Relative Truth and Gnosticism

At one point in your life, you must have been told that truth is relative. 

This claim is neither new nor uncommon. It has been with us for many years. Interestingly, I have met several people who advocate for this view of truth, deliberately or unknowingly. And sometime back I bumped into some of them on Facebook discussions. At the same time, it occurred to me that TRUTH is a hard nut to crack. 

In one of our discourses, I asked someone to define the truth he was so eloquently and diligently vending. Defining truth is not a walk in the park guys! 

Apart from the concept of Truth, I also bumped into the concept of Wooden Literalism, still in the same market place. Just in the usual way of trying to discredit Christianity, one guy posted a verse from Isaiah 45:7, ‘I form the light and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.’ to prove that the God Christians worship created evil. Now, I pressured him to tell me what Isaiah’s contemporaries made of the verse since he had brought it up. He dodged by asking me to explain it. How can you make a claim, then expect the person who is questioning you to explain it? Can you imagine someone telling you that New Zealand’s Rugby team, the All Blacks, displayed a poor show at the 2019 World Cup, and when you ask him to explain what he means; he quickly ducks and demands you to explain! Isn’t that sheer nonsense? Logic demands that the one who makes a claim must defend it, or rather explain it when asked to do so. Nevertheless, I knew it was going to be hard for him to respond to my question. 

The relative truth claims and the Isaiah verse stuff were raised by guys who hold onto the Gnosticism view. And you can guess those who supported them in this unsuccessful venture: fellow subscribers to Gnosticism and atheists.

Before we move on, it is good – in brief – to understand who were gnostics, now that they are re-emerging.

God

On the concept of God, gnostics maintain that there are two Gods: Number One is the chief, spiritual, unknown Father who is disassociated from the world and revealed only by Christ; and Number Two is the inferior, ignorant, and evil creator of the world (referred to as Demiurge). 

Various Gnostic groups viewed the God of the Old Testament as this Demiurge, because of his work in the creation. They argued that he could not be the true God. 

In some variants of Gnosticism, the Demiurge progressed to the status of a malevolent lesser ‘second god’, who set himself against the true God (This is the reason why gnostics maintains that Christians worship a different God from the one Jesus preached). These versions of Gnosticism regards the Old Testament as not simply irrelevant and inaccurate, but out-and-out wrong. Indeed the Cainite Gnostics taught that the ‘malfeasants’ of the Old Testament, such as Cain and the Sodomites, were the true stars, turning the Old Testament accounts on their heads. 

One of the major general Gnostic views of the ‘incarnation’ is known as Docetism. It is derived from the Greek word Dokein, which means to appear to be. The idea is that Christ’s physical being was nothing but an illusion, like a hologram in a modern science-fiction Television series. 

Indeed, reading the Gnostic writings, science-fiction is the resemblance that most often comes to mind. Remember the original Star Trek was named ‘The Return of the Archons’! 

In some instances, in their Gnostic books, Gnostics would tell a story in which Jesus and one of the disciples would be walking along a seashore, and the disciple would look back and find that Jesus left no steps – after all, he had no physical body! 

World

According to the Gnostics, the material world created by the Demiurge (the Old Testament God) is evil and holds the spiritual ones from perfection. Thus, the world as it stands must fade and be avoided.

Humanity

When it comes to humanity, Gnostics consider themselves to be the elite by nature, the spiritual ones. Why? Because they possess the so-called seed of the spiritual realm inside them. 

This spiritual sparkle is confined within the material, fleshly body and craves for freedom from this evil jail.

Salvation

It is only the eternal spirit of the Gnostic that is saved; it gains freedom from material imprisonment and returns to the Father’s spiritual sphere. Salvation is not by grace through faith, but by knowledge (gnosis); by knowing that the true God is the Father, not the Demiurge (God of the Old Testament). The actual home of the spirit is the Father’s realm (the place of its origin) and not the material world with its bodies of flesh.

Jesus

Gnostics understand Jesus as a spiritual, divine being from the Father’s realm who comes to the world to unveil the Father and the true identity of the spiritual ones (the spiritual ones are Gnostics). 

They maintain that Jesus did not become incarnate or die on the cross. Rather, he either simply appeared to be human or momentarily occupied a human being named “Jesus.”

Why Gnosticism tickles

1. The concept of sin and the body

In Gnosticism, sin is degraded to an inevitable function of the material body. The material body is not reality

Thus Gnosticism affords a comfortable way to avoid the certainty and the guilt of sin by declaring that the material body is not real and therefore the gnostics don’t sin. 

To some extent, some Gnostics were hermits, surviving on vegetarian diets and chastising their bodies, while refraining from marriage and restricting their followers to marry. However, others, notably the Carpocratians, believed that the body should luxuriate and that gratifying the body does not in any way influence the true and pure spirit within. Ascetic Gnostic sects usually taught that the asceticism was only for an elite within the sect.

