True for You (but not for Me)
This article is reproduced with permission from the British ministry Facing The Challenge, see below for more information.
Across Britain this week, hundreds of couples will be getting married. They will spend thousands of pounds on the wedding itself. I'm sure they will go into their marriages with high hopes, and most of them will mean the promises they make to each other.
Yet the sad reality is that four out of ten of them will end in the divorce courts. Until recently, Britain had the highest divorce rate in Europe. It has only fallen from that position because fewer people are now getting married in the first place.
And whatever we think about the rightness or wrongness of divorce, surely we cannot deny the pain and guilt that it inflicts on any children involved—and indeed on the husband and wife. Divorced people who remarry have a higher chance of going through yet another marriage breakdown. (Perhaps this is one reason why people choose to live together rather than to marry.) Children from broken homes are more likely to have behavioral problems, more likely to have problems at school, and more likely to end up in broken relationships as adults.
We're in a mess, aren't we? Where has it come from? How did we get here?
One of the underlying reasons is that for most of us today, right and wrong are no longer something God-given, something we can all agree on. Rather, right and wrong are just a matter of "lifestyle choice".
Apparently six out of seven 13-15 year olds now believe that there is nothing wrong with sex outside marriage. Three out of four believe there is nothing wrong with under age sex. Half of all lower sixth form pupils are already sexually active.
So Britain now has the highest proportion of unmarried teenage mothers in the world. And surely we can't deny that these girls are not ready psychologically, emotionally, or financially, for the demands of parenthood.
But where has this idea come from? This belief that right and wrong are just a lifestyle choice.
Underlying it is the belief that truth itself is just a matter of personal opinion. No-one can know what is really true. Something can be "true for you" without necessarily being "true for me too." So we all make up our own version of the truth as we go along.
A recent CD by the Manic Street Preachers captures this in its title: This is my truth tell me yours.
So today truth is whatever you want it to be—and because of that, right and wrong become just whatever you choose them to be.
Now in this kind of world, Christianity becomes just your private opinion, or my private opinion. If you choose to be a Christian, that's fine—for you. I'm so glad it helps you—don't push it down my throat, thank you very much. It isn't for me.
So here we are in a world where truth is a matter of opinion, right and wrong is a matter of lifestyle choice, and Christian faith is something private and personal, with nothing to say to the wider world of law, or education, or the media, or business. Religious beliefs are private beliefs, and we should keep them that way.
But we find ourselves unable to live in this world that we have created.
What do I mean? Well, let's take the idea that right and wrong are just a lifestyle choice. This is OK up to a point, but all of us have some things that we think are really wrong. For example, we don't think that pedophilia is just an innocent lifestyle choice. We believe that it is really wrong—wrong always and everywhere.
In this kind of world, what if my lifestyle choice contradicts yours? What if—to put crudely—I don't like who you are? What if I don't like your gender, or skin color, or sexual orientation, or religion? What basis is there for tolerance and mutual respect? There is none. So all we are left with is that whoever has the most power comes out best—"Might is Right". But we know intuitively that might isn't right, and that power alone is not enough. We've seen where that leads to, in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia.
We know that power alone is not enough. We know that right and wrong are not just a lifestyle choice. And we can't live with the idea that truth is just a matter of opinion.
Your bank manager calls you in, and tells you you are £500 over your spending limit. You reply: "That may be what's true for you, but what's true for me is that I'm £2000 in credit." He'd laugh at you—and then he'd send for the men in white coats.
Or you go and stand on a tower block, and look over the edge, and say: "Well, gravity may be true for you, but it isn't true for me." And to prove your point, you jump off. What happens? You accelerate towards the ground at just the same rate whether you believe in gravity or not—because gravity describes the way the universe really is. And whatever we say, we know that some things really are true, whether or not we believe them.
So we can't live as if right and wrong, truth and falsehood, are just matters of opinion and choice.
What about the idea that Christian faith is just a private matter—something you can take up if it "works for you?"
The Christian message claims to be not just something that helps me psychologically, but something that is fundamentally real, because it comes from God himself—a God who is really there, and who really has spoken. It is something that is true for everyone, whether or not they believe it, because it is rooted in the facts—in something that God has done in history, through the birth and death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
This is a matter of facts—of evidence—not just a matter of "I'm so glad it helps you." So we need to look at the evidence. And if the evidence does point to the reality of God and the truth of Jesus Christ (as it does) then we can not just shrug it off by saying "that's fine for you, but it isn't for me." Because if it is true, it's true for everyone, everywhere, always. And that means that all of us need to examine the evidence and make up our minds about it.
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Prepared for the Pneuma Foundation website by Todd H.