“Two roads diverged in a wood,
And I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
— Robert Frost
Reflecting on this classic poem by Robert Frost, I can’t help but remember a recent political debate I had with a good friend and fellow Michigan State University Spartan. It was one of those fun conversations. The hours flew by like minutes. The depth of our differences was obvious. We each held strong views that were essentially opposite of one another.
I believed and expressed one ideal with great conviction. He did likewise, but to the opposite effect. I advocated one view. He espoused another. Both of us obviously shared the proverbial hope that “as iron sharpens iron, one man would sharpen the other.”
Yet, while having no intention of ceding the high ground of the argument to the other, both of us tempered our confidence with a good measure of courtesy and mutual respect. Bottom line — We relished the disagreement because we both knew this was the kind of wrestling good education is made of.
As I and my friend both moved from one idea to another, sparring and jockeying for position, it quickly became very obvious that, in the end, all of our arguments basically came down to one key question: Is truth an objective fact or is it merely a subjective construct? In other words, is truth an exclusive reality or is it merely an inclusive narrative.
After way too much time elapsed, both of us realized that we had to move on to other things and my friend called for a truce. He said, “I think there are many paths up the mountain, but the beauty is that they all lead to the summit. Perhaps we shouldn’t argue so much about which road we choose, but agree that it isn’t the specific path that’s important, but rather the journey.”
Now on the surface this argument might seem quite attractive. Surely the path isn’t nearly as important as the destination is it? If we go to the left or to the right we will end up in the same place. Clearly, the winding road is just as good as the straight one and the broad gate just as worthy as that which is narrow.
And doesn’t respect for tolerance and diversity require us to embrace all ideas, all values, all lifestyles, all worldviews, and all paths, as essentially equal?
This same basic question was addressed, not that long ago, in a Q and A session of the Veritas Forum at Harvard University by the Indian-born philosopher Ravi Zacharias. After his presentation, whereby he argued for the exclusive nature of God’s self-evident truth, Mr. Zacharias was challenged.
A burgeoning young scholar, who appeared to fancy himself Mr. Zacharias’ equal, confidently approached the microphone: “I disagree with your premise” he said. “All religions are the same. All lead to the same place. All have equal veracity. There are many paths up the mountain. Truth, as you call it, is not an exclusive proposition. It is an inclusive cultural construct.”
Mr. Zacharias’ responded by paraphrasing the poet Stephen Turner. “I agree,” he said. “[Indeed] all religions are the same except for their understanding about the character of God, of the cosmology and meaning of the universe, of human nature, of human value, of the nature of reality, of ethics, the good life, charity and kindness, sexuality, suffering, joy, hope, salvation, and our eternal destination of either heaven or hell.”
And with this bit of well-placed sarcasm, Mr. Zacharias and the rest of the audience watched as this confident young pedagogue dropped his stones and walked away. Yes, all worldviews are apparently the same except in matters critical to life and death, social and physical health, temporal and eternal existence, and the underlying definitions of what is just and right and real. Hmm — I guess if you set these minor issues aside then all roads do lead to the same place.
In “Finding God Beyond Harvard,” Kelly Monroe Kullberg builds upon the truth highlighted by Mr. Zacharias and Mr. Turner. “Yes,” she says, “there are many paths up the mountain the saying goes. But we find that only one person made a path down the mountain from the top, to love us [and show us the way].”
Maybe choosing to follow that “One Person”; the one who has shown us the way, the one who knows the right path, and the one who exemplifies the right ideas, is the only sure way for us to avoid getting lost.
As we enter into this political season, laden with arguments and debates, maybe we would all do well to reflect on the words of Robert Frost and remember that as we approach the diverging cultural roads before us, that choosing the one less traveled does make all the difference.
• Everett Piper, former president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, is a columnist for The Washington Times and author of “Not A Day Care: The Devastating Consequences of Abandoning Truth” (Regnery 2017).