody wants the bank teller to look at you when you are withdrawing money from your bank account and say, “Sir, it may be true for you that you have money in your bank account, but it is not true for me…therefore I cannot give you money because I say you do not have any.” We do not just approve of their right to their own opinion in this case. We do not pat them on the back for voicing their relativistic “truth”. No! This is how most of us would respond: “Uh, dude (or lady), I don’t really care what you think is true, the fact is that I have money in my bank account and I’d like it right now!” You either have the money or you don’t. Nothing relative about it! So, the point of that imperfect analogy is that we all desire truth and truth is central to our society. And shouldn’t this make sense to us? God has established our societies and governments and truth flows from his perfect absoluteness (Rom. 13:1).
So, truth matters. Truth is the means through which we find salvation and true liberation (1 Tim. 4:16; Acts 20:26-27; 2 Thess. 2:10; John 8:32; 2 Tim. 2:24-26). Truth is necessary for the continuance of our society. Absolute truth frees us from the evils of fascism and totalitarianism. Truth is what we all desire even when we deny it. The problem is that so many of us fail to realize and recognize the source of truth. In fact, this hardness and blindness to truth is one example of the pervasiveness of our sin. But the beauty of the gospel is that Jesus has accomplished for us the right and privilege to know God who is truth (John 14:6). In fact, we as Christians bank our entire lives and eternities on the absolute truth of the resurrection of Christ (1 Cor. 15:3-4, 17, 19). This truth must be absolute or it would have no substance.
May the conviction to pursue truth in the Word of God and desire truth in your life consume you. Relativism can only be combated with the absolute truth that is central to God. I pray this will strive you to a deeper knowledge of God through biblical reading/study and theological reading/study. Our culture is rampant with the evil and rapidly spreading gas of vulgar relativism. Let us smother it with the sweet aroma of absolutism found at truth’s origin–Jesus Christ. Remember, consider, spend time today meditating on the fact that the Bible is the final and decisive Word of the One who is Truth!