Those who love truth, who seek truth, who avoid lies and half-truths, who are willing to die for the truth—these people alone are the hope of our society. Lies have infiltrated our culture, spreading to every corner, and nobody, whatever their political persuasion, can dispute this. We may disagree about which are the lies, but that there are lies, and that they are pervasive, is certainly true.
Fighting for the truth is no easy task. Many obstacles are put in one’s way. One can be called prideful, arrogant, or—as if this were something to be avoided—a believer in “absolute truth,” as if nothing should ever be taken as completely true, but that everything should be taken with a grain of lie.
And here we unavoidably stumble into that familiar debate between relativism and absolutism, which always seems to come up everywhere, especially between conservatives and liberals, whether you’re talking politics, philosophy, or religion. And lest I myself fall into relativism in describing this debate (an all-to-easy thing to do in any debate in modern times, as we are all presumptuously expected to preface our arguments with “in my humble opinion,” thus conceding the issue before we even make our case) relativism is in fact wrong, being logically self-contradictory, and absolutism is (defined correctly) entirely in the right.
And, no, this is not merely my opinion. It is the truth, or else there is no truth.
I’ve seen this debate from several perspectives over the course of my life, and it seems now that this entire philosophical drama playing out in my head, and more importantly in society, has reached a kind of climax. For once, I am looking back at my own inner philosophical turmoil, stretching back even to my childhood, and I see a working out of the logic of truth, a creation of a kind of armor against disingenuousness, that can only be credited to God’s grace. Because how could I, or any one else, prone to fancies and passions and logical errors, ever really stumble out from the darkness that is love of self-conception, and into the light? But it is possible with enough humility for anyone to do so, and I will talk more about this before the end of this essay. First, let’s shine some light on this beast called Relativism, or—depending on where and in what way one prefers to deny the primacy of truth—sometimes Subjectivism, Solipsism, Agnosticism, Atheism, Modernism, Nihilism, or Postmodernism.
Relativism tries to be the rejection of “isms.” It is a kind of false humility, a careless attempt at Socrates’s “At least I know that I do not know.” It fails because it is really the worst kind of pride, a refusal to submit, to bow down, to enslave oneself to truth.
That’s right, in order to live in truth one must enslave oneself to truth. It is the only way to be truly free. You can’t do math correctly unless you follow the rules exactly. You can’t be a truly good person unless you avoid all sin. “But who of us can be perfect?” That is exactly the question. Certainly not me, not by any effort I could muster.
To believe that there is Truth, to believe in a Right and a Wrong, does not mean that one claims to know all truth or to never do wrong. Relativism is a fool’s creed, an attempt to do no wrong by doing nothing, an attempt to say no wrong by prefacing all statements with “in my opinion.” An attempt to never lose the truth by never looking for it. Relativism is poison, by the way, and it is gradually demolishing our civilization, stone by stone.
It is a swamp of pure doubt. It is a mockery of all faith.
My first encounter with relativism dates back to my parents’ abandonment of religion when I was about ten years old. At the time they embraced the New Age way of thinking. I do not tell this to complain of my upbringing or to criticize my parents, who were doing their best to find the truth. And in fact my mom has since told me she no longer considers herself New Age and doesn’t hold to relativism. In any case, according to the New Age philosophy I was raised with, everyone has to choose their own religion, parents should not tell their children dogmatically what to believe, all beliefs must be respected, and all religious experiences are true to the person that has them. These superficially comforting ideas had already been popular in our culture for decades. New Age taught us that missionaries were all fools, as is anyone hoping to convert anyone to their own religion, that this was nothing but pride and came from a desire to control others. We were taught that all religions were systems for enslaving people’s minds, but that really everyone should be free to find their “own truth” and whatever beliefs make them most happy. We were asked, “If there are so many religions out there with so many fanatical believers, how could any one of them be true and the rest false?” The answer, supposedly, is that none are true or false. True and false is relative to the person having the experience, relative to the society making the judgment call. At best we can each “share” our opinions and come to a mutual “understanding."
