When the great cosmic clock of postmodern legend chimed “God is dead!” academia, the mass media, and even theologians spread the message near and far. The expectation of great freedom was in the air, and the postmodernists (though they weren’t called that at the time) imagined that they had been liberated from all manner of oppression. Very few, however, have truly grasped the import of their gospel of materialism: they had, in fact, granted themselves freedom from a sense of reality. It may seem like a jump to go from “God is dead” to “all symbols point to nothing,” but let's look at the argument from both scientific and philosophical angles.
The National Geographic article “On Love” (1) drove this point home well from a scientific perspective. The message of the article said that love, the highest and best of all human sentiments, could be reduced to chemical reactions. Complex reactions, to be sure, but not qualitatively different from those high-school students routinely perform in chemistry lab.
A foundational tenet of materialism says that in the same way, all of our thoughts, feelings, and decisions are reducible to chemical reactions (or other, perhaps unknown, workings of the physical universe). Our very consciousness, and with it, our sense of reality, is likewise derived. Here, we must bring in evolutionary theory for a moment: the process by which we achieved consciousness is blind and uncaring. The beliefs we arrived at were those we needed to survive—nothing more nor less. Thus we have no reason to think that we should ever have been granted the capacity to correctly perceive the universe.
From a philosophical standpoint, we must make judgments about the world around us to have a sense of reality. As we mature, we learn to categorize stimuli and information ever more precisely and efficiently. On what basis do we make those judgments? What criteria do we use for our categorization system?
Postmodernists would say that the portion of this process that is not encoded into our genes is education-based. We learn to fall in line with society’s systems of judgment and categorization, and we, as a society, form a collective sense of reality. In this respect, we rely on each other to derive meaning. It should be obvious that this reasoning is circular, and, since it happened through chance evolutionary processes, could have happened many other ways.
The resultant subjectivity is the rationale behind the statement “There is no absolute truth.” If this is “true,” though, each person’s opinion possesses equal merit, and reality conforms itself to the beliefs of each believer. (Reality can change because absolute meaning doesn’t exist and a sense of reality is subjective.)
The solution to all this confusion is to appeal to an arbiter. The moral argument spelled out by C. S. Lewis makes this clear: when we compare Christian morality with Nazi morality, we are judging them both by a higher, abstract standard. (2) Understanding the nature of this standard is crucial for understanding our sense of reality.
Plato, to explain the nature of this standard, envisioned a realm where perfect “forms” or “ideals” for all of past, present, and future reality resided, and he claimed that this realm was the locus of absolute reality. If something were less than perfect, it fell short of the ideal, whether it was an action or a concrete object. When we judge anything, according to Plato, we do so in reference to the perfect form of that thing.
For Christians, this is much easier—we simply believe that perfection dwells in the mind of God. One could say that Plato’s realm of ideals exists in God’s mind, and that all of the judgment calls we make are in reference to our understanding of God’s authoritative knowledge. Paul pointed out this truth in Athens when he said “he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being.” (3) Paul might have added “think” and “judge” to the list of things that we do in God. Since reality encompasses not just our experiences, but also truth, morality (judgments of good and bad), and beauty (which I believe is not fundamentally subjective), the Christian relies on God to be the ultimate arbiter of reality, because the ideal forms of these concepts can exist only in the mind of God. Human experience is finite, and human life spans are short, so any truth that we formulate apart from this absolute standard will have no authority.
By claiming that absolute truth doesn’t exist or that everything is subjective, humans attempt to elevate themselves to the position of arbiter of reality. Comments like “That may be true for him” or “That’s my truth” are granting this position as arbiter to each individual person and claiming that “man is the measure of all things.” (4) This attempt to be the locus of reality mimics Lucifer’s goal: “For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God… I will be like the most High.”(5)
1. Slater, Lauren. (February 2006). “On Love,” National Geographic, Vol. 209, No. 2, Cover Story. 2. C. S. Lewis. ‘Mere’ Christianity (NY: Harper Collins, 2001) p. 13. 3. Acts 17:27,28, KJV. 4. Protagoras, a sophist philosopher. 5. Isaiah 14:13,14, KJV.