What is the Truth?
April 2, 2017
John 8:31, 32; John 18:33-38
The population of humans has more than doubled in my lifetime, from 3.5 billion to 7.4 billion people today. And our technological development has proceeded at geometric pace, such that we live in unprecedented times. It probably even affects how we pursue the Truth.
At the moment, the quest for Truth is under assault in a way that could not have occurred before we had meme’s, retweets, before we were able to surround ourselves with other like-minded people that we trust enough to read and post articles that create trends, before the techies at Google and Facebook knew so much about us that they could re-inforce the insularity of the content we see on our personal feed.
Reams of social science long ago established that partisans tend to unconsciously overlook falsehoods that come from their own team, while being outraged by the errors of their enemies. Social media has simply magnified this effect, so we live in a more partisan environment than at any time in our lifetime.
Now add Donald Trump who speaks almost exclusively in brash bombast and hyperbole. Last week, he was interviewed by Time Magazine regarding several incidents where he made assertions that had no factual basis (wiretapping, the extent of voter fraud, you’ve heard the list; Time identified 15 tweets that are patently untrue out of a total of 298).
His essential response to the question of Truth was captured in his answer to his assertion that there had been a violent episode with immigrants in Sweden when there had not been one.
This is what he said, “I’m a very instinctual person, but my instinct turns out to be right. When everyone said I wasn’t going to win the election, I said well I think I would.
So I am saying I was right. I am talking about Sweden. I’m talking about what Sweden has done to themselves is very sad, that is what I am talking about. That is what I am talking about. You can phrase it any way you want.
A day later they had a horrible, horrible riot in Sweden and you saw what happened. I talked about Brussels. I was on the front page of the New York Times for my quote. I said Brussels is not what it used to be, very sad what has happened to Brussels. I was absolutely lambasted. A short time later they had the major attack in Brussels. One year ago today. Exactly one year ago today. And then people said you know Trump was right. What am I going to tell you? I tend to be right. I’m an instinctual person, I happen to be a person that knows how life works.”[i]
A few years ago, Stephen Colbert called this “truthiness”. It sounds right- who knows whether it actually is- but it sounds like it should be, because, well, you know what I mean.
Only this isn’t late night comedy, this is the President of the United States defending himself in Time magazine. Time was flummoxed. So the front cover for that interview read, “The Death of Truth”.
Gary Kasaparov, the world chess champion and note human rights critic of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, has written several Op-Ed pieces, wrote on recently in the Wall Street Journal reminding us that this casual approach to the truth is a little more serious when you remember the extent to which the Russians are consciously trying to foment a general distrust in the Western media so that the overt propaganda of Russia doesn’t look so out of the norm.
His plea from all the millions of people that live in authoritarian regimes to all of us as citizens of the Leading Nation in the Free World, was please take the pursuit of Truth seriously. We need you to lead because all of the rest of us that live in Russia and other authoritarian societies look to you to set a higher standard.
We Americans take our liberties too much for granted. We forget that the rest of the world still looks to Lady Liberty as a potent symbol of the higher way. Facts actually matter and we need a reality based policy making.
And the quest for Truth is actually intrinsic to the spiritual life as the Gospel of John develops as a theme. In John, Jesus tells the disciples that “You shall know the Truth and the Truth shall set you free.”
Christians believe that the Holy Spirit will lead us into “all Truth” as Saint Paul put it. Those images are powerful because they suggest that the Truth is not something you possess, so much as it is a quest unto the future. It is emerging. It is hope filled. The Spirit of God, so to speak, is pulling us forward as we evolve towards more concentrated forms of consciousness and social organization that becomes self-transcendent.
Socially just think of how we have multiplied our powers working in coordinated fashion as a species. The front cover of National Geographic this month features us as primates, then cave men with beards, then civilized people with shaved faces, and now emerging cyborgs, enhanced with technology- a tech eye and tech ear piece that makes us enhanced.
I like the future orientation. We come from the part of the Christian church that believes that the Spirit of God will reveal deeper, better Truth in the future. We can change and become better.
So now we support Gay families. Sure there are a couple of passages that condemn homosexuality in the Bible but that argument was never enough to end discussion on the matter.
We have to look back to what we used to believe, but we also have to be willing to change our minds because we have richer, better evidence today. As we say, “God is still speaking” and we cannot be limited by what people believed 2000 years ago. Instead, we build something newer better on the framework of tradition. As Mark Miller so wonderfully put it in song, through extending love to gay families (instead of hate or shame), we draw the circle wider. And you know what, we live in a better world with gay families thriving in our midst. It is a newer Truth, a richer Truth.
And I suspect that we are stumbling on a good model for the Spirit to guide us into a richer Truth by what we are doing with our conversations on race. The Truth with a capital T will emerge from the many truths that we share each from our own perspectives.
I wish religion was as simple as it was depicted for us when I was a child and the nuns taught us that we just needed to memorize the answers from the catechism and we would be okay. If you argued with the catechism all the time, you either left the church or you became a Jesuit. I grew up in a simple world where we were led to believe that the priest dispensed the Truth in short homilies and we just had to apply it in little truths in our lives.
Alas, it is a lot more complicated and contradictory than that. Our actual discussions on race are a lot more difficult are they not? And what is interesting is that no one person has the Truth with a capital T that we can just apply easily like ‘why don’t we just be nice to people’.
No, this is a quest in which we need each other, each out of our own perspective. And we have to really listen to one another too. On a subject like race, the more we understand each other’s stories, the more we realize how differently we view the world.
We just don’t see discrimination and prejudice in the same way if we haven’t been subject to it. And sometimes we just don’t realize how insensitive we sound in the presumptions that we make about the world.
It is one of those subjects that you peel back like an onion, but with each new (Positive) layer of understanding that you develop, you are more intentionally able to meet other people where they are at and all of us benefit by being able to live in a pluralistic multi-cultural spiritual community of understanding and respect.
We come at this project not with one “capital T Truth”. No, first we spend a really long time listening to a myriad of perspectives, many unique, that give us the panoply of nuance and shading that you get from different nationalities, different cultural upbringing’s, childhoods from different socio-economic backgrounds.
Out of all that difference, we pray for reconciliation, we act towards one another with an intention of developing forgiveness and real change from the past in our generation. We grow. We trust. We start to live a deeper community of faith with one another.
We release the Spirit of God and we build it into the traditions of the Church and how we relate to each other. And the next thing you know, you start having deeper, richer friendships with people that are really different than you.
A few years go by, you turn around, and something happens to you that is of real concern,- one of your kids is having trouble maybe- and you see this outpouring of really helpful compassion from this wide variety of people that are among your inside circle of friends. And you know what? You have that great feeling that the world really has changed. Your life really has changed for the better. It is a little more profound than you would have imagined that it might really be.
And when a bunch of us live that together, we have weaved this new tapestry of many colors, many cultures, and if we could zoom out, what we would see in our tapestry is the outline of a “Capital T Truth” that is our communal life lived in the Spirit of God.
That drives back despair. It drives back cynicism. We don’t have to wait on Washington to deliver it. This “Capital T Truth” we share in love and we live in the way we share our lives together. Jesus assured us, “You shall know the Truth, and the Truth, the real Truth that you will develop together, that Truth… will set you free”.
Be free my friends. Amen.