How to respond to those who use Absolutes to refute Absolutes
In recent debate I was confronted by a couple folks who fancied themselves as accomplished post-modern philosophers. They maintained that the Christian's belief in absolute objective standards of morality is an arrogant imposition of our values on them and the rest of society. Here is a synopsis of a response that you might find helpful.
Student Question: “Truth as an ‘objective absolute’ is an arrogant position. This is the problem with you Christians. You always think that you are right… The real enemy of truth is people who postulate absolutes rather than those who contest the constructs of the socially, politically, and culturally powerful who want to impose their ‘truth’ on the rest of us.”
Piper Response: First I want to be clear that my response is a critique of your ideas and not an attack of you as a person. It is incredibly important that we remember to honor the dignity of all people as we engage in any debate. Unfortunately, the opposite prevails way too often in our present culture. Disagreement quickly degenerates into yelling, anger, and intimidation. These emotional tactics do not lend themselves to rational conclusions. They are ad hominem distractions pure and simple and they only serve to make the attacker feel superior at the expense of his or her more soft spoken (and often more polite) victim. First Corinthians, not to mention basic Socratic logic, clearly condemns such gamesmanship. So, in my following comments I will do my best to stay focused on ideas and their consequences and, thereby, prayerfully flee any temptation to be hurtful, rude, or demeaning toward you or others who might disagree with me.
Now with this as context let me respond to your first point. You mention that those who claim that there are objective truths are arrogant and that the “real enemy of truth is people who postulate absolutes rather than those who contest such constructs.” Here is a question for you to consider: Aren’t you postulating your own absolute in making this claim? You clearly believe your position to be superior to that of the opposing view: You believe you are right and they are wrong. Thus, doesn’t your own logic assume the very objective standards of measurement that you condemn others for using? The presupposition of your argument, i.e. that you are absolutely right in believing that absolutists are absolutely wrong for believing in absolutes, makes me feel as if I am watching a dog chase its tail. It is like saying that you can’t tolerate the intolerant or you’re sure that nothing is sure or that you hate those hateful people or that you are righteously indignant toward the righteous.... Do you see the problem here? You are inadvertently affirming the case for absolutes by using absolute language to refute it.
Next, I just have to comment, at least briefly, about the implicit confidence you have in your position. You say “The problem with Christians is that they always think they are right.” Now, I don’t begrudge you the strength of your conviction. In fact, an argument would have little (if any) authority, energy, weight or purpose if it didn’t presuppose some degree of accuracy and or veracity higher than and better than that to which it is juxtaposed. So, I sincerely admire your backbone, if you will, but I must at the same time point out a problem imbedded just under the surface of your self-assurance. You see here again, your passion to expose the wrongness of someone else’s thinking (in this case conservative Christians) simply cannot stand unless the rightness of your own absolute prevails. In other words, aren’t you basically saying that “you are right in criticizing anyone who thinks they are right” and by doing so, you, by default, have joined the ranks of those you accuse (Your only other position would have to be for you to say that you are wrong in condemning those who always think they are right but it doesn’t appear that you want to go there …).
One last word – If absolute truth is nothing but a personal illusion and misplaced arrogance, then all ideas, values and consequent behaviors are merely the product of anthropological constructs and, therefore, it really doesn’t matter what a person believes (or for that matter what you and I believe). All that does matter is the political and social power base of a given time and place and we should all be fine with that - Right? If your answer is yes, however, I think we need to go back and reevaluate your original point where you bemoan the “constructs of the socially, politically, and culturally powerful who want to impose their “truth” on the rest of us.” For, your position leaves nothing but power (personal or collective) as a basis for you or anyone else to critique and/or challenge someone else’s “impositions.” As David Horowitz tells us in Left Illusions when we forfeit the absolutes afforded us by boundaries of Truth we, at the same time, loose all objective measures of what is right and what is wrong and we then suffer the inevitable consequence of being subject to the “rule of the gang” as the final judge. And, history tells us that the “gang” is not an arbiter to be trusted.