Ok fine, that might be a little dramatic, but this quote definitely scores pretty low in my book.
And while I typically scan right past most of these “facepalm” quotes that are peppered throughout social media, I have found myself particularly bothered by this one, not just because it’s ridiculous, but because I’ve seen several of my Christian friends sharing it despite the fact that it directly contradicts everything in scripture. Anyway, here’s the quote:
“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”
In the spirit of full disclosure, while this quote was attributed to Buddha, my quick google search indicates that this is at a minimum a bad translation, but perhaps not even related to something that he ever actually said. In any case, it’s going around on the internet, it’s being “shared” and “liked” by countless millions of people, it’s representative of the attitudes of so many people, and, in my view, it represents a major part of the problem with our culture and society today - therefore, it seems worthy to address.
So what’s the problem? The problem is this: for Christians, our worldview, our opinions regarding pretty much everything, our perspectives on the world and our approach to truth are not supposed to be formed solely as a result of our personal brainpower. Rather, we should base our beliefs, our attitudes, and our lives on the firm foundation of scripture. The problem is that this approach is completely contradictory to everything we teach and believe in our culture! And this is exactly why such a quote would be so popular, among some Christians and many non-Christians – we exalt human wisdom, especially our own personal wisdom, over any other form of wisdom or truth, which inevitably leads us down a path where there is no truth – rather, there is no real truth except that which makes sense to me in my vast intellectual capacity. And you could pick just about any topic which hasn’t been expressly proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, and I guarantee that you can find exceptionally intelligent and gifted people who disagree about it completely. I’m not about to suggest that we shouldn’t use our brains and our intellect, but rather that we should do so with a humility and a recognition that I very well might be wrong! And if you are a Christian, you should do so within the context on the bible and the worldview that it provides for us that has been unchanging for centuries - more on that later.
At the center of this topic is the question: “Is there such a thing as absolute truth?” And just to get it out on the table, I write this with the firm conviction that there is indeed such a thing as absolute truth. That’s not to say that some statements can be made that are true, but relative – for example, my 3 year old son might say that I’m “tall.” This would be a statement of truth relative to him. But I’m only 5’9” tall, so relative to the general population in America, I might be considered short, or at least shorter than average. This would also be a statement of relative truth, and as long as our audience understands the context, this would never be considered “wrong” or “confusing.”
On the other hand, there are statements that we can make that may seem true to us, but are blatantly false. Just because the sky might be purple in your world does not change the spectrum of light that is reaching the earth’s surface, for example – it’s still blue. This may seem silly to some, but this is literally the line of thinking and “reasoning” that true relativists embrace – whatever seems true to you is true. No one can ever tell you differently because your own set of truths is just as good as my set of truths.
And so while I believe in absolute truth, the relativist, on the other hand, would embrace the belief in the absolute truth that there is no absolute truth – which, of course, the savvy might notice is a blatant and immediate contradiction in and of itself! Nevertheless, they believe there is no absolute truth – no particular God, no set of morals, no right or wrong, nothing is true and applicable across the board for everyone, etc. Along these lines, and within the constructs of relativism, if one person was to say “there is no God” and another person was to say “there is a God” they would both be making a statement of relative truth – or simply truth. Alternatively, one might say that your statement “there is a God” is true for you, but it’s not true for me. One problem with this is that it simply makes no logical sense – yes, it appeals to our innate human desire to exalt our own opinions and intelligence, but no one can make a logical, deductive argument in support of a statement such as “it is both (or neither) true that there is a god and that there isn’t a God” – which is a requirement for the above example in relativistic thought. Nor could a logical, deductive argument be made to suggest that just because the sky is purple in your world, that the sky is actually purple - there are indeed objective realities that are not relative. It may seem purple and completely real to you – just as it may seem entirely true that there is no God – but this does not qualify as truth.
A good question to ask people is this: “Are you going to heaven when you die?” Statistics show that the overwhelming majority of people in America will answer “yes” to that question. But when you dig a little bit deeper, what you find, at least in my experience, is that they believe they are going to heaven based on a set of parameters and requirements that they themselves have defined. “I’m a pretty good person, so I’m sure I’ll go to heaven,” for example. Or maybe, “A good God would never send a decently good person to hell.” These are very appealing viewpoints – even to me – but there are some questions that you ought to ask yourself when you embrace these kinds of views: “Why do I believe that? What basis do I have for determining that I’m a “good” person? How do I know how God looks at my behavior, and how do I know that I am “good” in his eyes?” The only answer, outside of a larger system of belief, is “That’s just how I feel…I’m trusting my own gut on this one. It makes sense to me.” Please help me if there is another answer, but I don’t think there is. At the end of the day, this perspective - this embrace of your own personal god that you defined the parameters for, that you defined the morals for, and the criteria for entrance into heaven, etc. – was developed by you and your own personal views and intellect.
