January 24, 2008

A Story About Absoluticity

Some friends over at Merging Lanes posted a link to Albert Mohler's blog, where he talks about the dangers of postmodernism for the church. One of the comments on Merging Lanes said this:

But if you can’t say the Trinity is true across all time, humanity, comprehension, etc. then what good is it? Aren’t we to be pitied above all men if it’s only true to us(that would seem to imply that it doesn’t really exist, if it can’t be equally true to any person)? If the Gospel is not an absolute truth, then it seems to rob it of all of its divine power beyond the Thomas Jefferson-manual-of-living-a-good-life stuff.

I like to think of this conversation about absolutes in the context of a metaphorical story about two guys looking up at God, describing him. We'll call them Larry and Todd.

Larry: I can see God, and he's definitely a square.

Todd: Oh yes, I see God too and he is most definitely a square.

Larry: A square with a circle inside it.

Todd: Yes! A red square with a circle inside it.

Larry: It's true, a red square with a blue circle inside it.

Todd: Whoa, um... you mean a red square with a yellow circle in it, right?

Larry: No, it's definitely a blue circle, right there, inside the red square.

Todd: Well I see the square, and the circle, but the circle is colored yellow. Look, it's yellow just like the sun, or a dandelion, you know... yellow?

Larry: I know what yellow is, but the circle is blue, like the ocean or the sky. I can see it right there.

Todd: Well, I hate to break it to you, but you're wrong. Perhaps you should listen to these collected recordings of some famous modern apologists who argue why the circle is yellow, and how it can be proven using logic and reason.

Larry: Hmm... well, maybe it's both?

Todd: WHAT? Oh no, are you some kind of relativist?

Larry: Well no, I mean I think there's an absolute truth about the color of the circle, but maybe the circle I'm looking at is blue while the circle you're looking at is yellow?

Todd: Ohhhh, so there's no circle at all. It's just whatever color we want it to be, to us, and that's the "truth". I get it. Everything is true.

Larry: No, that's not what I'm saying. I'm saying that maybe... maybe there's a 3rd dimension that we don't understand, and what we're seeing is a "cube" that actually has 6 different sides with 6 differently colored circles? And how God chooses to reveal himself to me is with the blue-circle side but to you he's the yellow-circle side?

Todd: A "3rd dimension"? A "cube"? What are you on about? Here, take these tapes, read these books, and you'll begin to understand that there IS absolute truth and it involves a yellow circle...

...and so on.

For a much better version with the same moral, see John Godfrey Saxe's Blind Men and the Elephant.



Anonymous said...

*clap clap*

From one orthodox-driven postmodern Christian to another,
thanks Jason for that amusingly effective fable.

And the Blind Men and the Elephant. I think Tim Keller alludes to that story in a talk he gave a while ago when talking about postmodernism.

Anakainosis said...

I concur, great illustration. It's the right illustration. And it reminds me of an episode of Star Trek, when they are trapped in 2-dimensional space, so that always gets points with me.