On Identity & Reality

What is reality? Is it objective or is it subjective? And if it is subjective, who gets to define it? While these may seem like merely academic questions your Philosophy 101 professor would assign for a midterm, the truth is that how you answer these questions has a profound effect upon your worldview and therefore your entire life.

In the recent video put out by the Family Policy Institute of Washington, we see the incredible effects of postmodernism and a practically atheistic worldview. In it, the students are asked increasingly absurd questions about personal identity, to see if they will ‘admit’ that there are at least some things (like height or age) that are independent of one’s own beliefs. As it turns out, none of the students were willing to make such a judgement.

We live in strange times indeed. What makes our culture so unique is not simply the rampant secularization of the public square (the communists had that), but also the removal of seemingly any legitimate external authority. At least the commies had the state to submit to. That is to say that ethics must come from somewhere; and if not from without, then it will be from within.

This practical atheism inevitably leads to a kind of squishy relativism that champions statements like “If you feel like you are seven years old at heart, yea, good for you” and “I feel like thats not my place, as another human, to say someone is wrong or to draw lines or boundaries”. For when you remove the absolutizing and unifying existence of God, the universe no longer has any telos or purpose. That is, randomness rules supreme. And if everything is random, everything is meaningless. And if everything is meaningless, relativism follows soon thereafter.

This makes it quite awkward to state that certain ideas, behaviors, or practices are inherently bad. While a theist can look to God for moral instruction—“Thou shalt not commit adultery”—it’s hard to say where an atheist looks to condemn obviously immoral conduct (like murder). Instead of appealing to God as the absolute arbiter of truth, beauty, and goodness, the atheist is forced into semi-bizarre statements like “You shouldn’t murder, because I said so”.

And while this may hold water for the obvious cases (like genocide), its not exactly a knock-down argument when it comes to lying, cheating, stealing, fornication, adultery, homosexuality, or gender-identity issues. This helps explain why it is so rare to find non-theists against homosexuality.

What does all this have to do with the recent video? In it we see the students struggling to find the moral and intellectual resources of their postmodern worldview to reject the absurd. You can almost see their thoughts on their contorted and confused faces. “Of course this man in front of me isn’t a 6’5” Chinese woman, but I’ve committed myself to a position of no judgment whatsoever”…”Of course this man is not seven years old, but I’ve committed myself to a worldview that is incapable of making any distinctions or moral evaluations”. I’ll confess, watching the students squirm is a bit entertaining.

And yet the scary thing about these students’ responses is not that they are so illogical, but that they are logical! When you commit to a kind of postmodern moral fluffiness, any absolute like sex, age, height or gender goes out the window. Reality ceases to be what is and becomes whatever I say it is.

But do I really get to define reality? Thankfully, Christians stand on much firmer ground than these students. The Christian holds that I do not have the right to define reality; God alone has that right. It is not my word that ultimately matters—whether I think I am white, Asian, male, female, tall or short—but God’s word that matters. And in his grace, God has given his reality-defining word to us! We are not left groping in the dark as to what reality is (as these students so awkwardly do), but God has graciously declared it to us in the Scriptures.

For it is in the Bible that we learn that a crucified Jewish carpenter is actually the Savior of the world. It is in the Bible that we learn that to save one’s life, one must lose it. It is in the Bible that we learn that it is better to give than to receive. It is in the Bible that we learn that no matter how strong my feelings toward fornication, adultery, homosexuality—or a thousand other sins!—it is better to obey God’s commands. God’s word not only helps us live in light of reality, it defines reality.

For the Christian, reality matters because it is God’s reality. So it only makes sense that if you reject God, you also reject his reality. You reject true reality and are consigned to invent for yourself myths and fantasies, designed to interpret and define what you so obviously inhabit, yet so tragically suppress.

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:18-23).