On a recent trip to downtown Vancouver, my wife and I popped into Christ Church Cathedral on the corner of Georgia and Burrard. I find it hard to resist a cathedral and always try the doors to see if I can get a look inside. The door was unlocked and a pleasant woman offered to answer our questions. I asked about the beautiful interior and she was delighted to tell us about the recent renovations. There was even a photo album.
The original church was filled with local cedar, but in a previous renovation, the original wood had been covered. The red cedar ceiling had been covered by fiber-board. It was the same story with the floor. With this new renovation, the foul fiber-board and hideous carpeting had been removed and the original red and yellow cedar, covered up for decades is once again gracing parishioners and visitors with its beauty.
Why had the natural wood of the ceiling and floor been covered in the previous renovation? It seems preposterous that anyone could think that fiber-board and carpeting were an improvement on the natural cedar, but they apparently did.
Changing Fashions, Changing Ideas
This got me thinking about change, more specifically, changing tastes. It’s a truism that fashions change, but they don’t just change; they change radically–what is all the rage in one time, is hideous and vile in another age. This is true whether we are talking about clothing, church interiors or ideas.
The second truism is that we are completely aware of the first truism. We are somehow convinced that the way we think at the present moment is, at long last, the end of changing “truth”–with today’s thinking, we have arrived.
Previous generations had it wrong, but we have figured it out. As dumb as it seems now, there was a time when it was generally thought that wood ought to be covered by synthetic materials, and in fifty years the congregation will likely vote to cover the wood with synthetic polar bear fur. So goes fashion. So also go our ideas.
The Fashion of Truth
I look at some of the ideas that are spreading throughout culture, replacing the old ones, and I think they are beautiful changes. Others are more like ghastly fiberboard and anemic pink carpeting obscuring beautiful red and yellow cedar. And we take these new ways of thinking as absolute truth. Consequently, in our conversations and disagreements, we condemn those with whom we disagree as bigots and freaks and ogres. Given that our most recent truth is just a phase, perhaps we ought to be a little less certain about everything–a little less venomous.
Doomed to Relativism?
I believe that there is something under the intellectual fads and whims of our culture that never changes. Core ideas like courage is better than cowardice and it’s evil to harm a child for one’s own pleasure and the ocean is sublime.
Just because it’s new and in fashion, doesn’t mean it’s objectively true. I say objectively because, although I’m not entirely sure which ideas are cedar and which are fiber-board, I firmly believe that there is an objective truth. We will continue down our slide of subjectivism for a time, we will continue to believe that we create our own reality, but I hope at some point we will look back and wonder what the heck we were thinking. And rip up the pasty carpet to expose the rich wood beneath.