I don’t write about the Catholic Church much. Not so much because I disagree with them, but because they are outside my frame of reference. I’ve only been to a couple of Catholic services in my life and, as a southerner, that whole hierarchy and papal infallibility thing makes me itch. If I don’t write about the Catholic church much, I write about the Pope even less. I did a quick search and found I count the number times I’ve used the word “pope” on both hands. Of those times, I’ve referred to the current Pope only once. That changes today.
Last week (May 22 to be exact), Pope Francis said that everyone, even atheists, are redeemed by Jesus’ actions on the cross. For some, this smacks of unlimited atonement and, even worse, universalism. Atonement, however, is a knotty issue and a topic for another day. Today’s subject comes from something else Brother Frank said in his address, that the disciples were “were a little intolerant”, believing that they alone held the truth and “those who do not have the truth, cannot do good.”
Truth is something evangelical critics of progressive and emergence Christianity like to talk about. Mostly, they accuse us of relativism and ditching absolute truth. That’s not exactly true. It’s not that progressives and emergents eschew truth, we just don’t care for their version of it.
There is some truth to their accusations; on my part, if no one else’s. The Wikipedia entry on relativism says there are no absolute truths and that points of view have “only relative, subjective value according to differences in perception and consideration”. And, if we’re going to talk about relativism, we should also look at absolute truth. WiseGeek tells us that an absolute, or universal, truth “is an unalterable and permanent fact”. I know these definitions might seem a little extreme, but they are the opposite ends of a spectrum. In reality, you’re probably like me, falling somewhere in the middle.
I think what you perceive as truth is most certainly influenced by the culture you live in. But, I also believe there are some absolute truths. For instance, murder is always wrong, death and taxes are inevitable and there is no such thing as a good Justin Bieber song. The problem, especially when dealing with faith issues, is how do we know what truth is absolute?
A better question might be why is knowing what is always true so important? Instead of coming up with a list of “facts” that everyone must adhere to, why not allow others to determine their own truth so they can honor God in a way that fits them. I honor God by loving God and loving my neighbor and anything that helps do that is truth for me.
Look, I know a monolithic orthodoxy filled with “absolute” truths is much more comfortable than the open, free-wheeling idea that you have to find your own truth. But, Jesus never said “Do what you’re comfortable with.” He said “Take up your cross and follow me”.