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Friday, January 28, 2022

The other day, a classmate of mine said something that seemed to resonate with the rest of the class. She said the truth is whatever a person thinks it is, or to translate into pop culture, the truth is “You do you.”
There are many beliefs and many more believers. An atheist and a Christian hardly agree on some of their fundamental beliefs, and often both believe they are right and know the truth. The same is the case for all of us: We hold our beliefs because we think they are true.
In this sense, my classmate was right to point out that we all believe we are right, no matter what it is we believe. Surely her view is appealing in today’s times, when the hope of unity seems to be a child’s daydream. How can we live together among diverse beliefs and cultures? Perhaps by believing that a religious person’s beliefs are true for them, and a secular person’s beliefs are true for them. Why argue, then? Why debate which religion is right or which political policy is right, when all of us are right?
At one time, I would have agreed with my classmate and thought truth was relative to each person. In high school, I used to be bewildered by universal truth claims, especially those made by religion because they seemed both unfair and simplistic. The idea that one particular religion could be the one universal truth of life was ludicrous, over and against all other devoutly believed religions. I thought the truth, if there was any, would never be that narrow.
There are good motivations for this view — a desire for inclusivity, to revere and accept the many beliefs of this world. Good intentions aside, relative truth is a self-defeating proposition.
If all of the world’s views are somehow true, like branches that grow from a common tree, then in order to know the views, we would somehow have to know what that tree is. I cannot say all religions are true without assuming a degree of knowledge that none of us, quite frankly, possess. In other words, saying that truth is relative to the person is just another universal and objective claim. Reduce the proposition to its bare essentials — it is objectively true about the world that truth is relative — and you can see the contradiction.
The claim, then, that truth is relative must itself be a relative statement. It might be true for the person who believes in relative truth, but it cannot be universally true for everyone else, or else it would cease to be a relative truth and defeat itself.
We should remember, though, human beings have been abused in the name of truth. It may be the case that relative truth is self-defeating, but simply pointing that out and doing nothing else does not help much. I would like to be sensitive of our world’s long history of religious and political war. Truth can quickly become a justification for all sorts of malicious behavior.
My point is this: I do believe truth is universal and objective, but I also believe forcing your truth onto others can be harmful. Instead, as a Christian, I subscribe to the belief that the fundamental truth about the universe is not an idea or principle but is a person. The truth has hands, feet, eyes and a heart. He healed the sick, befriended his enemies and rose from the dead 2,000 years ago.
So yes, I disagree with my classmate — truth cannot be relative. But it cannot be used as a weapon, either. Truth must walk the middle space: universal but flexible, objective but relational, firm but gentle. In other words, the truth must be whacky.
Scott Stinson is a UF English senior. His column appears on Wednesday.
generic opinion

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