September 27, 1992
TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES
“I, the Lord, speak the truth; I declare what is right… Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth, for I am God, and there is not other” (Isaiah 45:19, 22)
Have you ever listened, really listened, to the advertising slogans on television? Here are some you’ll probably recognize: “Why ask why?” “Gotta have it.” “It’s it, and that’s that.” “Just do it.” “It’s the real thing.” “You got the right one baby, uh huh.” Really profound, aren’t they?
What do these slogans actually tell you about the product being promoted? What do you know after watching the ad that you didn’t know before? Absolutely nothing. If you spoke only Russian or Swahili, you’d gain just as much information from these ads as if you speak English. They have nothing to do with facts. Image is everything. You get some colorful images of great-looking people having a great time, perhaps a very famous person who’s been paid millions to plug the product, some catchy music, and finally, a slogan that’s carefully chosen to bypass your brain and appeal directly to your appetite.
We might as well face the fact that advertising agencies aren’t running a consumer information service. It’s not their job to bore us with the facts; more often than not, their job is to make us want something we could just as easily get along without or to choose a brand which is almost the same as any other (except for its advertising budget).
And if you want to sell something, the most effective message to send is simply that this is the thing to buy–not so much that it’s the smart thing to buy or the right thing to buy–no, just that it’s the thing to buy. Don’t think about it. Just do it. Just buy it. You gotta have it, so why ask why? It’s it and that’s that.
Now, when TV ads bypass the brain and ignore the facts, it’s really not so shocking–what else do we expect? But it’s another story when our elite universities are doing the same sort of thing.
One of the hottest trends in the ivory tower these days is deconstructionism. Inspired by such people as Jacques Derrida and Paul DeMan, deconstructionism says that there’s no reliable link between language and reality, between a word and the thing the word signifies. There’s no such thing as objective truth; or, if there is, language can’t communicate it reliably. All language, all literature, is essentially absurd and meaningless. Nothing is true and nothing is false; nothing is right and nothing is wrong; words refer only to other words, not to reality. So why ask why?
For the deconstructionist, there are no facts, only opinions. So when you hear a certain idea, don’t bother checking whether it’s the truth–there is no such thing. Instead, ask yourself whether you find the idea appealing. If you do, that’s good enough. For you it’s true. You got the right one, baby, uh huh.
And if you still insist on having some external standard for “truth,” you should define it simply as whatever your peers will let you get away with saying. All language is just a word game, and a political word game at that. An idea qualifies as truth, at least for the time being, if it happens to be politically correct. It’s the choice of a new generation.
The most important question to ask about any statement, then, is not whether it’s true (since there is no such thing as truth), but only whether it serves your cause. The purpose of language is not to advance understanding but to advance an agenda, not to communicate but to manipulate.
When a four-year-old gobbles a dozen cookies and then tells his mother he never went near the cookie jar (even though he’s got crumbs all over his face), a deconstructionist might say that the boy isn’t really lying. He’s just speaking his own personal truth as a powerless and oppressed person. And when his mother insists that he did indeed steal the cookies and that he shouldn’t lie to her, she isn’t really stating an objective fact. She’s just reinforcing her own privileged position of power as the adult oppressor. Whether the boy actually stole his mother’s cookies is beside the point. (If this sounds perverse to you, that’s only because it is. But that’s deconstructionism.)
Now, if this were just a passing fad in an ivory tower, I wouldn’t bother telling you about it. But in fact, this is really just the highbrow expression of an approach to life that’s infiltrated our entire culture. This approach exploded with full force on the popular consciousness in the 60s and early 70s. It goes something like this: There’s no objective standard for truth, so believe what you like. There’s no standard of right and wrong, so if it feels good–just do it! And guess what? If everyone learns to think this way, the final result will be a world of mutual appreciation, harmony, and undisturbed peace. In 1971 the late John Lennon sang a hymn to this glorious vision. Lennon’s song doesn’t appeal to any facts; he simply asks us to “Imagine.”
Imagine there’s no Heaven. It’s easy if you try. No Hell below us, above us only sky. Imagine all the people living for today. Imagine there’s no countries. It isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for and no religion too. Imagine all the people living life in peace. You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will live as one.
Imagine no possessions. I wonder if you can. No need for greed or hunger, a brotherhood of man. Imagine all the people, sharing all the world. You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.
That’s a powerful song, no denying it, and millions of people all around the world can hum along with it. But let’s stop humming and stop imagining for just a moment and look at the facts.
I’ve got to admit that John Lennon was right about at least one thing: I do say he’s a dreamer. He’s too busy imagining to see how deeply sin is rooted in the human heart. Lennon was singing all those lovely words about peace and harmony shortly after breaking up with his fellow Beatles over matters that had nothing to do with religion or politics. Also, Lennon was asking us to imagine a world with no possessions, even though at the time he was one of the world’s richest men (and to this day his widow, Yoko Ono, remains one of the world’s wealthiest women). It’s one thing to imagine a utopia; it’s quite another to change your own heart.