2. Escapism

Gnosticism is a form of escape from the evil world, designed by the God of the Old Testament. 

To them, this world is a mistake; it ought not to be. ‘I should not be in this world,’ the Gnostic says, ‘and the true me is a part of divinity.’ Escape from the body to a completely spiritual existence is the actual purpose of life. 

Consequently, when a Gnostic dies, the body that is laid in the grave is not the actual person. Contrastingly, in Christianity, the body is part and parcel of the actual person, apart from the spiritual part. The body shall be forever reunited at the resurrection of the dead. 

3. Elitism

Gnosticism comforts its adherents that they are enlightened and special. So, we see that Gnosticism panders to human pride. 

The allure of being part of an elite is quite something. Humans love to be part of distinct groups; the upper echelon, the crème de la crème, the sages. And this is why we have cliques such as the Freemasons. 

Gnosticism, with its teaching of salvation by secret knowledge, appealed to the same aspirations and desires as the early secret cultism and modern aliens cults – the guys of flying saucers and Nibiru planet. 

In the times of St. Paul, the Gnostic could look down his nose at mere ordinary Christians around him and think, ‘if you only knew what I know.’ And modern Gnostic still does the same. 

Like a lad who has persuaded himself that he has superpowers, the gnostic says to himself, ‘I am not like other people, I know that the true me is in my essence; it makes me distinct from common lads around me.’ And like the lad, a Gnostic deludes himself.

Back to truth……

‘What is the truth?’ is a very simple question. But answering it isn’t that easy. 

Truth, just like right and reality and many other predicates we use in speeches and writings and take for granted is complex than it seems.  

If such a thing as truth exists, then we should be able to discover it. If the truth cannot be known, then it presumably does not exist. However, we all know truth’s existence is beyond doubt. For example, we know it is true that you are reading this blog post.

“Truth is so obscured nowadays, and lies so well established, that unless we love the truth, we shall never recognize it.” Blaise Pascal

Pilate on truth

Pilate famously asked Jesus, “What is truth?” and then exited the scene. Even though Jesus made no response to Pilate, Christians affirm that Pilate was gawking truth in the face, for Jesus had earlier said to his disciple Thomas, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6).

So, what does it mean for a statement to be regarded as true?

Postmodernist philosopher Richard Rorty answered this question by claiming that truth is what his colleagues let him get away with.

And what is the majority view as held by philosophers?

There are several views on truth, but the one that vast majority of philosophers, across ages, agree on is The correspondence view of truth. The view holds that any declarative statement is true if and only if it corresponds to or agrees with factual reality, with the way things are.

Minds may understand this truth, but minds do not create this truth. This is because truth is a quality of some statements and not of others. 

It is not a matter of individual feeling, majority vote or cultural fashion. 

The statement, “The world is globular,” was true even when most of the earthlings thought their planet was flat. 

The correspondence view of truth necessitates that declarative statements are subservient to different kinds of verification and falsification. 

A statement can be demonstrated to be false if it can be proved to disagree with objective reality. The images from the space portraying the earth as a blue sphere (along with earlier evidence) falsified flat-earth claims. 

Not all falsification is as simple as we may imagine; yet if statements are true or false by their relationship to what they endeavour to explain, this makes likely the marshalling of evidence for their veracity or falsity.

Relativism

Relativism comes in different forms and dimensions, but its conspicuous claim is that the truth of a statement depends on the views of persons or cultures, not on whether statements correspond to objective reality. 

Try to apply Relativism in the field of medicine or science! It is extremely ridiculous to even entertain the thought. For example, Physicians have a valid reason not to bleed their patients, as it was a common practice for centuries. Why? Because we objectively know that bleeding does not help patients, irrespective of the social consensus that may have been prevalent at earlier times. 

Unlike the correspondence view of truth, which seeks objective support for the truth or falsity of statements, relativism grants no means of testing or falsifying any belief. As long as one holds the belief or a particular culture tends to affirm certain things, then that’s it.

Truth is neither what works for you nor what makes you feel good. The general subjective view is that truth proffers a pleasant feeling, while error feels bad. And this is the view of many mystics and new-age practitioners.  

A poor grade in a student report card does not make the student feel good. The student can refuse to believe it but at his or her academic peril. 

So, this is what we are claiming: All truth is absolute. There are no relative truths. For if something is true, then it is true for everyone everywhere, and for all time. 

The truth statement 2 + 1 = 3 is not just true for mathematics majors, nor is it true only in a mathematics lecture hall. It is true for everyone everywhere.

As we have observed, If relativism were true, then the world would be choke-full of contradictory states. For if something is true for me but false for you, then reverse conditions exist. If I say there are books in the study room, and you claim they are not there, and we both are right, then there must both be and not be books in the study room at the same time and in the same sense. However, that is improbable. So, if truth were relative, then an impossible would be actual.

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