Absolutism v. Relativism

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W4TVQ
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Absolutism v. Relativism

Postby W4TVQ » December 30th, 2008, 2:19 pm

This is a subject that has been on my mind for a while. Briefly, it is this: there is absolute Truth. the Truth is true regardless of our perception of it.

For example: on a cloudless morning, the sky is blue. If I say, "No, it is orange," and you say, "No, it is chartreuse with cerise polka dots," the sky is still blue. It is unaffected by our opinion or our perception. If I am blind and see only black, the sky is still cloudless and blue. "Cloudless and blue" is the absolute truth in this situation.

IMO, this principle extends beyond the physical realm, into the metaphysical. the "est" principle of "What is, is, what is not, is not," is a constant.

That suggests to me that there is one Truth, and that the multiplicity of religions and philosophies represents the fact that no one has yet figured out what it is. We are like the blind men circling the elephant, reaching out to see what an elephant is like, each touching some part of it but not the whole, and proudly announcing that "the elephant is like a wall" or "the elephant is lie a tree trunk" or "the elephant is like a rope."

Of course,the elephant is all of those things. I think that the secondary message of that little parable is this: "I can easily confuse myself and become disoriented if I try to perceive or grasp the entire elephant, when I am only big enough to comprehend the small part I can touch."

Putting that principle into practice in my own life, I find it means that I do not try to be a hindubuddhisttaoistmulsimnewagerchristian, as so many try to do; that I content myself with being a Christian, embracing the creeds as representative of how I encounter and understand God, and knowing that, for me, "God is like that." It is not necessary for me to argue that "if you do not agree with me you will go to hell," because stupidity is not a requirement of this game. I perceive that you are touching another part of the elephant, and somewhere, sometime, we will all together see the entire elephant. But I do think that once one has embraced one particular understanding of the Truth, one should be committed to maintaining the purity of that approach -- i.e., when others claim the same approach, they should claim it as it is and not in some "revised" version. If I claim, for example, to be A Christian, but choose to practice the spirituality of the eastern religions, then I should, in order to be honest, be a Hindu or a Buddhist.

There's another story of three men who had been born blind, and were healed by Jesus. They came one by one to the Mount of Olives just to look at the scenery they had never seen. Presently they began to talk. "I was healed by Jesus," said one. "So was I," said another. "Me, too," said the third. "Yes, He made a clay out of the dust, put it on my eyes, and I could see!" "No, He doesn't work that way. He just touches you and you are healed." "You're both wrong, He just speaks the word and you are healed." And so they argued, each denying that the others could have been healed by Jesus because "He does not work that way, I know, this is how He did it with me." And that is why we have denominations...

So all this is nothing new, or earth-shaking, just a bit if musing on my part as I consider where I stand and what it is that best organizes my life and my spiritual well-being. thanks for letting me share/rant.

Pax Domini
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"I can at best report only from my own wilderness. The important thing is that each man possess such a wilderness and that he consider what marvels are to be observed there." -- Loren Eiseley

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Speculum
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Re: Absolutism v. Relativism

Postby Speculum » January 1st, 2009, 6:31 pm

Thoughtful post.

A few comments.

If I say, "No, it is orange," and you say, "No, it is chartreuse with cerise polka dots," the sky is still blue … "Cloudless and blue" is the absolute truth in this situation.


To be sure, you or I are comfortable insisting that “blue is blue”, but what about Claude Monet or Pablo Picasso or, yes, Nancy Nadzo? Artists (painters) see colors differently than the rest of us, just as poets hear words differently than the rest of us. The “blue” corner of an artist's palette consists of numerous colors, none of which I expect is named simply “blue”, although about them you and I would likely remark, “Oh, look at all the nice blues”.

When you and I say “blue”, we mean a whole range of colors, a swath of the spectrum. Thus, the blue sky, the blue ocean, a policeman’s blue uniform, a jay’s blue feathers, the blue field in the Stars and Stripes.

Now, to be sure, all those blues are blue, but are they all the same color? Not really; in some cases, not even close.