What led me out of this way of thinking was the realization that no two New Age believers seemed to agree on anything—scientifically or spiritually. Some believe in aliens, some in the Norse gods, some believe in supernatural beings and prophesies, some mix together the teachings of Jesus and Buddha and Reiki. (A quick warning for those who don’t know yet: Reiki has been shown to be a greedy and dangerous cult.) There’s nothing to put your finger on as true in New Age, simply many different ideas, many of them crazy sounding. Because when you give up on the notion of truth, literally anything goes. Many New Age prophecies were made of the end of times when I was a child and teenager, none of which turned out to be true, and when I realized that it was all based on wishful thinking and what “feels right” I turned to science, which at least is supposed to be based on evidence, reason, and logic.
I’ve talked a lot on this blog about the problems with a “scientistic” view of the universe, where all questions are to be referred to modern science. But it should be obvious from the start that science has nothing much to say about the meaning of life or the reason we are here. Psychology tries to “fix” people by balancing out the chemicals in their brains or helping people with broken thought patterns. But once your mind is working again, what should it be working on? Psychology has nothing to say to healthy people on this question. (And its materialistic methods of trying to heal the soul are deeply wrong to begin with.) On the other hand, the “biggest” questions are supposedly answered by physics, but of course physics only tells you what the universe is made of, and how simple systems move, and has little to say about the meaning of humanity.
So I next turned to philosophy, which I studied as a graduate student. In Plato and other dead thinkers I found some inkling, finally, of purpose, meaning, and living truth. God had created the world, most of the great philosophers agreed, and our purpose was to live virtuously so we could someday be reunited with God. Plato, centuries before Christ, had deduced this much using pure logic, as well as the immortality of the soul. Plato had in fact defeated relativism by logic, and you can read his refutations still today. During his day the relativists were call “sophists” and they held that “man is the measure of all things.” To believe this is not only a denial of God and anything higher than man, but to hold that disagreements can never be decided, that each person or society must decide their own truth. Sound familiar?
But my journey did not end with Plato, just as humankind’s journey toward the truth did not end in 347 BC when Plato died. In fact, everything that Plato discovered was cobwebs and shadow beside the bright illumination given the Jewish people even before Plato was born. (If there was an influence on Plato from Jewish ideas it is indirect or unspoken, because it is mentioned nowhere in his writings.)
The Greek philosophers, in the end, were far too learned for their own good. The generations that came after them resumed their Pagan ways, believing in many gods and no single God or Truth above them. In Roman society, most religions were tolerated, as long as they didn’t cause trouble or interfere with the state religion. The Christians were often not tolerated for precisely this reason—they denied the existence of any other gods and refused to sacrifice at Pagan altars. They were seen as arrogant and—believing in only one God—halfway to atheism and impiety. When you read Greek and Roman historians talk about the Jews and Christians from the outside they see them as spiritually impoverished, lacking the richness of gods and ritual sensualism of the mainstream Pagans. They were socially isolated and worshiped in basements and caves. The Christians, moreover, worshiped no warlike, lusty deity, who seduced nymphs and left many bastard children, but a humble carpenter from Nazareth who healed the sick and died nailed to a cross.
No, despite his bright glimpses of the truth, Plato’s followers remained largely in darkness. And is it any surprise? What teacher can instruct a pupil in more than either of them know? Things wear out and run down, truths get distorted over time, and left to mere humans, even the truest of doctrines get murky through the ages. Plato, furthermore, offered no religion, but merely a collection of consoling thoughts and ideas. For meaning, the Pagans felt better turning to their gods and traditions.
In my case, though Plato did console me some, I was still left with a great deal of doubt, and a great deal of prideful ambition. I believed in God, like Plato, but not all of his reasoning concerning immortality and heaven seemed to hang together. At least, many other philosophers had doubted it. Nietzsche claimed to have demolished Plato in his philosophy, and there were reasons to believe that he had largely succeeded. In short, philosophy was more in question than ever, and as a philosopher I had my work cut out for me sifting the true from the false, if that were even possible in the realm of metaphysics. So many philosophers had failed to reach agreement over the ages—what hope was there for me? To make matters worse, modern philosophy had largely abandoned Plato, embracing pragmatism and positivism and postmodernism instead—all nothing more than ancient sophistry in modern dress. According to pragmatists, truth is relative to human society, according to positivists, truth is relative to human observation, and according to postmodernists, truth is an expression of relative human power. None acknowledge a transcendent source of truth, and these three sister-dogmas reign supreme in the modern university. Those who attempt to defend absolute truth are ridiculed and branded as backwards, close-minded dogmatists.
