On Meaning [3] | Absolute Truth | Power | Stages of Faith

On Meaning [1]  | On Meaning [2]

In the previous two posts I have been trying to set out why I still hold to a position that absolute truth exists. The discussion began as a meditation on meaning and language, and I’ve tried to make the connection between these and truth.

I ended the last post by positing that an extreme relativist position leads to difficult corners where it is impossible to make sensible statements about right and wrong, and thus leads us into moral difficulties. But also that, even though I believed in absolute truth, because the only way we can exchange ideas/thoughts in the public domain is through the porous and ever-negotiable means of language, I didn’t expect to be able to explain fully why. It boils back down to the faith/doubt axes.

To explain further: while I believe absolute truth exists, I don’t believe that any one person or group of people have full access to that truth.

I think this has 2 major implications:

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Firstly, because absolute truth exists, justice and hope are possible. ‘The Other’ is part of the equation, and we journey, in faith, in a Universe that is not sealed.

Secondly, because the whole of absolute truth is inaccessible to one group or person, we are forced into humble interdependence. We seek to journey together and learn from one another.

This, I think, dissolves the ‘tyranny of absolute power’ argument. The problem with a view of accessible absolutism is that groups or individuals can claim divine authority and make life hell for people. With an inaccessible absolutism, this is not possible.

This brings me on to some thoughts I have been having recently about the connection between truth-views and stages of faith. It seems to me that there is a parallel here. At ‘Stage 3’ – typified as the ‘evangelical’ stage – authorities are externalized. ‘I believe this because my pastor teaches it / the Bible says so.’ I think this in analogous to the ‘accessible absolutism’ phase of truth. At ‘Stage 4’ – perhaps best typified by the classic ‘alt.worship’ stage – authorities are fully internalized. Everything is questioned and doubted, and, because ‘I believe this at the moment because I feel it to be true’, it is perhaps analogous to the relativistic stage. At ‘Stage 5’ – which I have argued is where the Emerging Church needs to be heading, there is a ‘conjunctive’ view. Things can be viewed from multiple perspectives. And it as this stage that I am thinking that an inaccessible absolutism comes in.

Pushing the boundaries of this beyond church, I feel that the rise of postmodern thinking – which has drawn heavily on the relativist position – is a natural and healthy reaction against the Stage 3 modernist/absolutist world of empires / the enlightenment / hard science. But it has, and I think we see this more and more in our culture, proved to be ultimately dissatisfying to people. And I sense people are yearning to go beyond that – not back to the restrictive comforts of accessible absolutism – but onwards to a more mature inaccessible absolutism. Where we can happily admit that truth exists, that right and wrong exist, but that the truth is ‘stranger than it used to be’, and that answers will depend on interaction, not just pronouncement or introspection and that the restrictions of language will always mean we fall short of fully understanding. But that that is OK.


9 responses to “On Meaning [3] | Absolute Truth | Power | Stages of Faith”

  1. This seems to tie in with the safe/unsafe/certain/uncertain paradigm put forward by Ana Draper at yesterday’s Blah day.
    However, my previous comments about football have probably eroded any credibility I may have had.
    And the snooker final has just started.

  2. Yeah – I found that really helpful too. For those who weren’t at the leadership day yesterday, Ana Draper spoke from her therapist’s point of view and presented a set of axes: safe/unsafe certain/uncertain.
    She proposed that too much alt.w stuff is in the unsafe/uncertain quadrant, too much evangelical stuff in the safe/certain and where we need to aim to be is in the safe/uncertain place.

  3. Thanks for your insights and i have felt similarly. Adele

  4. Excellent ‘thought for the day’ on the futile pursuit of a ‘universal language’, and why The Stars and Stripes should be allowed to be sung in Spanish. Giles Fraser rocks.

  5. i’ve been wondering whether fowler’s stages need to be critiqued in the light of postmodernity… do many people who are ‘new’ to faith skip stages because their worldview is already at stage 5… so the stages can’t be considered to be consecutive.
    need to think about it more…


    I still prefer to call them “directions”. Call me “anal” but “stages” sounds too much like ranking one above the other… Hey, I put the word Anal and one that rhymes with Wanking in the same sentence… Kester, you gotta excersize some obscenity-filtering here, dog.
    (and a spell-check)
    And Fowlers doo-hicks are pretty much identical to Scott McClendans stuffs::: here’s where it’s talked about in FaithCommons…
    Submitted by BLG2319 on Mon, 08/22/2005 – 11:15.
    I checked out a book the other day called “Finding a Religion: When the faith you grew up with has lost its meaning” by Scott McClendan (apox. title and spelling of his name). It is a fascinating book that I would reccommend to anyone who is struggling spiritually.
    The most interesting part of the book has to with his explanation of the six stages of spirtuality. They look like this:
    1. Magic
    2. Reality
    3. Dependence
    4. Independence
    5. Interdependence
    6. Unity
    Magic is when fairy tales are real to us as children. Reality is when we realize there is no Santa. Dependence is where many people stop in their journey. It is the stage where God is seen as a parental figure and we rely on gurus, mentors, church dogmas, etc. to lead us. For me the gurus were of the Max Lucado variety.
    The spiritual crisis that erupted inside me last fall I now see as a transition to the next spiritual stage, independence. This stage is marked by skepticism and doubt. The god that seemed close earlier in life starts to become distant and remote. My religion has literally lost its meaning.
    The next stage for which I would very much like to reach is interdependence. The point where old things become new again. The symbols of my past faith take on powerful new meanings. I long for this stage, not because it is the next in the progression, but because it is where I hope to find peace. Independence is necessary I believe because without it one can never have an open mind. But it is also a very painful and confusing stage. I am sure many folks who call themselves athiest and agnostics are in this stage. There is tremendous freedom, but with that freedom comes great sorrow. At least for me. So I don’t think I can stay here (in the independence stage) any longer than I need to.
    The final stage he describes is the Unity stage. Jesus appears to have been in this stage along with Buddhah and Mahammed. This is the realm of the mystics. Only a few ever make it. I don’t plan to reach this summit, of course I didn’t plan to leave the dependence stage either. But here I am.
    I realize that this all sounds way to clinical and “modern” if you will. I don’t know if the stages are universally true or not, but they seem to fit my experience. And afterall, that is all any of us really know about anyway.
    Just incase anyone was at a loose end and wanted another DamnDiversion to plough thru.

  7. This is really helpful – and is likely to be the topic of my mull down the allotment this morning. Blinkin’ weeds. Keep growing around the nice clean stuff you plant and confusing the dirt 😉


    Ironically enough, the last time my wife, TANKGIRL, asked me to pull out the weeds and water the plants… I pulled out all the plants (greenish things) and watered the beautiful yellow things (weeds – apparently).
    I do live in a city after all, how am I supposed to know.
    **TANK shakes her head in disgust**