So, our insisting that everyone accept and agree that they are all “blue” and that’s final (“the absolute truth”) misses the mark and distorts the purpose of truth. Truth, as I see it, is to give us something to reach for, not something to fence us in. Do you see what I mean?

We are like the blind men circling the elephant, reaching out to see what an elephant is like, each touching some part of it but not the whole, and proudly announcing that "the elephant is like a wall" or "the elephant is like a tree trunk" or "the elephant is like a rope."


I have always liked the elephant metaphor! I don’t know that I have ever come across anything that says it better.

That suggests to me that there is one Truth, and that the multiplicity of religions and philosophies represents the fact that no one has yet figured out what it is.


Increasingly, as I allow the barriers and definitions which describe and inform “Stefan” to fall away and evaporate, I find that “the multiplicity of religions and philosophies“ is far more appearance than fact, just as is the multiplicity of persons, personalities, and other things that inhabits and defines "Stefan's life".

My guess is that humanity keeps alive and stoked the fires of multiplicity precisely in order to keep alive the sense of “I am me and you aren’t me”. The more I can identify the differences between you and me, the more alive I feel as “me not you”.

Thus, it is increasingly apparent to me that all religions and philosophies are identical, each expressing the Self-Same One Infinite Truth. That they seem so different, even conflicting, to you and to me says more about us than about them. That is, they seem different from one another because we seem different to each other. In a word, as I see it, religions and philosophies are like languages. They all say the same Thing equally well even though they sound different, even sometimes gibberish, to those of us without fluency.

Further, increasingly I perceive all religions and philosophies as identical creations of the One God, their purpose being precisely to draw our attention to Him and to our True Identity. That we frequently use them for other purposes does not detract from their True Purpose. God knows that we do not all speak the same language, and so He speaks to us in the languages we speak. (The Bhakta in me puts it that way; the Jnani in me says, all the difference among languages is in our ears!)

But I do think that once one has embraced one particular understanding of the Truth, one should be committed to maintaining the purity of that approach -- i.e., when others claim the same approach, they should claim it as it is and not in some "revised" version. If I claim, for example, to be A Christian, but choose to practice the spirituality of the eastern religions, then I should, in order to be honest, be a Hindu or a Buddhist.


There is a Sufi (I think it is) story that goes something like, once a deep and nourishing well is found, a seeker is advised to stay put and to drink consistently from it rather than continue searching hither and yon, digging and drawing from a “multiplicity” of shallow wells. That makes sense.

My problem here is, I don’t like labels. I never have, even before I became – catch the label – a seeker. As a boy, I addressed my parents, and spoke of them, by their first names. I am not sure why I did that. I certainly don't recall having thought about it; it was just what I did. Similarly, I remember telling a young boy to whom I was “Uncle Stefan”: If you call me “Uncle” Stefan, then I will call you “Nephew” Sean. I guess it is something I came in with (whatever that means). Or maybe at some Sunday School picnic, I heard the Guru say, "Call no man father" and I obeyed.

As a seeker, that’s what I like about the label (!) mystic. The relationship with the Divine is im-mediate, un-conditional, in-tangible, un-defined and in-definable. It fits no institutional molds. It can hardly be described. No one – no persons, no words, no practices, no prescriptions, no proscriptions – come between a true mystic and the Divine, precisely because there is no space into which to insert them.

Here’s the thing: For me to say of myself “I am a Buddhist” sounds too much like saying “I am not a Hindu” or “I am not a Christian”. And that sounds too much like saying, “I am not you”. And surely it must be True that, if there is anything that I am not, then I am not whole.

Now, does that mean I cannot follow a “Christian path” or adopt a “Buddhist practice”? I don’t see why it must, and I say that because for me, God being Infinite, it is all God’s; so every Christian path is really God’s path and every Buddhist practice is really God’s practice.

Some years ago, a hospital chaplain said to me, “My religion is God”. I like that a lot; I liked it then, and I still like it. Over the years, I have taken the liberty of expanding it to, "My path is God, my practice is God, my religion is God."

That may be about as "Absolute" as you can get.

In any case, it makes a lot of sense to me.
"The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes." Marcel Proust


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