But I don’t want to dwell on Lennon’s personal failure to practice what he preached. Instead, let’s look at the bigger picture. Where does this basic philosophy lead? In his dream of a classless society, a universal brotherhood of man with no individual possessions, with no religion whatsoever, John Lennon sounds very much like Vladimir Lenin, the high priest of Soviet communism. Need I say more? You can imagine the worker’s paradise all you want, but the reality of communism is a long way from paradise.
The Western world, of course, didn’t buy into the political and economic aspects of John Lennon’s dream, but a great many people did follow other aspects of it: they chose to ignore heaven and hell, to ignore religion, to forget about the laws of the country, and to live only for today. And what’s happened? Well, today they want what they can’t afford to buy. Today they feel like an exciting trip on drugs. Today they feel like sex with a new partner. Today they feel like shooting someone.
Now imagine all the people living for today. Imagine if nobody had any religious convictions. Imagine if there were no countries to make laws and uphold them. Imagine all the people living for today, doing whatever they feel like. Thanks, but no thanks. I’m afraid the world has enough people “living for today,” and we can’t afford anymore. We’ve got more than our share of addiction and teenage pregnancy and abortion and divorce and crime and conspicuous consumption and budget deficits–not to mention all the people who lived for today until they finally died and found out too late that hell didn’t go away just because they imagined it had.
Let’s face it: we can’t imagine our way to a better life and a better world. Despite what anyone might say, imagining is not enough. We can’t sidestep the facts. If we try to ignore the truth, there’s a price to pay. “Truth or Consequences” isn’t just the name of an outdated TV show: it’s reality.
Let’s backtrack a moment and take another look at some of the deconstructionist scholars and intellectuals who say that there is no such thing as objective truth. Anyone who pays close attention to this philosophy can’t help asking, “If there’s no such thing as right and wrong, doesn’t that mean that anything goes? Maybe Hitler wasn’t a monster; maybe he just saw things from a different perspective.” You may think I’m being extreme here, but I assure you, the issue isn’t merely academic, to say the least.
Friedrich Nietzsche was a German philosopher who lived from 1844 to 1900. He attacked Christianity, dismissed all ideas of objective truth, and emphasized the individual’s will to power. Well, as it turns out, a few decades later, Adolph Hitler and his Nazi propagandists were quite fond of quoting Nietzsche.
Now, perhaps we shouldn’t be too quick to blame Nietsche for what a maniac like Hitler made of his philosophy, but what about Martin Heidegger, perhaps the most influential philosopher of this century, whom Jacques Derrida calls the progenitor of deconstruction? Academics who revered Heidegger were shaken to find out that he harbored strong sympathies for the Nazis. Heidegger signed his correspondence, “Heil Hitler.” Heidegger said, “The Fuhrer, and he alone, is the sole German reality and law, today and in the future.” Obviously, if the Fuhrer is the only reality and law, if there is no objective reality or higher law, then there’s no reason Hitler shouldn’t be a law unto himself. When German universities lost their academic freedom under Hitler, Heidegger was actually quite happy about it.
And that’s not all. A few years ago, it was discovered that Yale professor Paul de Man, known by some as the godfather of deconstruction, had written pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic articles for several years during the early 1940s in a Belgian newspaper. De Man called for Jews to be deported, and he praised French collaboration with Hitler.
Get the picture? When I ask whether a person who believes there are no objective standards has moral grounds to condemn even something as horrible as the Holocaust, I’m not just being sensationalistic. Paul de Man himself writes, “It is always possible to excuse any guilt.” He goes on to say that any experience can be interpreted in more than one way, and therefore, as he puts it, “the indecision makes it possible to excuse the bleakest of crimes.” Should it be surprising that a man who thinks like that was also a proponent of one of the most horrendous regimes in human history?
Now if you know anything about academia, you know that Nietsche, Heidegger, and de Man aren’t freaks in a sideshow; they’re not obscure names that I dug up from some dusty book somewhere. These are men whose philosophy continues to exert an enormous influence in our most prestigious universities.
The basic philosophy goes by different names: nihilism, existentialism, and deconstructionism, among others; but these are simply different brand names of the same product: anarchy. Intellectual anarchy, moral anarchy; spiritual anarchy; political anarchy. The “believe what you want, do what you please” approach to life is supposed to set a person free, and indeed it does: it sets the mind free from the pursuit of truth; it sets the conscience free from the pursuit of goodness; it sets the soul free from the pursuit of God; it sets a society free from the pursuit of justice.