Yet somehow I persevered in my dogged search. And, as I’ve described, I was led to the teachings of Christ, and I saw that they were superior to all philosophies.
Which leads me to the third and fourth iterations I am encountering of relativism. The first had been the wild anything-goes of New Age, modern-day Paganism. The second was the human-centered sophistry of Greece that Plato battled against, resurrected in modern times as postmodernism, pragmatism and positivism. The third is political liberalism. And the fourth is religious liberalism.
Political liberalism has hit our society hard over the past few decades, and hardest just in the last year. Let me be blunt about it, and if what I say makes anyone uncomfortable or even angry, realize that I am merely stating the unstated but honest opinion of half the people in this country, those of us who are more than fed up with liberalism’s recent excesses. These must be called out for the sake of truth.
In brief, political liberalism is in its self-contradictory essence a total intolerance of intolerance. Wild, hypocritical intolerance of all that is not itself. It holds to the total avoidance of subjective feelings of being “offended,” to an absolute right to “choice,” of not being “oppressed” by ideas that don’t “feel right” to you. Logic is dismantled in a compulsory orgy of “counseling” and “sharing” and psychiatric medication, along with raw “resistance” to the “patriarchy.” That is political liberalism in its essence. There is not much there, philosophically, to chew on. To state its dogmas suffices to refute them. Nevertheless, to those with an emotional attachment to these ideas, what I’m saying may seem cold and unfeeling. It may seem that I’m defending a kind of pure, non-compassionate logic, and dismissing all emotion. But as a matter of fact, I prefer a way of thinking that is infinitely more compassionate than all this socialistic, subjectivistic, self-victimizing posturing. Namely, the way of our Lord, Christ. Jesus came to show us how best to comfort the oppressed and heal the sick of soul. His methods are effective; liberalism’s methods are not. Christ’s methods fill the soul with compassion and love; liberalism’s ways hollow out one’s soul and leave an empty shell of resentment against the system. I don’t know of any exceptions. That is, all those I know of, historically and personally, who have given themselves completely to Christ have become more saint-like; and those who have given in whole-heartedly to Marx’s dream have gone on either to destruction or disillusionment. This goes for entire societies as well. (Volumes could be written on this from an historical perspective. Histories placing the Middle Ages back at the pinnacle of human achievement, re-establishing them and the reigns of their saint-kings, such as the long-forgotten St. Alfred the Great or St. Louis, as the true golden ages, and our age as monstrous and deformed shadow thereof ... but alas! I lack by far the leisure for it, let alone the eloquence, the scholarly discipline. Someday someone needs to write this ...)
In any case, it is interesting how this third iteration, political liberalism—become so blatantly in-your-face over past year—is deeply connected to the fourth iteration, religious liberalism, and thus to Paganism and in a circle to relativistic philosophy. They all ultimately share a root. It is all a turning away from God. The root of it all, that is, is self-worship. It is a refusal to be a slave to the truth; a refusal to do the work necessary to overcome error.
How broken we are. How savagely divorced from the truth. Even those of us who claim to believe in One Truth, how often do we incinerate the truth on the Altar of Non-Offensiveness, or even just the Altar of Convenience and Comfort. How loath we are to evangelize, and tell people the good news: Truth Lives! Certainly, the truth lives, but we have been killing it in our hearts, because the evil one has mastery of the matter of this world, and the matter of this world (I just mean money and popularity and comfort) has mastery over our desires.
Let us not forget, however, amidst all the loud and colorful and sensual distractions of the modern age, who our true Master is. He will not be happy seeing what has been going on while he’s been away. Arguably the best arguments for our Master’s existence were graced to St. Thomas Aquinas, the medieval theologian who is even respected among modern atheistic philosophers for his logical exactitude—one agnostic I knew in grad school even named him as his favorite philosopher.
