4/30/2013 note: If you are coming here from Google, here is the update to this post. I tried to make use of some editing skills to make it more readable.
Reposted from what seems like a now-defunct Garage Scholars blog (argh!). A very good recap of a Ravi Zacharias message, “A Defense of Absolute Truth”, which details why secularism fails to provide a coherent set of answers to the problems of the world (part 1 | part 2).
An interesting anecdotal defense of this point is in the second result of this Google search.
Here’s a gem: Secularization = no shame. Relativism = no reason. Privatization = no meaning. [All three have occurred to varying degrees in Westernized civilizations.]
Original post has been reposted below.
[note: in case you missed it, this is a recap which has taken on a kind of bullet-point form. I’ve reformatted parts of it for readability. If you don’t get parts of it, feel free to comment.
note #2: thread available at Newsvine. I’m thinking about manually importing it.]
On Saturday, March 12, the Garage Scholars, named that day by Robert Grange, held their second meeting and listened to a talk by Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias. This talk was given the day before Ravi’s talk at the Mormon Tabernacle.
A Defense of Absolute Truth
The University of Utah
Sexuality, marriage, stem-cell research, genetics—“these things are getting very, very complex.” It’s hard to know “how to address this tangled subject with meaning and coherence.”
Two worldviews in conflict (relativism and absolute truth).
I. The nature of truth: we must come to conclusion that truth does matter, especially when you’re on the receiving end of a lie.
- Trip to courtroom with family—saw trial of man accused of raping two minors. After the prosecutor finished, Ravi was certain he was guilty. But then after the defense attorney spoke, Ravi was not so sure of what the truth was. “How much more important it is that we understand the truth and the source of truth about life’s essence, meaning and destiny.”
- Churchill: “The truth is the most valuable thing in the world. Indeed it is so valuable that it is often protected by a bodyguard of lies.” He was talking about a context of war.
- Natan Sharansky: Went back to the prison in Moscow where he was held, and to the room where he was tortured. Told wife, “It was here that I actually discovered my soul.” Laid a wreath at grave of man who gave Soviets nuclear bomb: “I’ve always thought that the most powerful weapon in the world was the bomb. I’ve come to the conclusion that the most powerful weapon in the world is the truth.”
II. Western culture: standing now on the quicksand of relativism, “with our feet planted firmly in mid-air,” as Chesterton said.
- How do we find the truth in times such as these?
- Three changes in mood and social phenomena in the last 20 to 25 years.
- Yankelivich: finding fulfillment in the shifting moods of American life. “Culture is the effort to provide a coherent set of answers to the existential situations that confront all human beings in the passage of their lives.” There has to be a coherence in our culture, he wrote in the 1980’s. “A cultural revolution is one that makes a decisive break with the shared meanings of the past, particularly those meanings that deal with the significant questions of the purpose and meaning of life.” You and I are assumed today to have shared meanings from the past that address the present.
There was a revolution in the last 20 to 25 years: first, of secularization.
1. Secularization: the process by which religious ideas, institutions and interpretations have lost their social significance.
- If you are religiously minded you are assumed to be prejudiced. If you are irreligiously minded you are assumed to be objective.
- Toronto: the “good” city. Mayor took a position on an issue, he got 20,000 phone calls, and he said he was discounting the calls because the calls were mostly from religious people, and, “We all know they are predisposed and prejudiced on this subject.”
- Man on trial for pornography. Defense lawyer didn’t want jurors who were religious. Then he cross-examined witnesses by asking them about going into an art gallery with pictures of nudes. He asked them, “What is the difference?” How do you argue at that point? [Subpoints:]
- Michaelangelo: said he wanted to paint nudes so he could see “man as God sees man.” The teacher said, “Michael, you are not God.” There are proclivities within the human heart to take that which is normally decent and twist it.
