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What’s true for you isn’t necessarily true for me

1 July 2011 | by Giles Coughlan

What’s true for you isn’t necessarily true for me

‘Who are you to judge? There are many roads to God. It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere.’ How do we share God’s truth in the face of such questions? Behind such a statement is the belief that truth is something for individuals to decide themselves. Truth is seen as personal.

What is personal truth?

People who hold that truth is personal really mean that truth is relative to them and not the same for everyone. Truth is not ‘out there’ to be discovered but ‘inside’ to be decided upon. Truth, for many in today’s society, is just whatever you decide it to be. Of course, another person may disagree with your ‘personal truth’, but that doesn’t matter since everybody’s truth is different. The golden rule for this type of thinking is that you must never call someone else’s belief ‘wrong’.

Yet, in Proverbs 16:25 it clearly explains that ‘there is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.’ Wrong belief is dangerous and we need to speak out in compassion and love.

Our current climate

It is easy to see how the idea of personal truth fuels government policies of pluralism, equality and diversity. It is taught in the education system and provides the bedrock for a postmodern society. In fact, many people today are so committed to the idea of personal truth that any claim of universal truth is viewed with scepticism and suspicion. When they hear a Christian sharing that faith in Jesus is the only way to go to heaven, some instantly reject it saying ‘Who are you to say that Christianity is the one true religion?’

Many of your friends, colleagues and relatives will assume that truth is to be decided personally and that God is who they define Him to be. The pick and mix religion is here. A little eastern mysticism, a few platitudes here and there, and people feel at complete liberty to create their own view of what God is like. The problem for Christians is that when they tell their friend God has revealed Himself uniquely in Christ, they are wrongly perceived as arrogant and intolerant.

Where has the idea of personal truth come from?

Hold on to your hats if deep philosophical thought makes you dizzy! Stay with us though, we do come back to earth! The roots for this belief can be traced back to the Prussian philosopher Immanuel Kant (b1724). In Kant’s most influential work, Critique of Reason, he suggests that the properties of things that exist do not belong to the things themselves. Instead, they are defined by the mental thoughts of man. For example, the moon does not objectively orbit around the earth. According to Kant it is only a mental process of man that means the moon orbits around the earth. Meaning is not objective or universal and ‘out there to be discovered’, but it is subjective, personal and ‘internally defined by the subjective mental activity of man.’

Personal truth, therefore, has its roots in the assumption that objective truth does not, in fact, exist. All that exists is man’s perception of the world around. So, in a strange twist of irony, God’s existence would be dependent on man’s perception of Him. In other words man makes God. Clearly a deeply anti-Christian belief and one which seeks to rob God of the glory that is rightfully His.

A recent example

At the end of last year I was speaking on the subject of universal truth whilst preaching the gospel in Birmingham City Centre. I was confronted by a fairly aggressive individual who strongly held to the idea of personal truth. I pressed him on a sensitive issue like, ‘do you think it is always wrong to abuse a child?’ He refused to change his position. However, the listening crowd had no problem seeing that it was always wrong to abuse a child. They accepted that some things had to be universally true. In fact the heckler’s hard line position was clearly unattractive and threw up all sorts of questions about the man’s character. Would you trust this man to be a school teacher? On his beliefs you certainly wouldn’t.

Answering common objections to universal truth

  1. All religions contain some truth about God. Christianity is just one among many religions.

The implication of this is that all religions know a little about God, so some in society think you shouldn’t say Christianity is the right one and the others are wrong. Sounds humble, right? It isn’t. How could a person know that all religions know only a part of what God is like? Only if they possessed all knowledge about God!

Use questions to expose this belief. For example, ‘How did you decide what bits were true for each religion?’ or ‘How did you know which bits were wrong?’ and ‘How did you know that you didn’t make a mistake?’ Then gently explain that your faith is based on the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ witnessed by over 500 people and recorded over the centuries in the Bible and believed upon by millions. Deal with people kindly and respectfully. Lots of people will hold this exact view but will not realise the ridiculousness of what they believe so don’t belittle them but gently instruct them.

  1. Who are you to judge?

To be consistent, a person who believes that there is no universal truth should not criticise anyone for holding any belief. Since they hold that there is no universal truth no belief is more or less important than any other. In effect, their belief should mean they cannot judge your belief! So it could be asked of the questioner ‘Who are you to say, “who are you to judge?”’

If we don’t have the right to challenge someone else’s belief, why do they suddenly have the right to challenge ours? It is inconsistent. They are saying that you should not make judgements, but yet they are making a judgement. In this way they violate their own principle of non-judgement by telling others they shouldn’t make moral judgements. Again, being gracious in how you answer the question is as important as what you say.

Giles Coghlan is an evangelist, currently studying at WEST.