There is only one section alone that I really want to focus on in “A New Earth” as the book is divided into chapters and each chapter is divided into sections. That is the one “Truth: Relative or Absolute?”
Why? Because so much today hinders on what truth is. Not what is the truth, but what truth itself is. What is the truth is certainly an important question, but before we get to it, we have to establish what truth is. Now Tolle does seem to believe in absolute truth, but does he mean what Christians mean by that? He is right in saying that moral relativism is one of the great evils of our times. Does that not start though somehow with epistemological relativism?
Let’s consider some statements.
2 + 2 = 4
Washington D.C. is the capital of America.
The World Trade Towers fell on 9-11, 2001.
Red and yellow make orange.
Water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
Now let’s consider some others:
Lassie is a penguin
3 x 3 is 44.
Ontario is located in Asia
America won its independence in 1844.
White and green make black.
Water consists of 7 parts Carbon and 9 parts Arsenic.
Now all of these statements are false, but notice something. They’re all meaningful. The only way that we know that they’re false is that they all have some meaning. We know 3 x 3 isn’t 44 because we know what 3 means, we know what it means to multiply, we know what equal means, and we know what 44 means. We also know all these items belong together. Consider if it was the following:
3 x 3 = purple.
Not only is it false, it seems like gibberish to us. What does that mean? It’s a category fallacy entirely. Or consider the classical example:
Colorless green dreams sleep furiously.
Even if we know what all the words mean, they not only contradict, but dreams not only do not have colors as it were, but they don’t sleep. The sentence doesn’t make sense. Let’s consider some other sentences.
Christianity teaches that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.
Islam says there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet.
Mormons believe that men can become gods.
These are also all true statements. Let’s take the first one though. We know it’s a statement that has meaning and is claiming to be a true statement about what Christianity teaches. Let’s take out part though.
Jesus Christ rose from the dead.
Now we have something different. It’s not just Christianity teaches this. It’s saying that this is a truth claim and this is where we have some differentiation. This is the kind of statement I think Tolle might say is “True for you but not for me.”
However, notice something about that proposition. It’s not meaningless. If I assert it, you can easily ascertain what I mean by it. I mean something specific. I do not mean Jesus Christ rises in our hearts and Easter always happens. I mean that within the space-time fabric of history, the God-man, Jesus Christ, died and rose again physically.
Question: Why should this truth be relative instead of absolute?
Now someone might say “You can’t prove it!”
Okay. I think I could give exceedingly great evidence for it, but let’s suppose I can’t. Let’s suppose it’s a claim. Now let’s consider some others:
Human Life begins at conception.
It’s wrong to torture babies for fun.
That man loves his wife.
Courage is a virtue.
These could be contested by some, and it might be considered to be beyond proof. (I think the first one has been shown, but I say that for the sake of those who might not think such.) Nevertheless, they all make claims about reality and those claims are either true or false and they are true or false whether they can be proven or not.
So, even if I could not prove Jesus rose from the dead, the claim still has meaning. If he rose from the dead, it would be a fact. If he didn’t, it wouldn’t. It’s that simple.
Now let’s look at what Tolle says.
Tolle speaks about how Christian history is an example with people being routinely tortured and burnt for disagreeing with the reigning power. Now I’ll grant that there was much evil that happened in the Inquisition. However, there is much myth about it as well. On page 155-156 of his book, he claims 3-5 million women were tortured and killed by the Inquisition.
I would like to see one scholar of the Inquisition who would make such a claim.
Really. There was a lot evil, but by and large, the Inquisition was not seen to be the dread force it has been depicted as. Later writers often told horror stories about the Inquisition that simply are not true. One sees this kind of thinking about it showing up in writers like Sam Harris also in “The End of Faith.” We condemn the bad that happened, but we realize all that happened was not evil. (And realize that Tolle says on 110-111 that there is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so in quoting Shakespeare. How does he say anything is evil then?)