- C.S. Lewis: A Pilgrim’s Regress: protagonist , John, arrives at mountain called “The spirit of the age.” The person is charge is grim and unhappy, rather than a smile. John finds himself in chains. When he comments on the deliciousness of milk, a man says, “All it is is the secretion of a cow.” As he left the mountain he said, “You lie because you don’t know the difference between what nature has meant for nourishment and what is has meant for garbage.”
- We no longer know this difference, b/c we have no more points of reference. A woman being exploited for pornography, under secularism, will not know that she is being exploited.
- Secularization has left society bereft of shame.
- The Passion of the Christ. Liberals, for the first time, were worried about violence on screen and said that it affects our behavior.
- There is a very thin line between that which is sacred and that which is profane. And if you profane that which is sacred, you plunder yourself. Chesteron: “Emptiness does not come from being weary of pain, but rather weary of pleasure.”
Main point: Secularization = no shame.
Revolution of the last 20 to 25 years continues: relativism
- Pluralization is a good thing: a competing number of worldviews available with none dominant. In a world like this, you cannot avoid this. We must accept it and learn to respect the individual and engage the idea. We keep people in their equality, but ideas in their hierarchy. “Where else but in Los Angeles can you find a Korean selling kosher tacos?”
- Other cultures and countries have unique perspectives to offer us.
- America was not framed by a pantheistic worldview. It could not have come into being in a Muslim worldview. “No Muslim scholar has ever disagreed with me.” “Pantheism would never have generated the language of the founding documents.” Islam: the whole world is seen through the lense of the revelation of the prophet. Hinduism likes to call itself a way of life. We in the west have forgotten how a worldview shaped us.
- Moral relativism puts us on the knife-edge of destruction. Logic will tell you that. You cannot live a life that is systemically contradictory. What contradiction is to reason sin is to life. If your logic breaks down, so does your argument. If your morality breaks down, so does your life.
- Ravi’s ancestors were orthodox priests in the southern part of India. A hindu professor of Eastern philosophy challenged him to speak on why he is not a hindu, and “afterwards we’ll tear you to shreds.” Ravi said he would speak on why he is a Christian. He said that the pantheistic worldview is systemically contradictory. Anything can basically mean anything; terms are meaningless (The Hindu View of Life; Ghandi said there were some statements from the hindu founding document [didn’t catch] that he wished he could expunge). Afterward, the professor said that Ravi did not understand the two kinds of logic—the law of non-contradiction, an either/or way of thinking, which is Western thought, and then there is the law of both/and way of thinking, the dialectical system, which is Eastern. The professor said that the dialectical system applied to Hinduism, not the either/or system. Ravi said, “You’re telling me that when I discuss the Hindu religion, I either use the both/and system of logic or nothing else, is that right?” He said, “The either/or way of thinking does seem to emerge, doesn’t it?” Ravi said, “Even in India you look both ways when you cross the street, it’s either you or the bus.” He was using the either/or system to prove the both/and.
- The way to test the validity of way of thinking is to see that which best corresponds to reality.
- Unalienable rights. What do we mean? How can a quantity that is the produce of random chance have moral rights? How can we talk about racism if we do not believe in essential dignity (imago dei)?
- Chesterton: The modern revolution doubts not only the idea he denounces, but the system of thinking by which he denounces it…The modern revolutions, being an infinite skeptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mind…By rebelling against everything, he has lost his right to rebel against anything…The tragedy of disbelieving in God is not that a man ends up believing in nothing. Alas, it is much worse, that person may end up believing in anything.”
- Kant: Unconfronted by God, we may use reason to arrive at a moral conclusion. Iris Murdoch responded by saying, “how recognizable, how familiar to us, is this man so beautifully portrayed by Kant, who even confronted by Christ, turns away to hear the voice of his own reason…free, independent, lovely, rational, brave, the hero of so many novels and books of philosophy…he is the offspring of the age of science, confidently rational and yet increasingly aware of his alienation from the material universe which is discoveries uncover…Kant’s creation was created by Milton, though. His name is Lucifer.” “Knowledge is a dangerous friend when no one makes the rules.”
