A majority of Americans base their beliefs and moral decisions on feelings, and reject the idea of absolute truth, according to the results of a study released last month. The Barna Research survey shows that 64 percent of adults and 83 percent of teenagers interviewed for the study believe that truth is always relative to the person and their situation.

Adult respondents who classed themselves as "born-again Christians" were more likely to reject moral relativism, with 32 percent affirming their belief in moral absolutes. But there was little difference in the responses of Christian and non-Christian teenagers: only one in 10 "born-again" teenagers accepted the idea of absolute moral truth, almost the same rate as their non-Christian peers.

"The study indicates that humans left to themselves are not able to find absolutes; they become their own standard of truth," says Seventh-day Adventist theologian Dr. Angel Rodriguez. "Yet social life is not harmonious unless there are absolutes acknowledged by those who are a part of it. Otherwise chaos will reign through selfishness.

"The question is: How are those absolutes to be identified?" adds Rodriguez. "Christianity has answered that question, arguing that those values have been revealed to us by our Creator through the Scripture, and particularly in the person of Jesus. We need knowledge that is beyond our limited feelings and experiences, and that contributes to the development of characters that reflect high moral values."

Rodriguez, who heads up the Biblical Research Institute at the Adventist Church world headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, also points out the paradox of rejecting the idea of absolute truth. Those who claim "truth is relative" are contradicting themselves, he says. "The statement 'truth is relative' means that for them there is at least one absolute truth, namely that all truth is relative. But if that is the case, their own statement, 'truth is relative,' is false!"

George Barna, whose firm conducted a similar survey a decade ago, says the most recent study indicates a strong trend over the past years toward making decisions on the basis of "if it feels right, do it," rather than by reference to biblical principles.

The Barna study was based on telephone interviews with more than 1,700 randomly chosen adults and teenagers. They were asked, "Do you believe that there are moral absolutes that are unchanging, or that moral truth is relative to the circumstances, or is this something you have never really thought about?"