The Problem With Culturally Defined Truth

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A few things that were once considered culturally acceptable by various groups:

  • Slavery
  • The Crusades
  • Killing infants by exposure (leaving them to die)
  • Murdering Jews
  • Segregation

The list could go a lot further than that but the point is, at some point in time there were large groups of people found these things socially and morally acceptable. If you are going to take moral relativism to its ultimate end you would have to contend that all these things, even though they are detestable behaviors to us, were perfectly morally acceptable to them because what is true for us may not have been true for them. At the end of the day subjective truth fails. It is possible to be fully convinced of something and be wrong. That is easier to see in others from past decades and centuries than it is to see in ourselves.

We have our own list of things today that are viewed as socially acceptable, “our truth”, that hopefully one day people will look back on and see as barbaric practices. Abortion is #1 on that list. Can you imagine some kid 200 years from now asking his dad if Americans really did kill 45 million of their own babies (dwarfing the 11-17 million killed in the holocaust). Not just murderous, hate-filled people…but every day folks just like you and I giving permission for their babies to be killed before they were born. But if moral relativism prevails we just continue to delude ourselves into thinking bad is good and good is bad.

Culturally defined, subjective truth, just doesn’t work out in the real world. I understand why people find it so appealing but the reality is in the end it will fail to do a better job than the objective truth it set out to replace.

0 Responses

  1. Matt,

    i think you’re absolutely right. The only thing that scares me is being able to know in every case whether or not we’ve simply gone along with something culturally acceptable that is, in fact, very wrong. There were a significant number of religious leaders who came out in support (or complicit) support of slavery in the early to mid 19th century. And also a great many religious leaders were opposed to desegregation 60 years ago. Our own Foy E. Wallace was quite vocally in support of keeping the church and schools segregated. Can we really conclude that all these people were insincere or blatantly ill-motived in their stances? i believe they were wrong, tragically wrong. Perhaps some of them knew deep down they were simply covering for their own sinful attitudes. But all of them? What if i’m self-deceived about a particular issue right now? A lot of these features of history that in hindsight we deem clear injustices–if you investigate the events as they were happening, the church in general was not on board. How do we start getting on board while it’s happening rather than not seeing the truth of it until decades after the fact?


  2. Few cultures have been as narcissistic as ours, which leads to all sorts of problems: promiscuous sex, abortion, selfish indifference to the poor, etc., etc. What makes churches spend the vast majority of their budgets on themselves in one way or another? And much of that is for our own creature comfort when we are at the assembly of the church!

    Will a future generation actually believe we of this generation were really as self-centered as we are? It’s hard for us to believe it of ourselves, and we are living in the middle of it.

  3. i’m no moral relativist, but it seems to me a great deal of the problem is that we (christians) argue for an objective truth, and then are not objective in locating it. we make God’s laws and even God himself in our own image. believing in objective truth, but supporting slavery and segregation (large portions of christianity), just doesn’t seem all that much better than buying moral relativism. rather than misled, it comes across as dishonest.

    1. Making God in our image is certainly not an objective way to go about it. I would rather believe in absolutes, right and wrong, than go with relativism just to avoid getting bits and pieces of the objective point of view wrong. I am not saying that is what you are doing…just responding to your point. No matter which perspective you take you are never going to get at it perfectly. Both points of view can be used for selfish means because we have people involved in this process and it isn’t done in a vacuum. But objective truth is still the better way to go.

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