Main cumulative point: Secularization = no shame. Relativism = no reason.
3. Privatization: a breakdown in the modern experience between the public and the private sphere and we are forced to find meaning in the private. We are muzzled.
- Dohar universities. Great technology, but in every building there are prayer rooms. “I may not agree with that worldview, but they’re being consistent with what they believe…Here we believe religion is an amputation of the brain. The more educated we get apart from moral absolutes…the more we will train intellectually sophisticated people.” Huxley said that science may have given us “improved means to achieve inferior or deteriorated ends.” Our means may become great while our ends become damnable.
- Many students at universities come to him and ask how to not take their own lives. We have fragmented ourselves. How can we bring unity and diversity if we do not see the sacredness of life itself…the soulishness of human beings, the inner reality where we see the hurt and pain and needs.
- Every culture ultimately speaks from the agony of its wounds.
- How can you privatize your most valuable belief? We’re doing this to our own damage. When privatization has run its course, you end up without meaning.
Main cumulative point: Secularization = no shame. Relativism = no reason. Privatization = no meaning.
The loneliest moment in life is that in which you experience that which you thought was the ultimate, and it has let you down.
We must look to an answer that looks beyond this world.
Jesus, when tempted in the wilderness, was tempted to do the right thing for the wrong reason.
- We are not material, but spiritual. “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every world that comes from the mouth of God.”
- You can’t use God as a slot machine for your life. “Why don’t you jump and see if the angels will save you.”
- If you’re looking for an absolute, you will only find it when all the diversity within in you is bound up in the coherence of the worship of the living God, who is the truth.
The diversities of your life, if they move into an angular form, you will find yourself fragmented within. There has to be a worldview that binds these diversities into a
Life is sacred, your word is sacred, property, sexuality, relationships, are all sacred.
Starting with the Renaissance man was artistic being, then rational, then skeptical, existential, volitional and desperate, and now, in post-modernism, man is the defining being, or non-being. Instead of God doing the defining, we are doing the defining, and the deluge is coming.
Each of those movements and ideas has its place, but only God blends them all together and brings unity and says, “I have fashioned you in my image,” and when you worship him with honor, everything is joined, because there is a transcendent reason for your being.
“Whoever told you that life had to be coherent?” a woman shouted at Zacharias once. He asked her if she wanted his answer to be coherent or incoherent.
Garage scholars thoughts:
Only God is the eternally coherent being that gives us our definitions.
Greatest desire after listening to this:
Karl: to be able to think like that.
Chris: to be able to decide if there really is just a black and white or if there is a gray. “I believe that Christianity and the way of God is the only way, and with that I believe there is only one reality to a cetain extent, but I think there are other ways of viewing life and other paradigms, because the world is a fallen world. I feel like he’s saying there is only one reality, only one way of viewing the world. There is one true way to do that, but we can’t expect everyone to see it our way.”
I said, “The bible says that you should see it that way.”
Chris talked aobut Ravi’s point about coherence. He seemed to think that Ravi was addressing people like Ghandi, but I said that he was not, but instead was addressing people who think that there are no answers.
Karl said we should look at other worldviews through the lens of Scripture.
Chris said he was “not necessarily convicted,” but when he was discussing privatization, “I have to wrestle with that….secularization at school, and separation of church and state.” Said he still “thinks there is something to privatization.” “If I were to be in politics, I would still make laws for a secular world from a secular mindset.”
Chris made an interesting point about universities’ discussing the hope of pluralization spread around the world, erasing ethnic and geographic and theological differences, and bringing world peace. I’ve seen this perspective articulated by David Fishback, the chair of Montgomery County’s citizens advisory committee on student health and reproductive education. He says, “Theology does not have a place in schools, unless it is the golden rule of loving others like yourselves.”