Tolle says what these people had was simply a bundle of thoughts.
Why yes. They had thoughts.
Those thoughts were either true or false and that’s what needs to be asked most of all. Is the Christian story true? Not is it a good story? Is it a story I like? Is it a beautiful story? I could say that the story of the Lord of the Rings is a good and beautiful story that I like, but that does not make it a true story. (Although several Tolkien fans would wish it were.)
Tolle makes the claim that thought can point to the truth, but it is never the truth. Now I wonder about this. This seems to be a thought of Tolle’s. Is it true or not? There are so many questions that can arise from that because I believe that Tolle has erred gravely. Truth consists in concepts that can be formed in propositions about reality and those propositions are often contained in thoughts. They are the bearers of truth indeed. You don’t say the words are true. You say the concept behind the words is true.
Tolle also makes the statement that all religions are equally false or equally true depending on how they’re used.
As a Christian, I find that gravely insulting.
In my worldview, the one true God sent his only Son to die a hideous death for my sins and he rose from the dead after the horror of crucifixion and the response I get is “Well that’s true for you provided you use it right, but the Buddhist path works just as well.”
So then God made a mistake if he sent his only Son? He could have just sent everyone to Buddha?
What would it mean to work anyway? Does it mean to make you happy or make you a better person? Well and good. Christianity is not about that though. It is not about giving you warm fuzzies of happiness but letting you enter into the joy of the Lord. It is not about taking people that are bad and making them good, though it does that, but taking people who are dead and making them alive.
My religion is making claims not about how I feel, but about how reality is. It claims that certain events happened in history and those events have ramifications for all mankind. It does not matter if you like that claim or not. It does not matter if I’m arrogant when I make the claim or not. It does not matter if the claim can be proven or not. It is still a meaningful claim and it is thus, either true or false.
Next Tolle makes this interesting statement: There is only one absolute Truth, and all other truths emanate from it.
Question: Is that claim an absolute truth?
If it is, then there are two absolute truths and the statement contradicts itself.
If it isn’t, then the statement is not absolute truth so why should I believe it?
Tolle then goes on though to say that we are inseparable from the truth. We saw though in an earlier blog that his usage of John 14:6 is not in line with what Jesus was saying and in fact, Jesus was making a strong claim about exclusivity. (We will be looking at exclusivism later.) Now one can say that Jesus was wrong in his claim to being exclusive, which I doubt he was, but let it not be said that he is uttering something meaningless. The claim is either true or false.
Tolle’s worldview would have the most important truths actually being left out of the equation. Is my roommate my friend for instance? I could not prove that empirically. I could not use science to find it out. I do not think I could prove it to the most ardent skeptic. He would always be able to come back with some reason to think some tomfoolery is going on or something. However, does that mean it’s a meaningless claim? No. In fact, do I doubt the claim? Not at all!
When I examine the questions of life, the most important questions I have are not scientific or mathematical. Now don’t get me wrong. Those are important questions. The most important questions involve though the areas of morality and theology and philosophy. What is the nature of God? What is the nature of love? What is the nature of sex? (Which is actually in all three. It’s not just physical and biological.) How do I treat my neighbor? How can I be a good person?
Can each of these be answered with truth claims? Yes. Even if I don’t know the answers, they can be answered. Even if I can’t prove such answers if found, they are still true.
In philosophy, this is the correspondence theory of truth. Truth is the way things are simply. The claim “I am sitting down as I type this sentence,” is true because, well I am sitting down as I type this sentence. It doesn’t mean when I stand up it will be false. The claim is that I was sitting down when I typed it and that is true for all people in all times in all places like all truth claims are.
What’s Tolle’s theory? He doesn’t say explicitly and I don’t think he gives enough clues to find out even implicitly. That concerns me greatly. Especially for a book that I believe is making several truth claims. Are things the way Tolle says they are? We’ll find out over the next few days.