Q: I’m a Christian. Some SBNR people say absolute truths do not exist, but that is itself an
absolute claim. Don’t you agree?
We live in a relative world. Our dimension of existence is defined by a sphere with two poles and an equatorial middle zone. This physical structure orders not only our physical existence but our mental frameworks as well. Life flourishes most abundantly in the middle zone, becoming more barren at either pole or extreme.
A corollary to this is the human eye. It is analogous to the ego or “I” that defines our awareness of self. While the eye can rotate to the extreme right or extreme left, it cannot remain at either extreme and still be functional. The natural resting place for the eye is in the middle, gazing straight ahead. Similarly, the natural resting place for the “I” of the ego is in the center of self, rather than at the extremes of thought, emotion or sensation (though we can go there, albeit briefly).
The science of Complexity teaches us a comparable lesson. Between the extremes of absolute order and absolute chaos lies a middle zone, which is called the “phase dimension.” In this rather narrow band of material reality we find the dynamic interactions between order and chaos that result in life as we know it. Absolute order is immobile, frozen, dead – energy is trapped in material forms. Absolute chaos is pure energy without structure or utility. It is the ever-changing interactions between the drive to order and the drive to chaos that precipitate the dynamic and moving balance of exchanges that we know as life (and as the experience of the human psyche).
In psychological terms, this is the dance between “oneness” and “separateness” which characterizes the life path of each individual as a movement between these two poles of relationship, beginning in infancy – otherwise known as Object Relations.
I say all this to create a basis for understanding my response to the question. All absolutes are equivalent, in the sense that they are absolute by definition. That means that there is no division or duality within them. An absolute can be characterized as either positive or negative. In either case, it is still absolute, ALL-encompassing. Positive and negative poles are still polar – i.e., undivided – it is only the “charge” that differentiates one from the other. This is identical to the Buddhist insight that nirvana and samsara are the same. One is the absolute in its negative attribution (nirvana), while the other is the absolute in its positive attribution (samsara). Perhaps the following will illustrate this more effectively:
Nothing n’ever is nowhere (negative absolute)
No-thing now-ever is now-here (positive absolute)
I sometimes use the image of iridescent taffeta – if you hold it to the light at one angle, you see only blue. If you shift the angle, now you see only red. All or nothing is a matter of perspective – yet the underlying truth is that each is absolute and therefore they are equivalent.
Now to religion. We can truthfully say that absolute truth both exists and does not exist, depending on one’s point of view. For the Christian, the absolute truth is a positive absolute. For the atheist, the absolute truth is a negative absolute. Each of us can choose which pole feels most livable, if we are inwardly driven to seek the extreme perception which is absolute. But that is like trying to hop through life on just one leg…exhausting, at best, and quite limiting.
Life, however, still flourishes in the middle zone – or as Buddha put it, the middle way. Just as the eye is quickly exhausted if we try to hold it in place at either corner, right or left – so is the human being quickly depleted by an extreme position regarding truth. Our natural position is in the middle, with freedom to move in any direction – toward the positive OR the negative views – depending on current circumstances or situations. Being locked onto an absolute is the absence of freedom, whether that absolute is perfect order (Christian) or perfect chaos (atheist).
I choose the option of wholeness, rather than absoluteness, as it gives me the freedom to explore the whole range of dynamic possibilities that life offers and, along with that, the joy of discovery as I dance across the rich landscape of being human. At the same time, for me, the dance itself aligns me with my perception of the Divine, as that which encompasses both poles as well as all that lies between.