In Praise of Truth
My cousin had an ornery streak. One of her favorite pastimes was to draw me into a conversation in which she intentionally denied reality. “Are you sure he was president?” she would ask. I’d reply with exasperation, “It’s right here in the Encyclopedia Britannica. Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States of America.” My cousin would keep baiting me, “But it’s just an encyclopedia.” Frustration growing, I’d object, “What do you mean it’s just an encyclopedia? It’s not ‘just an encyclopedia,’ it’s the Encyclopedia Britannica.” “Well, I don’t know what that is? I don’t think you have any real proof Abraham Lincoln was president.” When I finally ran out of the room in tears, my cousin would settle into her chair, satisfied. She knew the truth was important to me. Pushing my buttons was way too easy.
I grew up in an environment in which I was frequently told what was convenient, not what was true. It was exasperating. I would repeat information I had received from sources I trusted, and see it met with laughter. A child’s world is not safe when they are not told the truth. Since the earliest days of my childhood I have carried a driving desire to know the truth.
In my forties I began to question the notion of objective truth. Quantum physics had shown objective truth to not be so objective. The scientist, with his purposes, was a part of the equation. Subatomic particles acted differently depending on whether the scientist was observing them or not. Therefore I replaced the notion of objective truth with the notion of rigorous inter-subjective truth. Okay, I see you yawning there. I’ll move on.
I believe Jesus when he said the truth will set you free. My pursuit of truth has served me well. It caused me to reject the unverifiable religious claims of fundamentalism, to abandon the racism I had been taught, and to come to grips with the reality of my gender dysphoria.
You can imagine how maddening it has been to deal with an evangelical world that has shown little interest in the true nature of gender dysphoria. They triumphantly quote Genesis 1:27 as though it is a sufficient statement to dismiss the reality of me. “God made them male and female, and that is that.” Except that isn’t that. There are dozens of intersex conditions, but that hasn’t stopped evangelicals from behaving as though Genesis proves otherwise. When it comes to all things transgender, it is painfully obvious most evangelicals have little interest in doing the work necessary to discern the truth.
Over the past week my frustration with the disregard for truth has skyrocketed. We have stepped through the looking glass and arrived in a world that is upside down and inside out. Richard Rorty predicted it. George Orwell described it. Neil Postman warned us about it, and Lesslie Newbigin explained how it would infiltrate our religious traditions. And now it has arrived.
From the highest office in the land, we have people repeatedly lying about clearly verifiable facts, and apparently a large segment of the population does not seem to care. “Alternative facts” are presented as legitimate claims on reality, and those who protest are accused of cynicism and arrogance. That a handful of people would support such disregard for the truth is not surprising. But we’re talking about millions.
Please tell me I am wrong. Please tell me most Americans feel the truth has not become as irrelevant as an old encyclopedia. But you’re not going to tell me that, because you know the truth.
I take solace in being a part of a very large contingent of Americans committed to testifying to the truth. Last weekend our nation saw what the The Washington Post called possibly the largest single protest in the history of the United States. Just 72 hours ago, in over 20 airports around the nation, thousands of Americans rose up in support of immigrants and refugees yearning to be free. Not one act of terrorism has been committed in the United States by immigrants from any of the seven nations affected by the immigration ban enacted last Friday. Those are the facts.
I refuse to be a part of a compliant society that does little more than shrug in the face of egregious lies. That is how tyrants rise. I refuse to be complacent as people repeat lies time and again, hoping the sheer repetition will spin their lies into the perception of truth. That is how innocent people are slaughtered. I will cry for the truth, even if my blog posts get a total of 12 readers. I will fight for the truth, because the truth matters, and it will set us free.
And so it goes.