March 26, 2017

January 15, 2013

Aphorism of the Day (G. K. Chesterton)

This could be an unending series, because there are more aphorisms uttered by G. K. Chesterton than there are days remaining on earth to mortals like myself. Nevertheless, this one is good enough to stand all by itself:

If truth is relative, to what is it relative?

That comes from a weekly column Chesterton wrote for the London Daily News, on June 2, 1906. In nine words, it encapsulates the entire fallacy of (post)modern, subjective relativism—such as those who want to reinterpret the truth of the Bible, in order to “adjust” it “relative” to their own desires, inclinations and lives (even with the very best of intentions).

It applies equally well to those in our country’s political life who claim that the Founders expressed truths relevant only to their own time, and that the Constitution is a “living” document that must be interpreted anew by each generation. And if what the Founders embodied in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence was not any kind of “truth”, but only something “relevant for their time,” then forget the quaint notion that America was founded upon, and stands for, the truth. (If you would like an example of a “relative truth” in the Constitution, good only until 1808, see how carefully Article I, Section 9 limited Congress’ power to address slavery.)

Whether uttered in politics or in religion—they are the same claim, and the same same fallacy. If in doubt, reread Chesterton quote above, and try to answer his question while still making sense.

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Ravi Zacharias often says along those same lines, “If all truth is relative, then that statement itself is relative!”  The scary thing about this whole mess is the fact that many who utter statements like this are fairly smart people, but the statement collapses under the weight of the most elementary facts about logic. 

Thanks for posting.

[1] Posted by Cranmerian on 1-16-2013 at 09:54 AM · [top]

If there is no such thing as objective truth, all we are left with is subjective lies.

[2] Posted by DeeBee on 1-16-2013 at 10:00 AM · [top]

The conclusion of the path of “all truth is relative” is the parting shot you may hear, “your truth is not my truth.”

[3] Posted by Undergroundpewster on 1-16-2013 at 10:26 AM · [top]

I think the leaders of “relativism” should try it for themselves - maybe by seeing if gravity is absolute?  wink

[4] Posted by B. Hunter on 1-16-2013 at 11:05 AM · [top]

#3, Yep, Pewster. I have heard that “Your truth is not my truth” lie before. I love G.K. Chesteron’s quote. I think the answer to G. K. Chesteron’s question is unfortunately rather simple. It is relative to what I think/believe. There it is again- that nasty “I” again as the center of the word sin.

When you make yourself the center of the world…....... well you can finish the sentence.

[5] Posted by SC blu cat lady on 1-16-2013 at 11:39 AM · [top]

It is unfortunate that we have been dealing with the same illogic since 1906.

[6] Posted by tired on 1-16-2013 at 11:44 AM · [top]

And of course, a “live” constitution means a dead or dying democracy.

[7] Posted by tired on 1-16-2013 at 11:45 AM · [top]

Well, I suppose the philosophers would say “it is relative to the circumstances and the context and the frame of reference.”  Thus “the sun rises in the East” is only true relative to a frame of reference in which the Earth is stationary. 

I think those who promote “the truth is relative” are really just asserting that there are no eternal truths.  All of Western science is based on the hypothesis that “the (eternal) truth is out there” just waiting to be found.  But then Western science sprang from Christian and Jewish roots.

[8] Posted by Michael D on 1-16-2013 at 02:28 PM · [top]

When Blake was confronted with the statement of Descartes “I think therefor I am,”  he said that this was the most dangerous idea ever conceived by man. He believed it put man in the center of all reality. I guess that if you have seen angels it changes your perspective.

[9] Posted by Pb on 1-16-2013 at 02:56 PM · [top]

Interesting comments, all—thank you. But what a difference a century makes.

Chesterton did not play around with capital letters, but when he used the word “truth” he clearly meant God’s Truth (logos, capital “T”), and not man’s truth (little “t”). Much of today’s fogging of the window (or mirror) comes from a failure to be clear in defining one’s terms.

For those who deny God’s existence, truth is relative and ephemeral, because each man / woman perceives “reality” differently. And “reality” is not God, but just whatever each person thinks may be out there (in many cases, nothing). In such a world of no absolutes, there can be no Truth—and so it is a truism to say that truth is relative. Generic man’s truth is always, and by definition, relative to other humans.

But for those whose faith is in God, Truth and God are synonymous: God cannot deceive, or lie. Men do, and so men can try to hide or dissemble the Truth. Regardless of what man does, however, Truth (God) abides, eternal and unchanging.

As fallen beings, we must never be convinced beyond all doubt that we see or know the Truth—that mistake simply elevates human judgment beyond all reason and human capacity. The best we can do is to be confident that Truth is there, eternal and unchanging, waiting for us to discover / uncover it through our faith in its existence and in its unfaltering essence.

That is what made his faith so exciting and fulfilling for Chesterton: every new day was a chance to see some of the Truth, and to test what he believed he saw on previous days, whether that test came through encounters with other individuals, or events in his life, or just the sight of a bird perching on a fencepost. For him, Truth was unfailingly exhilarating. Pity, then, and pray for those for whom truth is all they want or ever will have.

[10] Posted by A. S. Haley on 1-16-2013 at 11:11 PM · [top]

A philosophy professor once explained that everything is relative.

Except tenure.

[11] Posted by Just a Baptist on 1-16-2013 at 11:51 PM · [top]

Mr. Haley,
Yes, absolutely! As more people have forgotten or don’t know God’s truth which is replaced by man’s truth, is it any wonder that people have become even more fallen in today’s post-modern society?  God’s truth is an exciting guide to living one’s life.

[12] Posted by SC blu cat lady on 1-17-2013 at 09:34 AM · [top]


LOL! My professors explained Tenure to me as a legal fiction as far from a absolute *truth* as you can get. In many places, it is <b>fiction<>especially if all faculty sign one year contracts.

[13] Posted by SC blu cat lady on 1-17-2013 at 09:36 AM · [top]

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