There is perhaps no greater value in our society today than the idea of complete personal freedom. We are a generation that looks at the past centuries of cultures and societies and we are pained at the injustice and oppression that seems to fill every chapter of history. It seems that no matter how much the people of the past have sought to come up with comprehensive explanations on how society should see life, they have inevitably led to the ill-treatment and abuse of someone else in the world.
And so we have come to this place. We have given up on overarching truth claims. We have ceased to pursue the fundamental arguments. What’s the point? We just want to let each one live in peace and choose his own path. After all, who am I to tell him what to believe? Am I really that much smarter or more wise than my neighbor? As long as we are not hurting anyone, we should be free to believe in whatever truth that fits into our life and experience.
It’s important to note that for many people this argument is strongly connected to their desire to simply see peace in the world. John Lennon’s words just seems so good and right, don’t they? Imagine if we all just learned to live as a brotherhood of man, with nothing to kill or die for. We have seen how religion is often forced down people’s throat and we recoil at such abuse of human dignity and freedom. If only we stopped convincing each other of our various beliefs, maybe we could finally live in peace, right?
But there is a deeper question that needs to be considered here. On what basis do we come to such a place in our culture today? Why haven’t many other societies arrived at a similar conclusions? Why have the civilizations and cultures of the past tended to operate on a more unified truth claim? We notice that the Greeks and Romans had their gods, the eastern cultures had their ideas of spirituality and meditation, and the Western societies with their Christian roots. We don’t really see a society in the past the comes to a place where it does not embrace any truth claim and states that all people get to simply decide to believe whatever they want.
The reason behind this is that people throughout the past had no solid basis for making such a claim. When they looked out onto the world, they saw that it was controlled by supernatural forces of a distinct kind, each outside their control. They saw an order that had to submit to. Today, the average Westerner looks into the universe and sees an evolutionary machine. This is the key difference. We see ourselves as products to the impersonal forces of nature. Before we can believe that we all get to choose our own truth, we first must believe that the universe is an evolutionary machine, with no meaningful presence of a spiritual or personal force outside ourselves.
When we realize this, and take a step back, we start to see that we have actually arrived right back to where we started. We started by trying to avoid the creation of a “universal truth claim”. We want to let each one believe whatever they want. And yet, we find that the only way that we can do this is by making everyone believe that the universe is the product of impersonal time and energy. In doing so, we are actually imposing our own Western version of a “story of the world”. The only way to get everyone to agree that we can all believe whatever we want is to first make everyone believe in our view of the world. And this precisely is why so many cultures around the world will never join this “progress”. They look out onto the world and see it very differently then the secular West does. They find the secular mechanical universe deeply unconvincing. And on that basis, they think that our claims that everyone can believe whatever they want to be ridiculous and irrational.