The on going controversy over the real cause of the American Civil War vividly demonstrates how nebulous the idea of absolute objective truth can be. Once human interpreters of a “truth” (in this case, true history) get involved, objectivity is apparently excluded and absolutism along with it.
The human mind likes to perceive that its opinion of reality is absolutely and objectively true and that others who see the truth differently are perversely misguided or willfully misguiding. In reality, I believe we all simply mistake our own perceptions as the measure of truthfulness and therefore must somehow explain the different opinions of others. In order to maintain the assumption that our version of reality is absolutely true, other versions of the truth must be negated. That is best accomplished by impugning the intelligence and motives of those who disagree with us. Thus we witness the endless display of egotistical self promotion in all arenas of life as men and women proclaim and defend their personal form of the truth.
Often these personal versions of what is true (and by extension what is right) are promoted as what is obviously good for everyone, i.e. good for the neighborhood, good for the nation, etc. More likely, these claims of a general good more accurately define what the promoter sees as being good for them personally. What is, in fact, good for the majority is often ill defined and therefore difficult to identify much less institute. Again we witness the ego in action. If my belief is beneficial to the general populace, then it has to be right. Otherwise, how could the majority benefit from this “truth”?
One quickly recognizes that this kind of circular reasoning will never resolve anything but can and will generate endless conflict. By starting off with an assumed premise and building thereon, one can conclude whatever one is inclined to believe in the first place. A belief which enhances the believer is most beguiling, so that belief, as a starting assumption, is the most natural thing of all to the ego.
Nowhere is the problem of assumed absolute truth so prominent as in the world of religion. The very idea that what is true can be relative is anathema to many faiths, especially Christianity. Defining absolute truth as being God’s opinion of reality, as generally attempted by the church, leads us no where, because no one knows that version of the truth despite countless years of claims to the contrary. Heralding the Bible as the clear, absolute statement of God’s truth is meaningless because that truth has to be interpreted under the influence of the human mind and ego. There goes objectivity and with it any hope of attaining universal truth.
Religious adherents may shudder at the idea of subjective truth, but in fact that is probably all we will ever have in this life- the truth of the moment as seen through our conditioned eyes. Each of us has a belief system, one largely the product of our upbringing and cultural heritage. The assumptions instilled in us by that background will be dramatically different from those of another culture and ethnic group. One can claim the preeminence of their personal beliefs all day, but all that proves is that people want to believe that their beliefs are correct and true and therefore superior. Here again we can recognize the ego’s love of self elevation at the expense of others.