Saturday, January 17, 2009

Do All Religious Folks Make Absolute Truth Claims?

If the reader of the this blog has been following my brief series on my journey through Seventh-day Adventism (12/27/08. 1/2, 1/4, 1/6, and 1/9/09), s/he will note that I have listed Adventists in the aggregate as fundamentalists. In saying this, I do not intend to imply that Adventists are fundamentalists as the term is commonly understood, as referring, for example to Southern Baptists. I use the term for SDA's because SDA's share that one characteristic common to all fundamentalist religions: They regularly and constantly make claims to have the absolute or total truth about matters spiritual in nature. Although they may deny it, the bottom line is that, for one who has heard the "Adventist version" of the truth and and failed to accept it, salvation is not (or, to be charitable, likely not) a possibility.

SDA's tend to deny this, of course. This became clear when Spectrum Adventist Forum picked up the posts and various comments alluded to the fact that all religious groups and perhaps people, make absolute truth claims. But is this accurate? As I have stated elsewhere, this is not a blog or forum about Adventism, but, by way of example, I wish to employ the idea expressed by some Adventists (denied by others) that all believers make absolute truth claims, so what really matters is which absolute truth claim is "absolutely right."

Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias seems to agree that all religion and belief is based on absolute truth claims-- no relativism. This well known evangelical leader in an interview with Nowicki (Religious Scholar Asks: Need God? What if I Don't?-- McClatchy Newspapers), stated the following:

"Truth by definition is exclusive. It is so interesting that atheism that is basing itself on such a tolerant worldview has become so exclusive and would like to see religion annihilated. (One atheist) recently said, if it came to a choice of getting rid of rape or getting rid of religion, he would get rid of religion.

"When you believe something to be true, it excludes the opposite. Hinduism is exclusive. Buddhism is exclusive. Islam is exclusive. Bahai, which claims to include everyone, excludes the exclusivists. They say, all religions are expressing one. If you say that is not true, they exclude your view."

But is this correct? I have argued on this blog and in my book that the very heart of fundamentalism is intractable truth claims-- a court of no appeals. My answer to this is no, it does not follow that being religious means that one will be living in a world of exclusive truth claims. Something much humbler is possible. The wiser approach involves taking a much more nuanced stance. We might have a pretty reasonable confidence in what is empirically verifiable-- but even then we know that new information can change our views. On the level of the subjective (things like love, friendship, affection, etc.), we have even less certainty. When it comes to religious things, they cannot be verified. Here we are in the zone of faith, and as we all know, because all of us have changed the content of our faith to lesser or greater degrees from time to time, this is our area of least certainty.

So... what's the bottom-line? It is must better to say, "I believe" or "I think" than "I know." The absolute truth claim ("I know") is the source of a large majority of the problems in the world today. Time to do away with such claims. There is NO WAY to prove the correctness of rival religious truth claims.

To read the story of my abandonment of fundamentalism and why I find it intellectually and morally bankrupt, visit my book web site: and read a sample chapter of my book.

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