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Is truth absolute or relative?


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Some current religious/philosophical debates concern:

bulletThe nature of truth:
bulletAre there answers to some questions that are absolute. That is, they are universally true for all time and in all societies? For example, it is possible to say "Thou shalt not murder" absolutely? or
bulletAre answers always relative to a particular culture, or era, or worldview? (A worldview is a person's basic beliefs concerning deity, humanity and the rest of the universe.)
bulletThe morality of certain acts and behaviors:
bulletDoes a specific act always fall into the same classification (right,  wrong, or morally neutral)? or
bulletCan an act be either right, wrong, or neutral, depending on the culture, the precise situation, and the era?
bulletAssuming that "truth" exists, how do we determine it?
bulletThere exists a near consensus on many matters of right and wrong, truth and falsehood within conservative Christian faith groups; their morality is based on their unique interpretation of the Bible, a book which they generally believe to be inerrant and inspired by God
bulletThere is often an agreement on many issues of right and wrong/truth and falsehood within liberal Christian faith groups, based on their unique interpretation of the Bible and other sources of information. 
bulletThere may well be still a third consensus among many Agnostics, Atheists, Freethinkers and Humanists, on these matters, based on their core secular beliefs. 
bulletOn matters of behavior, religious conservatives, liberal faith groups, and secular groups agree on many items, such as the immorality of murder, theft, lying, adultery, etc. But they often differ totally on sexual and other topics. e.g. as abortion access, homosexual rights, pre-marital sex, child corporal punishment, death penalty....the list goes on.
bulletBoth groups of Christians believe that they are interpreting the Bible correctly and that the other side is mistaken. If truth exists, then only one group (perhaps neither) is right. 

The essential conflict concerns the nature of truth and values: whether they are absolute or relative.

bulletSome people, particularly those from the conservative wing of various religions argue that absolute truth exists. They feel that they can study their religious holy texts and derive from it statements that are absolutely true.
bulletMany others say that absolute truth does not exist; all truth is relative to the religion, society, and era in question. That is a rather silly statement. It is, in itself, an absolute statement. By definition, it is invalid!
bulletStill others argue that all "truth" that they have seen to date is relative. Absolute truth may be out there, but they have not seen any indications of it. They have evaluated true/false statements about many theological and moral truths, but have never found any that can be proven to be absolute.

A religious group might consider a moral statement to be absolute, because it is based upon their core, foundational beliefs and assumptions. A Southern Baptist might assert that the statement "Homosexual behavior is a sin" is an absolute truth, because of their interpretation of the Bible. A Christian from a mainline or liberal denomination might say that the statement "Sexual behavior, whether homosexual or heterosexual, is not a sin, if it is consensual, non-exploitive, safe, and confined to a committed relationship" is an absolute truth, because of:

bulletTheir interpretation of the Bible's text;
bulletTheir understanding of the nature of sexual orientation
bulletTheir personal experience, and
bulletTheir study of information from medical sources, mental health professional associations, and human sexuality researchers. 

Since the two statements disagree, both cannot be absolute truths. Each group may consider their own view to be absolute. But at least one is wrong. However, we can say that both statements are true in relation to each group's core beliefs.

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Copyright � 1999 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2005-MAY-29
Written by: B.A. Robinson

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