Monday, April 20, 2015

The Contradiction of Absolutes

They are allowed to wander through the city, the largest city in the world. They’re struck by the opulence; the wealth; the buildings devoted to religion, government and commerce. The display of so much of everything makes their own beginnings and roots exceedingly humble in comparison. It’s all designed to impress, and it does. It’s designed to remind the viewer of power and might, and it does.

And as if to punch the message home, they see treasured items from their own temple hundreds of miles away displayed with all of the other treasure taken from conquered nations. They see the wealth of many religions, and many nations, on view to press home the point of superiority.

Given that they were taken from their home and families to be trained to serve Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, it would have been easy to assume that their God was dead, conquered, and tossed aside like all the others. Everything in their own experience argued for it, that everything they had believed was a lie.

But that’s not what Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did. In spite of triumph and power of Babylon displayed before their very own eyes, they choose to remain faithful.

Think of contemporary Western culture as a 21st century Babylon, except more so.

The wealth, the power, the achievements, the great buildings, the advances in science all sing the same song together and separately. “It’s all relative. It’s all about us. If you want to believe in your little God, fine; just don’t do it in public. Look what we’ve achieved and accomplished without your Christian God. He’s only one of many gods, and who are you to say He’s supreme? There are no absolutes.”

If Daniel and his friends were alive today, you could almost hear the “Been there, done that” response.

I didn’t realize until I read Against the Flow: The Inspiration of Daniel in an Age of Relativism by John Lennox that postmodernism has been around in one form or another for a long time. It was in Babylon; it was in ancient Greece; it was what thinking and cultured Romans embraced even if they had to bow the knee to Caesar (remember Pontius Pilate’s famous question of Jesus: “What is truth?”).

The various philosophies that today we call postmodernism don’t last; they’re largely self-defeating.

“At the heart of postmodernism lies a patent self-contradiction,” Lennox writes. “It expects us to accept, as absolute truth, that there are no absolute truths. We should note this common, fatally flawed characteristic of relativistic thinking: it tries to exclude itself from its own pronouncements. The fact is that no one can live without a concept of absolute truth.”

No one can live without a concept of absolute truth. No one.

Not even postmodernssts.

I’ve been discussing Against the Flow by John Lennox and will continue to do so for the next several weeks on Mondays. It’s a deeply insightful, highly readable book. Lennox is a professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford and a speaker on the interface of science, philosophy and religion. 

Illustration: The Ishtar Gate was one of eight entrances to the city of Babylon during Nebuchadnezzar’s time.

1 comment:

diana said...

We saw this gate at a museum in Berlin - extraordinary!!