We used to think 2+2 = 4. We used to believe that facts were based upon empirical evidence. We used to rely on the definition of a word for a common understanding. And we used to think that truth was a static reality.
I will admit, even typing out the above sentences makes me cringe. For many reasons, perhaps: I love math, savor language, and my theological teeth were cut on evidential apologetics. To even suggest these are claims of an outdated world makes me a bit sick to my stomach. Unfortunately, I have navigated the frustrations of “common core” math with my own kiddos. I have watched the technological universe manufacture un-tested realities that our culture readily consumes. I have listened as unassuming words slowly transition from their simple meanings. But I have tried to plug my ears and stick out my tongue for long enough. Even though the assault on external authority and objective truth has been recently more than I want to bear.
The most savage of controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way. “Persecution is used in theology, not in arithmetic, because in arithmetic there is knowledge, but in theology there is only opinion,” said Analytic philosopher, Bertrand Russell. And yet, one can be persecuted right now, for the knowledge that there are universal principles in mathematics or science and that there are all-inclusive truths which apply to every person. Analytic philosophers be damned, persecution is for everyone these days.
Our modern conversations have undergone a drastic refocusing of authority and truth towards the individual self. No longer do external institutions claim to operate by their own authority and power (unless they are personally granted with such authority and power by one's internal psychology). Protection and expression of one’s inner voice has become the greatest good, and our culture’s common understanding of freedom. Your feelings are just as authoritative as mine, about anything and everything, including the real world in which we exist together. To express the authentic self is our culture’s most virtuous and noble task. To deny this expression is to deny a person of their personal freedoms. No longer is oppression external: whether it be physical, financial, and political. Instead, we are defined by internal feelings. And our culture has agreed to accept these subjective assessments as a basis for reality.
One can imagine and create any existence for themselves. In previous ages, we have been limited by the physical reality in which our bodies, our relationships, and even time and space exist. But since the advancement of technology, we have grown to expect any reality our hearts desire. Our inner feelings and identity are the real guide to reality, and we now have the ability to bend molecules around ourselves. Not science, nor math, nor tradition, nor external law holds ultimate power anymore.
The Christian apologist now experiences a new challenge. While it’s easy to complain about “the kids these days,” it’s unhelpful to chastise a generation that has been incubated in psychology as the only reality. Our problem, as Christians defending the faith, comes when considering this generation’s experienced truth. Most of reality, now, from education, to family life, to our social politics, does not operate in a world of external reason.
We may remember when apologetics seemed as simple as endorsing an objective truth, an external reality, an evidence based-reason on which we could all agree. Both in terms of a “natural” morality, and the salvific hope offered by Christ, we could draw on Biblical sources, logical connections, and historical evidence. The defense for the Christian faith presumed commonly understood standards of truth and authority in an external metaphysical universe.
“Whenever you find a man who says he doesn’t believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later. It seems, then, we are forced to believe in a real Right and Wrong. People may be mistaken about them, just as sometimes people get their sums wrong; but they are not a matter of mere taste and opinion any more than the multiplication table. Now if we are agreed about that, I go on to my next point, which is this. None of us are really keeping the Law of Nature. If there are any among you, I apologize to them. They’d better switch to another station, for nothing I’m going to say concerns them. And now, turning to the ordinary human being who are left…” (C.S, Lewis, Mere Christianity).
C.S. Lewis may be likewise baffled by both objective reality and morality spinning into a legitimate belief that multiplication tables, pronouns, and even genders are really just a matter of emotion. The common popular opinion is not agreement about the foundational logic on which to base truth, or if a universal truth even exists. Even more, this pandemic of thought is not confined to an uneducated section of society who just need to hit the books in formal logic. Rather, our world has evolved. Our hearts hold on to invisible new gods. Our minds are enslaved under a powerful new sovereign that we have yet to call to account. However, our sin is nothing new, at all. So, it may be time to admit that even our good and proper answers are for questions that are now no longer asked.
The challenge we now face is not about what the answer is and always has been: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes will not perish but have eternal life.” Our challenge today is to inspire trust and curiosity so this generation will openly ask the question, who speaks the words of truth?
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