My appeal to you is this: please, please, don’t do this. Eternity is a long, long time – do you really want to build the foundation of your life and eternity on your own personally developed theology that is based on nothing but your own brain? This is one of those decisions that might just warrant a little more exploration, and thought, and prayer before committing to such a personal belief system.
Or, at least, take a hard look at relativism - I believe that everyone intuitively knows that relativism is wrong and hypocritical and ridiculous. It has bred and grown so rapidly for several reasons, none of which are good – I encourage you to take a hard look at these, and your own motivations for embracing your own system of beliefs; here are a few:
Relativism seems unoffensive: True. We can embrace absolute tolerance and acceptance and never correct anyone at all when we embrace relativism, and therefore we probably won’t offend anyone. Except God. If there is a God, which there is, relativism represents an absolute revolt against the truth of His existence. If you don’t believe in God, consider for a moment that He is real – just pretend – now imagine that the people he created to know him decide that they can simply define who God is in their own little minds, which he created. This is not a good path to go down.
Relativism gives us a sense of freedom: It’s a false sense of freedom, but this is true to some extent. If I can define my own morals in my own head, then I never have to feel guilty. This is great! At least until guilt inevitably hits – the sheer existence of guilty feelings is evidence of absolute truth when it comes to morals. If there are no morals, then we shouldn’t ever feel guilty about anything. Easier said than done; people try and deny their feelings of guilt and conviction, and cover them up with all sorts of excuses and reasoning, but this doesn’t hide the fact that they exist. Their existence flies in the face of relativistic thinking. Don’t dismiss your feelings of conviction, but embrace them and allow God to work in your life.
Relativism makes it so I’m not accountable to anyone: Sometimes it is indeed nice to not have someone to be accountable to. I mean, who really likes it when someone tells you that you're heading down the wrong path, or corrects you when you mess up, or even disciplines you when you really mess up? But is this really a good reason to embrace this worldview? Simply so I don’t have to be accountable to anyone? Jesus calls us to follow him – he says that only a few people will find the path that leads to life, but he is calling everyone to it. Be accountable to someone; grow as a human being; seek God and he will help you to become a better person and to impact the lives of others. This is your calling in life, but it does start with humbly admitting that you're not perfect and that you want to be accountable to a higher power than yourself – God. Accountability is a good thing.
Relativism exalts our own intelligence and intellect: What greater arrogance could there be than to suggest that whatever I have come up with in my own head is truth, even if I’m just saying it’s truth for myself? Our society breeds the tendency to worship our own brainpower and our own opinions and, ultimately, ourselves! Most non-believers, at least in my experience, tend to still believe that arrogance is not a desirable quality – so let’s not embrace our own intellect as the highest source of wisdom. Maybe, just maybe, there is a source of wisdom outside our own brains that we could seek.
The bible has been around for a long, long time. It is unlike any other book ever written – in fact, it’s actually 66 different books, written by 40 different people, on 3 different continents, in 3 different languages, over the course of over 2,000 years. Many of these authors didn’t even know each other, and many didn’t have access to the other writings when they wrote their books. And yet, this entire book, which we call the bible, maintains perfect consistency and coherence in proclaiming a single message about a man named Jesus Christ. The entire Old Testament speaks of Jesus hundreds of years before his birth. His existence and crucifixion have been independently verified by numerous non-biblical accounts. He sparked a movement that has spread around the entire planet and impacted life in every capacity imaginable – from the invention of hospitals, to schools, to orphanages, to loving and helping the poor and unfortunate. And he has given us truth within these books. This is the foundation where I’ve placed my hope and my belief – there is absolute truth written in this book, and I’ve decided to embrace it over and above my own personal brainpower. And, yes, if you read enough of the bible you will encounter events or teachings or concepts that you might not like – it’s at these moments that you will be presented with a fork in the road, and you can choose to follow your relativistic, super-brain, or you can follow God’s Word which has withstood the centuries. Jesus died for you whether you believe that or not – that’s truth for you. All you have to do is humble yourself and accept that you are a sinner and that you do not live up to God’s glorious standard, but because he loves you so much, he made a huge sacrifice on your behalf – the life of his son. The bible says that “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Talk to God about this – say a prayer – find a Christian to talk to. Please, please don’t bet eternity on your own personal wisdom.
Be sure to share this with someone who might need to hear it!