"Perhaps not everyone who hears this word ‘God’ understands it to signify something than which nothing greater can be thought, seeing that some have believed God to be a body” (ST I, Q2, A1).
So to answer your question, no, God is not a man in the clouds, though sometimes He is portrayed this way for lack of better ways to draw Him. Being infinite, God is beyond anything you could “see to believe.” Hence the need for faith.
Heavenly things are beyond human conception, beyond anything artists can portray. Let’s look at a couple of detailed and otherworldly descriptions from the Bible, visions separated by centuries:
"Every one had four faces, and every one four wings. Their feet were straight feet, and the sole of their foot was like the sole of a calf’s foot, and they sparkled like the appearance of glowing brass. ... And the wings of one were joined to the wings of another. They turned not when they went: but every one went straight forward. ... [T]heir appearance was like that of burning coals ... [They] ran and returned like flashes of lightning” (Ezechiel 1:5-14)
"[I]n the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four living creatures, full of eyes before and behind. And the first living creature was like a lion: and the second living creature was like a calf: and the third living creature, having the face, as it were, of a man: and the fourth living creature was like an eagle flying. And the four living creatures had each of them six wings; and round about and within they are full of eyes. And they rested not day and night ...” (Apocalypse 4:7)
When we speak of heavenly things we are speaking of another world outside our universe, a place farther beyond our comprehension than human society is beyond the comprehension of a dog. It is no wonder that much of what God says to us comes in the form of symbols and allegory, that there are mysteries that even the wisest and holiest humans cannot penetrate. Modern man has lost too much humility, and so we must make an effort to approach the topic of God and the Divine with real reverence. Reverence, that holy virtue we forgot, takes seriousness and meekness, and for us now a very intense fear of the face of God, like the fear a son who has run away should have for the face of his angry father.
Aquinas’s first argument for the existence of God is known as the “prime mover” argument, and in fact goes back to the Pagan philosopher Aristotle, who lived centuries before Christ but was nevertheless a theist. I’m going to enter this argument in depth, to show that by no means does theism equate with ignorance, as modernists hold. If you prefer to skim this next section, be my guest. But don’t complain that I “presume” the existence of a Christian God—on the contrary I—along with all properly educated Christians—can give unassailable reasons that God exists, that theism is true and not just an opinion.
*** BEGIN DETAILED ARGUMENT ***
St. Aquinas writes:
"The first and more manifest way is the argument from motion. It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion. Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another, for nothing can be in motion except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is in motion; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality. Thus that which is actually hot, as fire, makes wood, which is potentially hot, to be actually hot, and thereby moves and changes it. Now it is not possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality and potentiality in the same respect, but only in different respects. For what is actually hot cannot simultaneously be potentially hot; but it is simultaneously potentially cold. It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e. that it should move itself. Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another. If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God."
I quote him in full because the argument is so short, so perfectly concise, were I to delete any significant fraction of it, it would only mangle it.
To the impatient “modern” mind this argument will often sound simplistic. Possible objections will come to mind:
(1) But why, logically, does there have to be a mover at all? Don’t Newton’s laws show that objects in motion tend to stay in motion, so that an object could move forever, past and future, without a mover? And doesn’t quantum mechanics allow for spontaneous motion and fluctuations in the vacuum, violating the requirement for a mover in every case? This seems to be an unjustified assumption.
(2) Likewise, how can we assume that an infinite chain of movers is impossible?
(3) How do we know that this mover is God?
(4) The laws of physics, moreover, are symmetrical in the past and future, so shouldn’t this as easily, therefore, prove a last mover as a first?
But all of these objections arise from carelessness. Either you weren’t paying attention to Aquinas’s actual argument or you weren’t paying attention in physics class.
