Challenge Response: We Can’t Really Know We’re Right and Other People Are Wrong

Here's my response to this week's challenge:


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Can we know that we are right and that other people are wrong, and, if we do say that, isn't it arrogant to say that? Well, that's a sentiment expressed by this guy here, who claims that he was a hardcore Christian, but then lost his faith. Let me show you what he says here. "How arrogant I was," he writes, "to think that my form of small-town Southern Ontario Catholic Christianity was the only way that people could come to know God properly, when there are billions of people all over the world who reach out to all kinds of higher powers and forms of spiritual enlightenment all the time? And those people feel the same kind of assurance, peace, and goodness that I do. I can't have the nerve to say that these people were wrong because of how they relate to their god is different than mine, when all I have to justify my belief is a book."

Is it true that we can't say that other people are wrong, and is it arrogant to say that? Well, the answer is "no," and "no." No, it's not true, we can say that other people are wrong, and it's not arrogant to say that. Let me explain why. The person who expresses the sentiment expressed in that challenge has bought into two lies. The first lie is empiricism. Empiricism is simply the idea that the only things that you can believe to be true are those things that are testable with the five senses, so if you can touch it, taste it, smell it, hear it, or see it, if you can have a sense experience of it, then you can know it to be true or false, you can have knowledge in those particular areas. If empiricism is true, it turns out the only areas, the only subjects that you can have knowledge in are those that are studied by the hard sciences. For example, chemistry, physics, geology, and other things like that, those are the only subjects that we can have knowledge in if empiricism is true

If you believe that lie, then this logically leads to a second type of lie that many people believe in. Indeed, this same person here, who's expressed that sentiment in this challenge. It leads you to believe in the lie of relativism. Relativism is simply the idea that what's true is relative to the individual, it's relevant to the subject. The reason why empiricism leads to relativism is because if you believe the only subjects that you can have knowledge in are the hard sciences, then all other subjects become areas which you cannot have knowledge in, and truth becomes relative in those areas. For example, morality, or religion, or the arts, and other areas like that that don't fall under the hard sciences, those areas that you can have a sense experience in, all those other subjects then become areas that are just relative. What's true is up to you, and you and I can have two different beliefs, and they can be contradictory, and we're both right.

This is why oftentimes, when you're talking to a person who believes relativism is true, and you're trying to share your faith, maybe about Christianity, they come back with something to the extent of, "Oh, you believe Jesus is true? You found Jesus for yourself? Oh, that's so sweet, that's so touching. That's so great that you found Jesus to be true, but he's just not true for me. It might be true for you, but it's not true for me." Of course, that is the typical expression that we see with relativism.

The person who has believed these two lies, empiricism and relativism, is living in a fantasy world. They are living in the Matrix. How do you help someone see that they're living in the Matrix? How do you snap them out of that fantasy world into the real world? Well, I suggest you do it the way Morpheus did in The Matrix, and that is, you offer them two options. You offer them a blue pill or a red pill. Again, what you're offering them here is the truth, nothing more. If they accept the blue pill, then, of course, they can believe whatever they want to believe. They can continue to live in this fantasy world where they believe empiricism is true and relativism is true, and that you can't have any knowledge about anything except for the hard sciences. If they want to accept that, then they go ahead and accept that, and they continue to live in the Matrix, a fantasy world that is an unlivable world.

If they accept the red pill, then they're accepting the consideration that what you're offering them is true, and here, you have an opportunity to help them snap out of the fantasy world, to snap out of the Matrix, and to come to realize that empiricism and relativism, although they might sound true when you talk about them, they're actually unlivable systems. People can't live consistently in the real world thinking that empiricism and relativism are true.

If they accept the red pill, then what I'm going to ask them is this. I'm going to say to them, "What if I told you that a billion people around the world have accepted and adopted a system of slavery that is very similar to that that we had in the United States back in the 18th and 19th century? That is, that a billion people are kidnapping Africans from their countries, bringing them to their own country, and owning them like property. Would you say that those billion people are wrong? Would you say that it is arrogant for you to say that those people are wrong?" If I present them with that option, I'm hoping that their intuitions will kick in, that they'll say, "No, wait a minute, that can't be the case. If there's a billion people who believe in that type of slavery, then they're just wrong, right? You can't do that, you can't own people, they're not property."

But notice, if they are willing to say that slavery is wrong, if they're willing to accept that as a true claim, well, then, of course, that is not a claim that can be tested with the five senses. You can't taste it, touch it, smell it, hear it, see it. The idea that slavery is wrong is a philosophical concept. It's not a concept that is testable with the hard sciences. Therefore, by them acknowledging that slavery is wrong, it's something that we can have knowledge in, that we can know that that's true, and that it is not relative to each person, but that in reality, even if a billion people adopted that type of slavery, they would be still wrong. If they can acknowledge that, then of course relativism is false, and empiricism is false as well.

It's certainly possible, though, that they want to say, "No, I don't want to accept that, I just want to accept the blue pill." They just want to believe what is politically correct because, frankly, it's easier for them to do that. As Morpheus says in the movie, he says, "Look, I'm simply offering the truth, nothing more," and the same is true for you. As an ambassador for Jesus Christ, your job is simply to present the truth in a persuasive and gracious way, and you let them decide. You leave the results up to God, if you will. Of course, you want them to swallow the red pill, because you want to snap them out of reality, because after all, that's the only chance they'll have of meeting the real Trinity.

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Alan Shlemon