Choosing Our Truth Sources
Dr. James Emery White Dr. James Emery White's weblog
- 2021 Mar 01
I recently came upon a podcast devoted to one of my books, A Mind for God, that came out in 2006. It was heartening that the book was still serving others and maintaining a level of interest that would continue to warrant discussion some 15 years after its release.
At the end of the podcast, after noting the timeless appeal for the development of a life of the mind, the two hosts asked each other what they thought might have changed since the book was released that would be of relevance.
You can imagine I leaned in a bit to listen carefully.
The first podcaster said that when I wrote the book all things transgender were not in the forefront of many discussions circulating around sexuality and human identity. He thought that if written today, that might have been used as an example or cultural touchpoint of an area where Christian thinking need be applied. He was right, of course. In 2005 (when the book was actually written), the front-burner issue with all things LGBTQ was not the “T.” And to be sure, the issues swirling around the transgender conversation are arguably among the most intellectually confusing for people, not to mention theologically important. In regard to the transgender conversation, we are arguing over the very nature of gender, sexuality and human identity. I have blogged about this issue most recently in a blog titled “Sex Matters.” So yes, while the book was a call to develop a life of the mind, there is little doubt that one of the issues that a developed mind needs to address in our day is the transgender issue.
But it was the other podcaster’s response that got me thinking. He pointed out that my take on the role of moral relativism in culture needed updating, referencing this particular section of the book:
“The basic idea of moral relativism is: What is true for you is true for you, and what is true for me is true for me. What is moral is dictated by a particular situation in light of a particular culture or social location. Moral values become a matter of personal opinion or private judgment rather than something grounded in objective truth.
“This is so entrenched in Western culture that Allan Bloom, reflecting on his role as a university educator, maintains that there ‘is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of. Almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.’ Much of this has led to a changing view of reality itself, based on the growing sense that no one can be truly objective. You cannot stand outside of your own context – including experiences, biases and the historical-cultural current – and be free to make an unconditioned observation. More than the sentiment, ‘That’s your opinion,’ the idea is that everything is opinion. This does not mean that there’s not a reality ‘out there,’ just that all of our ‘stories’ about what is ‘out there’ are the products of individual, highly subjective minds engaging ‘what is.’ So reality is little more than what we as individuals perceive it to be.”
Against this, he contended that truth has made a cultural comeback of late as evidenced by such things as “identity politics.” Now everyone believes in truth—and wants to fight about it! There’s an “I’m right, and you’re wrong” mentality about just about everything. So no longer is there a disavowal of truth, just a divide over what is true. But people believe, deeply, in what they perceive to be true.
His point was well taken, but I would maintain that moral relativism is as alive and well as ever. We may not say to those we are in disagreement with that “what is true for you is true for you, and what is true for me is true for me.” But we will say, “What is a truth source for you is a truth source for you, and what is a truth source for me is a truth source for me.” And, they might add, the facts from my truth source are better and more informed than yours. There is still no claim to a transcendent truth source, just the citation of sources that we decided to make our source for truth.
So yes, while people are holding to what is “true” more than ever before and are claiming to have knowledge of it that the other side doesn’t (pick your issue), we’re still in charge. We’re making the judgment as to what is true simply by determining what we will sanction as our truth source. So it’s “don’t bother me with the facts – those are your facts. I have different facts, and I like my facts better.” All to say, the way we are couching our relativism has changed, but the idea of truth being a construct of our creation and control?
No, that hasn’t changed at all.
James Emery White
James Emery White, A Mind for God.
Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today's Students.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book After “I Believe” is now available on Amazon or your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.