(1) That there must be a mover is a known law of nature. It is implied by Newton’s three laws. (i) Objects in motion tend to stay in motion unless acted upon by an external force. This means that all motion is either caused by pre-existing or continued motion, or by a mover. (ii) Force equals mass times acceleration. This gives you the law by which potential change in motion is effected, mover to moved, and becomes actual motion. This law conserves the total amount of motion (momentum) and total energy, validating Aquinas’s assertion that motion can never arise out of nothing. (iii) For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In Aristotelian terms “motion” also encompasses acceleration and all other kinds of change. Though this law shows that a “mover” in one respect is also a “moved” in another respect, when speaking of motion in a single respect this law implies, once again, that for any change there is both a mover and a moved. (As to the objection from quantum mechanics, physicists point out that Newton’s Laws remain valid at the quantum level though their expression is more complicated.)
Newton’s Laws can be said to be in essence a precise, mathematical, and practically useful formulation of Aquinas’s first argument for God.
(2) An infinite chain of movers is shown to be impossible by an appeal to the law of causation. “[S]ubsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover.” An infinite chain is trying to get around this law by supposing that the motion has simply always been happening. This again contradicts the laws of physics, which, according to thermodynamics, prohibit perpetual motion. St. Thomas Aquinas gives more details on this line of reasoning in his Second Argument for the existence of God, appealing explicitly to the law of causation, which was the medieval version of what modern scientists call the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics.
(3) Aquinas says that we know this prime mover is God because “everyone understands” it to be. Perhaps this was more true in medieval times—there is such a lack of faith in modern times that we are used to skeptics jumping in and asking how we know it to be so. But to postulate any prime mover other than God is to fall into absurdity. If the first mover was moved by anything else, it was not the first mover. Therefore it is self-moving—but this means it breaks all the laws of physics we’ve been discussing, which prohibit any such thing. (And, corroborating this, cosmologists have shown that all known laws of physics break down as you approach the moment of the Big Bang when all motion came into being—which means that the beginning of the universe did involve a process beyond physics and beyond what we know of nature, put frankly, a supernatural process.) But any system that transcends even the laws of physics has infinitely more degrees of freedom than our entire universe, and is entirely beyond human comprehension. Yet it set all this in motion, our fine-tuned universe that allows, against all likelihood, for human civilization to flourish. Such a feat is impossible without a vaster intelligence than any being in our universe could possess.
(4) This reasoning does in fact prove a “last mover,” named by Aristotle the “final cause” which is the purpose of our universe and can also be argued to be God.
You can read the other 4 proofs of God here (https://www.newadvent.org/summa/1002.htm). Let me just comment very briefly on the rest. Each of these proofs relate, in different ways, to the point I just made ((3) above) about our universe needing a cause more ordered than itself. Look up arguments for fine-tuning, or see this, this, or this post, for more elaboration of how this not only can be reconciled with modern physics, but is strongly implied by the findings of modern cosmology.
*** END DETAILED ARGUMENT ***
Jesus said: “In what measure you shall mete, it shall be measured to you again, and more shall be given to you.” They try to disprove God by physics, but the physics created by God will always have its revenge.
Moreover, they try to disprove God by relativism, arguing that he is too intolerant to be loving. But their relativism is making them too intolerant to love either God or their fellow man. We’ve tried to give up and say “Don’t judge"—not at all—yet this was not what Jesus meant when he said “In what measure you shall mete,” but rather he meant to condemn hypocrisy. And nothing is more hypocritical than saying “everybody is right” or “in my humble opinion” when you know the truth, refuse to look for the truth, or condemn all believers in the truth.
That God exists cannot be rationally denied. Proofs of His existence have been known for thousands of years. It is carelessness to ignore them. God is infinitely more powerful than any of us can imagine—I find it hard to believe the foolishness of those who continue to defy His authority. Do they not believe that an infinitely wise God would be merciful and loving to those who turn to Him? Jesus, our Lord, came to give us testimony of this love, of God’s desire to forgive those who repent, and to show the infinite depths of this love on the cross.
Do you not think that God could let a virgin conceive, or his Son walk on water or raise the dead, when he could form our universe and smooth the fabric of space-time to one part in 1010^123? It is simple for any human programmer to hack his own program, to put in cheat codes to fly or heal at will. And you think God couldn’t do it, or wouldn’t do it to show that He cares? It’s absurd and terrifying how many people are unable to believe because they’ve bought into the modern propaganda that science has defeated religion and shown it to be silly.
A few things to ponder, while I work on Part 2.