Current Events Monday: Subjectivism Hits Close to Home
Have you heard of subjectivism? If not, odds are that you will hear more about it in the coming months and years than you ever wanted to absorb. Subjectivism (sometimes called “relativism”) is a philosophical theory that denies the existence of objective truth. In other words, all truth claims are said to be subjective, or relative to one another.
Subjectivism is all the rage right now in American society, and it has become particularly appealing to younger adults–likely because it makes us appear friendlier, accepting, and helpful. For instance, you may have noticed the new program at the University of Texas which will allow students of any sexual identity or gender to live in campus dorms. The program is being hailed as “inclusive,” and the university administration suggests that the program will “improve our competitiveness,” meaning that it will be a money-maker.
You can read more about it here: UT Austin will allow cohabitation on campus regardless of gender or sexual identity (yahoo.com).
So, what’s the big deal? Is subjectivism really all that friendly and helpful? The new program at UT is an important example of subjectivism, and as such, it is biblically, morally, and ethically wrong. At its core, subjectivism is part and parcel of the first lie told by the devil in the Garden of Eden. He asked Eve, “Did God really say that you couldn’t eat of the tree,” implying that human beings should be able to create their own reality without submitting to a Creator. In today’s world, we’ve perverted things to the point of saying that there is no such thing as a true gender, only what we make of it. And we say such things even when biological truths are more than self-evident. With this subjective line of thinking, it is perfectly logical to allow co-habitation on college campuses. However, truth should be recognized as what is, not what we make of things. God has created in such a way that, no matter how much we kick against his ways, reality is something that comes from a Source outside of ourselves.
At this point, someone who disagrees with me would naturally ask, “But how do you know the truth and reality? Who made you better than others at discerning the truth?” We must answer these questions by stating up front that knowing reality and truth is not a matter of being better than or more knowledgeable than someone else. In fact, recognizing reality requires two basic skills. One skill is recognizing the existence of an object, and the other is recognizing the essence of an object. But what does that mean? A simple example is in order from Timothy Mosteller’s book, The Heresy of Heresies.
Let’s say that we look outside and see a crow sitting on a fence. Through mere observation, we surmise that both the crow and the fence exist. Yet, they are different in essence. A crow has “crow-ness,” and a fence has “fence-ness.” The crow and the fence are not figments of our imaginations, nor are they mere categories of knowledge that we somehow create and project on to objects that we have been culturally conditioned to call a crow or a fence. A crow is a crow. A fence is a fence. Thus, to argue that a fence is a crow or vice versa makes a forced attempt to swap one’s essence in an impossible way. That is, a crow can’t have “fenceness,” no matter how hard we try to make it so or how bad we feel that crows should be fences.
But why can’t we change crows into fences? Anything should be possible if you set your mind to it, right? Not really. The idea that we can do or make anything on which we set our minds has most of its contemporary roots in the philosophies of Immanuel Kant. Kant argued that existence is all in our head, so to speak. He offered that reality cannot be fully known, although we experience what we know as reality through filters, or “categories.” These categories were said to be conditioned through language, culture, and social forces. Kant, either knowingly or unknowingly, opened the door to relativism. He would say that things like a crow, a fence, gender, etc. are all simply word games that have been forced upon us by cultural and social oppressors. If we were to rid ourselves of such categories, then we would finally know the truth.
Our culture is firmly entrenched in Kantian philosophy. In fact, as in the case with UT, his philosophy is a cash cow. We have essentially glommed onto the Kantian teaching that reality is just what we make of it. We consequently say things like, “This is my truth, and that’s your truth.” In other words, it’s like saying, “If you want a crow to be a fence, then that’s fine. Who am I to argue? The crow is just called a crow because of my background and heritage.” This is why some people get so mad at others who fail to throw off the supposed chains of their cultural and social baggage in order to become enlightened. I imagine that if someone were to read this article at the next UT faculty meeting, there would be some who would call for my head on a platter…which actually doesn’t sound all that inclusive, come to think of it. Could it be that many people who think they are oppressed can actually become the oppressor in the name of vindictive, enlightened righteousness? Time will tell in this case.
What are Christians to do? Arguing with people who will not change their minds about subjectivism isn’t doing anyone any good. In other words, protesting and boycotting institutions like UT or Disney will most likely fail to make any movement towards helpful and useful conversations. Put simply, coercion doesn’t work. What believers can do is follow in the footsteps of Jesus by loving everyone while simultaneously testing and questioning the popular cultural narratives.
Jesus’ behavior helps us to define what is right and good not by how any world system, popular group, guru, or religious leader try to define it for us, since we human beings are too plagued by finitude and self-interest. We assert that we find and ultimately do what is right and good by mimicking Jesus Christ while also keeping in mind that the pride of life consistently gets in our way.
We argue here then that the question should not be, “What is the common good,” or “What is the most inclusive thing to do,” or “What is the best way to improve our institution’s competitiveness in the market,” but rather, “How do I behave like Jesus, considering my flaws and the complexities of life, to do the most good in view of God and my neighbor?”