Is Truth Relative?

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Introduction

Some people love McDonald's. Others prefer Burger King. Is one better than the other? Ultimately, it's left up to personal preference. Moral relativists take that idea and apply it to religion. They argue that one religion is true for some people, while other religions are true for other people. It doesn't matter if you don't follow my religion because my religion is only true for me.

While this kind of thinking seems friendly, nice, and liberating, preferences don't equal truth and mixing the two doesn't actually help people.

What is Truth to Moral Relativists?

Moral relativism (the thing moral relativists believe in) defines truth as based on perception. For example, Mormons having an affair is wrong. Among other reasons, we believe that principally because God said it was wrong. So if a Mormon says having an affair is okay, he is lying because he is ignoring the truth.

Other groups, such as atheists, may not believe having an affair is wrong. Since they don't believe in God, how could God say it was wrong? He couldn't so it can't be. This isn't to say all or even most atheists are after other peoples' spouses. But if an atheist wants to believe having an affair is wrong, he has to decide on his own set of moral principles which tells him it's wrong. To the moral relativist, he is responsible for those moral principles for its' reasons; not the Mormon moral principles for its' reasons. It all comes down to preference.

What Really is Truth?

Moral relativism's definition of truth has a few inherent problems. Some things are absolute in this world. Light is one of them. We can block light from objects, we can turn off the power to make light go away, but light can't be darkness no matter who you are. Once our eyes are adjusted to darkness, light may hurt our eyes (until we are readjusted), but that will never change the fact that light is forever different than darkness.

Jesus Christ defined truth very simply as "knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come;" (D&C 93:24). Like light, truth doesn't change. The saying, "What's true for me may not be true for you" simply ignores the definition of truth. It does show that some unknowingly believe definitions are relative!

So Why Doesn't this Definition of Truth only Apply to Mormons?

While Mormons claim truth is true for everyone, the moral relativist may try to get the upper hand by suggesting that this is a Mormon specific belief and therefore doesn't hold true for everyone. However, Mormons do not come to know truth from reasoned philosophy or scientific facts. While taking all of these into consideration, Mormons simply go to the source of their beliefs to find out.

If God wants us to know we can trust Him, wouldn't He make it easier to know the truth than by simply guessing at it? For Mormons, the answer is a resounding YES!

You can know if the things you are learning are true if you ask your Heavenly Father in prayer. He desires for you to know the truth, and you can receive an answer from Him through the Holy Ghost.[1]

One of Mormonism's core teachings is that anyone seeking the truth can receive a divine manifestation by a member of the Godhead - the Holy Ghost (also referred to as the Holy Spirit). The Holy Ghost most often interacts with us as an unmistakable feeling of peace, joy, love or as other positive feelings (see Galatians 5:22-23). They come as feelings because good feelings inspire us to do good; much like knowing the truth. People who feel peace aren't intentionally cruel (they turn angry first). Inversely, people who panic don't consciously serve others. We base our actions off how we feel. Our reactions to our feelings are no more relative - or based off of preference - than truth is. This is likely why the Holy Spirit interacts with us in this way.

This is how we know Mormonism is not only true for Mormons, but for everyone. It is specifically promoted by God for our good.

Another reason we know the Holy Spirit leads us to the truth is because faithful Mormons improve their own lives as well as those around them. Although specific members of the Church may make mistakes, they are constantly invited by a Higher Power to introduce a quality environment among their peers. This is an evidence that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints contains absolute (not relative) truth. It's truth can benefit everyone; an impossible task if truth were relative.

Strengths of Moral Relativism

Moral relativism has some strengths. It draws followers because it raises questions that religions which believe in absolute truth can't answer, except Mormonism.

Moral relativism raises the point that since most people believe in the religion in which they are born, how can God punish people who didn't believe in the right religion? For example, Christians believe that one must have faith in Jesus Christ to be saved. The Buddhist in China, who never has the opportunity to accept Christianity (and may not even be familiar with the word), is punished for disobeying a commandment he could not have followed. This seems so inconsistent with a loving God. Love, after all, would give everyone a fair chance. The strength of moral relativism is that it points out that God has to be more loving than this.

Another strength of moral relativism is it's call for tolerance. Many religions create an "us" versus "them" view which alienates and hurts others. Of all things, religion - meant to build unity - should be the last to treat others as inferiors.

Mormon Response

Mormons gladly acknowledge both strengths of moral relativism and answer them readily. Mormons still believe that to escape punishment in the afterlife, a person has to accept Jesus Christ. In instances where people do not get a reasonable chance in life (like the Buddhist in China), they get their chance after this life in a temporary state before the end called the Spirit World:

Heavenly Father knew that many of His children would never have an opportunity to learn about Jesus Christ during their lives and that others would choose not to follow Him. Because He loves His children and is just, God provided a way for those in the spirit world to learn about His plan, have faith in Jesus Christ, and repent. Those who choose to accept and follow Jesus Christ will have peace and rest.[2]

Mormons can easily and boldly claim both truths: God loves all His children and Jesus Christ is the way to be forgiven of all our sins.

While many religions that claim to have the truth are weak in tolerance, Mormonism acknowledges and respects all for the good they have. Former prophet and president of the Church Gordon B. Hinkcley said:

We recognize the good in all people. We recognize the good in all churches, in their efforts to improve mankind and to teach principles that lead to good, stable, productive living. To people everywhere we simply say, ‘You bring with you all the good that you have, and let us add to it. That is the principle on which we work.[3] (emphasis added)

Not only do other religions have good in them now, but the First Presidency of the Church declared that many important religious figures of the past were also guided by God for a purpose:

The great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.... Our message therefore is one of special love and concern for the eternal welfare of all men and women, regardless of religious belief, race or nationality knowing that we are truly brothers and sisters because we are sons and daughters of the same Eternal Father.[4] (emphasis added)

While moral relativism has appealing strengths to their argument, these strengths are responded to fully and faithfully to the truth in Mormonism. It is logical, after all, that a religion claiming the truth, can demonstrate how truth is enabling and beneficial for everyone.

Conclusion

Moral relativism is now a popular philosophy. It has some attractive strengths, and requires very little personal sacrifice. But neither popularity nor ease dictate what truth is. Truth is unveiled by God, and since He is more powerful than any philosophy, obeying His truth will give us great rewards for our sacrifice.

References

[1]http://mormon.org/mormonorg/eng/basic-beliefs/the-restoration-of-truth/how-can-i-know-this-is-true, accessed May 15, 2009

[2]http://mormon.org/mormonorg/eng/basic-beliefs/heavenly-father-s-plan-of-happiness/life-after-death, accessed May 15, 2009

[3] Gordon B. Hinckley, “Words of the Living Prophet,” Liahona, Jun 1997, 32 http://lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=f318118dd536c010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=1c109527730eb010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&hideNav=1, accessed May 15, 2009

[4]First Presidency Statement, "God's Love for All Mankind," Feb 15, 1978