When you live in this new liberty, you have absolute freedom. You’re free to indulge any sexual appetite whatever. You’re free to enjoy whatever drug gives you the most exotic hallucinations. You’re free to destroy another person if that’s what you want. You’re free to commit genocide. You’re free to do unto others before they do it unto you. You’re free to do absolutely anything. Without God, everything is permitted.
But if this is freedom, who needs slavery? An individual or society with this kind of freedom is like a fish that has finally managed to be free of the water. All it can do is gasp and thrash about until it dies.
So whether you’ve been listening to the profound gibberish of a university professor who somehow makes stupidity sound sophisticated, or the sweet sounds of John Lennon asking you to “Imagine,” or your own inner voice telling you to do your own thing, the message that there is no such thing as absolute truth is really the hissing of that old serpent, the devil. Satan says that if you can forget about all notions of truth, you will be set free. But Jesus Christ says, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
The truth! Christianity is a faith that deals in facts, not just fantasies or feelings or philosophical fine points. The Bible makes some very basic claims, and when you look at these claims, one thing you can’t say about Christianity is that the facts don’t matter. There’s more to being a Christian than simply knowing the facts, but there certainly isn’t less. The Christian faith stands or falls with the facts.
The Bible says that sin is a deadly reality, that profanity and greed and lying and stealing and sex outside of marriage and murder and worship of false gods are all evil. If that’s a fact, we must repent; but if there are no moral absolutes and there is no such thing as sin, then do as you please, and don’t let anybody send you on a guilt trip.
The Bible says that Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary. Now, either that’s a fact, or else Mary was cheating on the man she was engaged to. It’s one or the other, and a public opinion poll won’t affect whether the virgin birth actually happened.
The Bible records the fact that Jesus claimed to be equal with God. Either Jesus was right, in which case we must worship him as Lord; or else he was a lunatic with delusions of grandeur (as some of his relatives feared), or a liar under the direction of the devil himself (as some of his enemies said).
The Bible tells us that after his death, Jesus was resurrected bodily, that his tomb was empty, and that he appeared to many of his followers. Now, if that really happened, Jesus is alive today. He is very much real, and he can raise us, too. But if the body of that Galilean carpenter is now a handful of dust in some Judean grave, then Christianity is the biggest hoax ever perpetrated. Don’t try to humor me by saying that the resurrection might be true in the sense that Jesus’ followers felt a new surge of hope and began to spread his teachings. The fact is that if Jesus’ body wasn’t raised, then he was a fraud and those disciples of his were just a bunch of liars.
The Bible tells us that those who belong to God will live with him forever in heaven and that those who reject the Lord will spend an eternity of torment in hell. If that’s not so, if heaven is just a fantasy and hell is just a crude scare tactic, then don’t just “imagine” there’s no heaven or hell. Believe it, and don’t bother yourself wondering about life after death. But if heaven and hell are real, you’d better find out how to get into one and avoid the other.
Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He doesn’t say, “I am one alternative among many, and all roads lead to God.” You must either accept Jesus as the way, or reject him as no way at all.
If the claims of Christianity are indeed fact, then put your faith in Jesus Christ and follow him. If the claims of Christianity are false, then forget about it. But whatever you do, don’t waste your time on the pitiful nonsense that there is no such thing as objective truth. Don’t pretend that Christianity can be true for one person and not for another. That’s ridiculous. Facts are facts; they don’t change on the basis of what various people happen to believe. Truth is truth even if nobody believes it, and error is error even if everybody believes it.
The Lord told Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He didn’t say, “I am whatever you think I am,” or “I am whoever you want me to be.”
The Lord is the God who is there; he is who he is. We might try to ignore him, but we can’t imagine him away, and we can’t shape him to suit our own preferences. God isn’t going to change who he is to fit our beliefs–so we’d better change our beliefs to fit who he is. Whether we like it or not, the Lord is God, he is who he is, and there are no other options. In Isaiah 45 God says,
I am the Lord, and there is no other. I have not spoken in secret, from somewhere in a land of darkness… I, the Lord, speak the truth; I declare what is right…
There is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me.
Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:19, 21-22)
If you’re ever tempted to think there’s no such thing as truth, remember that God says: “I, the Lord, speak the truth.” If you’re tempted to think there’s no standard for right and wrong, remember that God says: “I declare what is right.” Truth is real, and it is available to us. God’s truth is written in the Bible and embodied in Jesus Christ.
Ignore this truth, and the consequences are deadly. Embrace this truth, and the consequences are salvation and eternal life. The Lord of heaven and earth says, “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.” Jesus tells us, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
Lord God, set us free from our confusion, set us free from our fantasies, set us free from our sin, set us free from our bondage to Satan, and fill our minds and hearts with yourself and with your truth, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.