Friday, February 17, 2006

Truth with a capital "T"?

The other night I attended a lecture by a prominent scholar of religious phenomonology. He talked about understanding religious participation and people's level of commitment to it in market terms. When there is one official religion of the state/culture/whatever participation is low because that religious practice is a given, and the leaders of the practice (preists, whoever) don't have to work to keep it going. However, when there is a plurality of religions in a society, participation and commitment is high because people have more choice and the leaders of the various religious traditions have to work to keep their institution going.

The application for today, of course, is that many mega-churches get lots of people by offering things that are attractive, but not necessarily religious in nature. The big church's youth group goes on cooler trips and has a coffee house in their basement, for example.

During the question time one guy got up and asked if it's possible that growing churches weren't experiencing success because they offered the most perks, but because they offered the most Truth. There was a very audible snicker from the liberal intelligensia in the crowd, as if to say, "Silly little man, he still thinks there's such a thing as Truth!"

While I didn't think that he asked the most well informed question in the world, neither did I agree with those that laughed at him. Those that have completed advanced degrees in humanities disciplies (myself included) are well read in Derrida and other postmodern writers who deconstruct modern notions of absolute Truth and pure objectivity in a very compelling way.

The temptation is to say that there are no absolutes and that everyone constructs their own relative truth for themselves. The problem is, that's a statement that implies an absolute. Absolute relativism is kind of an oxymoron.

The issue is not really the behavior of a group of intellectual snobs, even though I am often accused of being one. The issue is that in an age when we are coming to realize that our social and cultural context puts its own particular spin on how we interpret everything, and the extreme limitations of our language to express things, how can we still talk about Truth in absolute terms? Is there any common groud on which a religious community can stand?

I think so. But it's admittedly harder than I'd like it to be. The short version is, I do believe there is one absolute Truth in the universe: God.

God is the absolute Truth. My ability to understand God is not absolute, though.

All other truths we proclaim are valid and true if they point to the reality of the God who is the ultimate ground of our being, but at the same time is present with us in all times and places, and who is constantly calling creation to be all that God created it to be.

That's a mouthful, I know. And even my flushing out of that long sentence is a series of truth claims, which I believe point to the larger Truth of God. I can only pray that I'm on the right track, and that some day I'll actually be wise enough to really get what it means.

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