Catholic Answers is a popular, multiplatform resource for Catholics and non-Catholics alike to learn more about the faith. On Friday, Trent Horn, an apologist with Catholic Answers, visited Fort Wayne and spoke to the students of Bishop Dwenger High School and parishioners of St. Vincent de Paul Parish.
Horn’s presentations centered around the flawed idea of relativism. Relativism refers to any doctrine that denies the reality of absolute truths. Horn defined two types of truth for the students: objective truth and subjective truth. He referred to subjective truth as “ice cream truth.” Ice cream truth is a truth that is valid only in the eyes of the individual. For example, the declaration that chocolate is the best ice cream flavor may be true for a number of people, yet for others the best flavor is vanilla. The subject, he who perceives, determines what is true. Therefore, subjective truth is not absolute, like objective truth.
Objective truth cannot change based on an individual’s perception. An objective truth is universal — true for every person.
Horn then discussed three types of relativism that he said students will encounter throughout their lives.
The first, he said, is universal relativism. Universal relativism is the idea that there is no absolute truth; think of the philosophical “Who am I to judge?” statement. Universal relativism, because it denies absolute truth, cannot condemn the Church that teaches absolute truths. and is forced to accept the reality of absolute truth. Even the mere declaration that there are no absolute truths is, in itself, an absolute statement, so universal relativism refutes itself.
Next, Horn discussed moral relativism; the idea that there are no absolute morals. This idea means that moral truths can vary from person to person. The Holocaust proves this ideology to be errant, he said. If we can condemn what the Nazis did as evil, then moral truths must be objective truths. Under the idea of moral relativism, morals would be subjective. Following this idea, if the Nazis thought that what they were doing was moral, others would be unable to say that they were evil. Therefore, it can be concluded that moral truths are not subjective, self-chosen truths, but objective, universal truths.
Religious relativism is the final form of relativism. This is the idea that all religions can be held as equally true. Horn said that one method to combat this idea is to ask, “Who is Jesus?” “Is He a misunderstood preacher as the Jews claim? Is He a prophet as the Muslims claim? Or is He the Lord? As Catholics, we believe that Jesus is the Son of God. These three realities cannot coexist, therefore the claims only one religion can be true. How do we prove that Jesus is the Lord, not a liar or a lunatic?”
He suggested using Lewis’s trilemma, which proposes three answers for the question, “Who was Jesus?” First, was Jesus a liar? Would Jesus and the Apostles have been tortured or even killed for a lie? Horn said that this was unlikely. Next, was He a lunatic? Horn said that his wife has had experience with mentally ill patients who “claim that they are Jesus,” but that not one of them sounds like the true Jesus.
Horn said that in fact, Jesus sounds like the sanest person in the entire Bible. Therefore, he concluded, Jesus must be who He says He is: the Lord. If Jesus is who He says He is, the Son of God, this refutes the other religions. It not only disproves the idea of religious relativism, but proves which religion is the Truth.
Saturday evening, Horn also spoke about defending the faith at St. Vincent de Paul Parish. He began by addressing the main fear he thinks Catholics have when defending the faith — that they do not have enough knowledge to answer religious questions. Horn said a person can be a great defender of the faith even with little knowledge about it, because the key does not lie with the right answers, but the right questions. This is what is known as the Socratic method.
The Socratic method answers a question with another question, in an attempt to get someone to rationalize their stance with reasoning. Horn said that the greatest question in this method is a simple three-letter word: “Why?” The theory is that if you can get the person to process their position, they will begin to notice the gaps in their reasoning. This is a great approach, Horn said, because even Jesus used the Socratic method on the Pharisees.
He addressed what he said was another concern among Catholics, which is the fear that they may be seen as “too preachy.” He said that preaching is not a problem, but obnoxious preaching is. Horn said to think of oneself not as a preacher, but as an inquirer; someone who is getting others to think for themselves.
Horn also said it is best not to be too defensive when attempting to discuss the faith with others. Remember that while it may seem that the individual is mad at you, they are actually mad at the idea that you represent. He comically described this experience as being a “verbal punching bag for Christ.”
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