I went to bed on Saturday thinking about the topic of truth; truth, truth, what needs to be said about truth?
I’d already cued up my Monday Emily Dickinson post:
Too bright for our infirm DelightThe Truth’s superb surprise
I’m not alone! I thought.
As I mentioned in my meta post, the human assignment of life is (to quote Viktor Frankl), “…taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”
The human assignment is to discover and live in congruence with truth, and, while this is incumbent upon each individual, it is most successfully completed among company. And this is what makes deceit so unnerving, is it not? It makes this assignment an unbearably lonely affair, fraught with risk, threat and painful betrayal; a hopeless, nihilistic errand.
Truth, while absolute and objective, is always arrived at through very subjective processes; what the philosophers call epistemology. Like bats, we echolocate ourselves in a world of darkness, trusting in a dynamic matrix of feedbacks; hoping (needing?) to find them reliable!
This, I sense, was the tenor of the New York Times ad. Truth has no agenda; it simply is. And, like the obstinate, arrogant ship captain insisting an oncoming vessel change course, until alerted that what he’d presumed was a vessel is actually a lighthouse, so too we all must accept that truth is no respecter of power or pride or even position.
Isn’t this the clash we are privy to in John’ gospel between Jesus and the Roman governor Pilate? [John 18:28-38]
“My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”
Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?”
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”
So foreign to Pilate was the notion that anything could be more substantive than power and might that he could make no sense of Jesus’ response—a kingdom with the basis of truth? (Note Jesus’ allusion that it is on this basis that his kingdom doesn’t assert itself through violence.)
Augustine addressed this in City of God, indicating that the defining characteristic of this eternal city—and thus the differentiator between it and the temporal city of men—was the right ordering of loves.
When the miser prefers his gold to justice, it is through no fault of the gold, but of the man; and so with every created thing. For though it be good, it may be loved with an evil as well as with a good love: it is loved rightly when it is loved ordinately; evilly, when inordinately… [XV:22]
We understand that to prefer power, fame, wealth, pleasure or even beauty to truth would be disordered. They are not bad loves, only inferior.
Buried beneath the oblivion of “fake news” and “alternative facts” and political “gaslighting” we find Pilate’s nihilistic inquiry: What is truth?
And if this gives you chills, it’s because it should. It is a seedbed of injustice and exploitation; the chaotic wreckage of disordered loves. Power in absentia of truth orchestrates the discordant opus where Pilate can insist, “I find no guilt in him!” yet still have Jesus flogged, mocked, beaten, tortured and executed. 1
In the zero sum contests where truth is supplanted by power, all sides lose—do they not?
We’re being told we inhabit a post truth era, but this is an existential fallacy. Truth, as The Times noted, will always be powerful—asserting its will as it will. What remains to be seen is whether we will be on the receiving end of its bale or bounty.
I might, however, quibble with the idea that truth requires defending. Truth does not ultimately need us defending it, but it is we who are desperately in need of truth to defend us.
1. After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him. But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber.
Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” [John 18:28-19:6]