Don’t Make the Objective Subjective

Don’t Make the Objective Subjective January 18, 2021

God created humankind in His image. He also created a cosmos where we could act as regents compassionately ruling over all things. God declared the creation “good” and so if humanity had not fallen short of His divine plan, all would have been well. We did not do as we ought to have done and so things break. We did the equivalent of spilling water in the keyboard of our laptop and the machine has been breaking down since.

Jesus came to restore the balance. God became man, so man could become like God. The original order of creation will be restored when Christ returns and remakes heaven and earth. The new heavens and the new earth will be ruled by King Jesus from the New Jerusalem. All that is will be as it should be.

That is the arc of history, but meanwhile we should work toward that day, cooperating with God’s plan. Why? God does not need our cooperation, but moving in the flow of His will is delightful. When we first found the location of the Saint Constantine College and School, the acreage mostly was an empty urban lot and one corner had been fouled by drug users. Our folk worked hard and what never should have been has become an urban garden (with chickens!), a natural playground, and a prayer garden. What was now is what should have been, not Eden restored, there is no going back there, but a garden for God in a city for men! This was wonderful, because we were flowing forward with the providence of God in the power of divine, creative love.

An error that keeps this from happening in my life, and I suspect in many other people, is missing this opportunity to be “in the flow” of the Holy Spirit by treating objective truth, such as beauty, as part of our own inner subjectivity, pretending our subjective will is objective.

What does this mean?

Truth is (put simply) when something we believe, a proposition, matches reality. When I think, “Hope has blue eyes,” then this proposition is true if Hope has blue eyes. She does! This is a case where something external to my mind, Hope’s eyes, make my belief (“Hope has blue eyes.”) true. If Hope had brown eyes, then my belief would be false.

There are other important truths that do not depend on the external world. The sentence, “I prefer Disneyland to Disneyworld,” is true if that is my subjective opinion. Note that this opinion (which turns out to be my actual one!) can have important real-world consequences. I am far more likely to spend our vacation money in Anaheim, California than Orlando, Florida, if the choice is up to me.

Many important truths are subjective. Eventually a woman or man may fall in love, this will, in part, be based on internal feelings, likes, preferences, and consent. There might have been millions of other people with whom a great romance was possible, but one was chosen. He or she had a corresponding set of truths, including a decision to consent to this splendor, that made marriage possible. Of course, in many big life events there will be a mix of objective truths and subjective truths in making the event come to pass.

Two people must meet. When one sees the “other,” the beloved, then he might decide: “This is the one.” This subjective truth will go no place (properly), if there is not a truth external to his thinking that says: “Yes! I love you, too.” There are (in this case) two truths that are subjective to the individuals (“I love the beloved”), but objective to one of the lovers. “She loves me! She really loves me.”

There are other objective truths before a marriage can be made. Is the marriage moral? Is the marriage possible? Many couples in my grandparent’s generation had romance shattered by World War II. The couple was willing, but the world was at war and one subjective truth died in the objective reality of a D-Day landing.

If a person is important enough, then subjective truths can be important to millions! Somebody, for example, decided on the design on the Lincoln Memorial. That person (or small group of people) have impacted the experiences of millions of visitors to Washington DC and framed numerous historic events like Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington.

The division between “objective” truth and “subjective” truth is useful and not overly complicated. If we keep the two separate and distinct in our minds, then we will not confuse our important (and true) preferences with external reality. Sometimes our subjective desires do not match external reality and external reality can be changed. In a trivial case, I discover there is no steak in the house, go to Amazon and order steak, and so steak is back on the menu.

Confusing the two can be awfully bad, however. If I give a talk on beauty, many people think I will be speaking on modesty. Modesty is an important topic, but one that is culturally subjective. One culture is offended or titillated by one thing, while a neighboring culture may view the same action as blasé. An essential rule of modesty is to generally not cause offense in the society in which one lives! These standards can change and do change. Student attire in Southern California was not like college student attire in Houston, Texas!

Beauty is objective. If I look at a rose and think “That is ugly.” then my subjective opinion is wrong. (Notice this is not the same as my saying: “I do not like roses.”) Too often Christians have treated modesty as objective and beauty as in the eye of the beholder.[1]

One trouble is that our cosmos, the parts external to us, have become out of joint with us and more importantly with the Creator God. The good world God made is still good fundamentally, but groans under the increasing weight of our sins.

All the universe is interconnected and when we do what we should not, then everything, everywhere ends up impacted. Things are displaced that should not have been moved. Slowly the cosmos tries to deal with these new realities, God’s good system handles these “should nots” the best that can be, but there is a cost.

The greatest problem is that all of reality, subjective and objective, has fallen out of harmony with the Creator God. He is the one whose every subjective truth becomes objective truth. All that He wills becomes actual in the external creation. God could have wiped clean the program, started over, when His free will beings failed.

He chose to not to do so, because God chose to love us. God chose to reconcile humankind to Himself and repair this cosmos. This renewal project takes time from our perspective, but from the eternal perspective of God is one action.

God creates, redeems, and glorifies in one grand gesture. This is the absolute romance that makes our lives possible. From our perspective, stuck here in time, things move slowly toward this consummation. All is not as it should be. When the Word, the Second person of the Trinity, became flesh and decided to live among us so we could see God, Jesus experienced the brokenness of our time. This did not, of course, teach God anything new, but allowed us to see God in human form. We see the closest proximation that we can comprehend to the Divine Nature through the work and life of Jesus. The timeless God allowed us to behold His glory.

There are objective realities that we cannot change with our opinions. Beauty is one of them. God has given a quality, beauty, to the cosmos and to each individual human being. A person’s beauty does not belong to us. As an objective reality, beauty is something real which can be learned and taught in a community.

[1] I will give reasons to think beauty is objective, theological and philosophical, in the next chapter.


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