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Susan Galvan
Susan Galvan is a published author, speaker and facilitator with expertise in transpersonal psychotherapy, ministry, spiritual mentorship, and financial life planning. Seeking answers? Ask Susan a question via email asksusan@SBNR.org.

Absolute Truth?

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Susan Galvan responds to a Christian’s question about absolute truth.

Absolute Truth?

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.

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5 Responses to “Absolute Truth?”

  1. Cyndi
    February 8, 2011 at 11:43 am #

    Oh, well said! This is a topic I’ve wrestled with for many years, and your words explain it succinctly. The more I study Buddhism, the more I see the middle way as the most viable solution.

    Thank you.

  2. Katie Kieffer
    February 8, 2011 at 12:05 pm #

    Thank you for putting this issue into words so well! Very well done.

  3. Patrick Simpson
    February 8, 2011 at 2:09 pm #

    A simple definition of absolute is free from imperfection; complete; perfect.

    In my opinion, no thing that human kind creates fits into that definition. That includes our definition of absolute truth and all our perceptions. We can strive for that perfection. But such an absolute seems only achieved possibly in God, our universe and in nature. We can come close, but never completely. But close can be good enough.

    Most of us unfortunately are like weekend warriors who never quite come close enough. We cannot quite see the forest because of the trees. We stay at the base of the trees where we feel safe. To become enlightened like a Christ or Buddha, shouldn’t we climb the tree to get a better, unobstructed view?

  4. Sylvan Crofte
    February 15, 2011 at 1:19 am #

    Wow where to begin to comment about a simple subject made so complex by the use of fancy words. The middle way of course is always the easiest, and the majority of humankind will most likely always choose the easy way. Not everyone will choose to climb mt. everest, or to dive hundreds of feet into the ocean. The list of extremes (positive or negative) is of course endless. Life is not about ‘the middle way. and of course it is not even about the extremes people go to within their own personal lives. It is simply just about each persons own journey, or their own unique path. The reason it is so easy for religions or goverments or despots or etc etc to ‘control’ its people, is by showing or demanding they follow a middle way. Our freeway systems run best because we all essentially do the same thing at essentially the same speed, but freeway travel is not our purpose for being here. Religions grow the quickest when they (the leadership) can show how easy it is to ‘go with the flow’, or rather how dangerous it is to not follow their rules. We are connected to God and His Universe and are of course part and parcel of that eternity from which we came and into which we will continue to be throughout eternity. Now we come to the real question: What is my PERSONAL absolute truth? It is whatever will provide for my ‘most excellent’ good. In otherwords, as we or I establish or re-establish, or acknowledge my connection to the Universe, I will then do that which the universe wants me to do to benefit that same universe which in turn will benefit me, and of course all of the creations of the Universe. Not my ego or some physical attribute of me, but the real me which is the eternal, never ending part of who I am. If there is an absolute truth, then I would describe it as my ‘CONNECTION’ to the universe. Without that connection, then I am like a fish out of water, and would die quickly. It was my lack of connection for 66 years (the walking dead) that created great chaos in my space which I am now in the process of ‘fixing’ along with the asistance of and in harmony with the Universe (MY absolute truth-connection).

  5. Brian
    April 27, 2011 at 7:08 pm #

    10 witnesses to an event will offer differing versions of “the truth”. We each filter our perceptions through glasses built from the sum of our life experiences. We each have a specific, subjective point of view which prevent any one of us from experiencing anything truly, objectively.

    Regardless of how deeply we feel we know “the truth” about anything, it’s only subjective.

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