Truth – Only private & subjective?

truthWhen we feel really vibrant and full of the joys of spring then energy seems to rise up in us. We find ourselves singing our lives. Inspired to see the truth in nature, in other people and in ourselves. Readily noticing vitality of growth, and beauty of form and colour in our surroundings. Newly seeing some characteristics of generosity, fair mindedness and tolerance in people we know.

Reflecting on the cause of these uplifting spiritual perceptions, you might wonder where they come from. Is this from within oneself or from beyond oneself? Have we ourselves created these wonderful insights or is it true that they derive from some higher wisdom?

Problems with objective way of thinking about truth

If we are drawn to the latter perspective, then we probably sense there is some true design in the order of the universe. That there is some spiritual power which exists of which we cannot even dream. According to this view such a Creative  reality predated the thinking of human beings.

However, these days there has been a dramatic drift away from assuming there are objective truths. So we are less likely to dwell on argument and reason for considering what might matter.

We have had our fill of the problems of colonialism, fascism and communism, the destruction of the natural environment in the name of unfettered progress and technology, the horrors of modern warfare and the spiritual poverty and alienation of mass consumerism. All things that have come about from so-called rational theories but which lack soul.

The Christian church, at least in north-west Europe, has dwindled as people have rightly turned their backs on discredited parts of the church’s theology e.g. the dogma about three gods, one of whose anger was appeased by the self-sacrifice of another.

Interest in private truth

People now are suspicious of institutional ideology and tend to be more interested in whether beliefs work in practice than whether they are theoretically true. And also whether they fit in with their feelings. We question the existence of anything proclaimed to be true in politics or economics, philosophy or religion – and the ability of human reason to find out.

Being put off the idea there is any objective truth about anything, we are drawn to the view that our life-force comes from within us rather than from anything beyond our personal experience. And so we are inclined to believe that the only reality is what we feel.

The assumption here is that there is only private truth. “What is true for you may not be true for me. In a sense we can be both right in our different views because there is no truth objectively speaking which can decide the matter.”

Subjective and objective truth

Are you drawn to the notion that truth is only what you feel? To the idea that we all know truth because we all have feelings? And to the thought that there is thus truth for everybody?

Yes, feeling can perceive truth but is it not the case that it is a mistake to identify feeling with truth? For many feelings are false eg irrational fears and infatuations. And many truths are not felt at all eg there is a wooden twig on the path.

The philosopher Peter Kreeft has pointed out that the truth about which painting or musical composition is better is not wholly a subjective issue. Beauty is not wholly in the eye of the beholder. If it were no-one would ever teach music appreciation. Yes, there is truth or falsity in the deep part of our soul that is intuition and imagination. But to feel awe at paper clips and not at sunsets, at Madonna but not at the Madonna is to be untrue to reality.

Religion as providing objective truth

I would like to suggest that if there were no universal truth about any laws of living or no objective truth concerning any wise Creator, then no longer would we need to turn to religion. We might as well trust in our own efforts alone to find personal well-being and make ourselves spiritually healthy. Just attend complementary therapy, self-help classes, or practice private meditation.

Through our own efforts and without any transcendent help, we might think we can become what we want – wise, tolerant, patient, even compassionate. This might be our best bet if there really were no higher power to save us from our alcohol dependency, impatience, intolerance, greed, resentment, vanity, etc. No divine Being to provide the new character we want.  No God of love to save us from ourselves, to forgive our offences, or create peace and contentment.

According to this line of thought, there would be no objective truth about any heaven or hell other than the heavenly or hellish state of mind we create for ourselves. Likewise, there would be no objective truth about the human side of God that Christianity teaches. Just the image of divinity we create for  ourselves. Then there would seem little point in praying to what can only be a fantasy.

Religion as private truth

There are those who see themselves as religious because they see their religious sensibility as a feeling. This might be a ‘Christ consciousness’ and also as a set of felt values. This is different from say a set of Christian beliefs which are held to be true. The advantage of rational faith is we can follow it with commitment even when times get hard. Examples of such a belief relate to death survival or spiritual laws of living. Others include faith in a divine providence that provides for our eternal needs. Furthermore one can believe in a loving God with a human face with whom one can commune.

Search for truth

From a religious perspective the search for truth is crucially important. But searching is not enough. We need to use what we acknowledge to be spiritually true as we struggle with difficulties of living and the problems within our makeup. Then we can hope for a breakthrough into feeling connected to the Supreme Principle of the universe. This is said to involve a sense of joy, insight into the meaning and purpose of life, and an eagerness to be kind, serve and share spiritual riches.

Copyright 2018 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

If you like this you may also like:

Spiritual but not religious – Good or bad?

Religion – Does it have anything to offer?

Transcendent – Personal

Spiritual questions & answers about meaning of life

God – Is there really one?


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