In Praise of Truth

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.

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9 thoughts on “In Praise of Truth

  1. You are not alone. I think the movement of
    “Truth seekers” is growing. If this election has done nothing else, it has awakened a sleeping giant of young people and Seniors who want the truth and will demand it. It is time the church reach out to all people and that includes Transgendered people. Keep blogging. Dave.

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    • It is language that gets as close to objective truth as humanly possible. Quantum physics discovered that the very presence of humans in any scientific study will necessitate that the study be understood to be subjective. Humans are subjects, and their search for the truth will always be subjective. To get as close to objective truth as possible requires rigorous inter-subjective study. When multiple people in multiple situations strive to keep their own prejudices out of the equation, and they all reach the same conclusion, then you have a rigorous inter-subjective take on the truth, as close to objective truth as humans can get. The problem is using the term “objective” when humans are involved.

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  2. I am here for truth. I pray more than ever. I have oddly found solace in reading the Old Testament where, time and again, someone stood up for truth. I am in 2 Kings and Elisha feels like a light for me. I compare the words of my Husbands Catholic American Bible to those in my Mom’s old King James. Different characters stand up for REAL truth and I guess in this time and place we are them. Peace to you!

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  3. Have any room for a geeky reply?

    Once upon a time, I read some of Richard Rorty’s books, including Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, which I remember little of at the moment. Back in the early 1980s, it was all the rage. At the time, I was studying analytic philosophy, especially those philosophers who felt science provided the foundation for knowledge. As people like Rorty and Kuhn made their arguments, analytic philosophy had to come to grips with the notion that philosophy had to give up “objectivity.” Kant had done so long ago, but his view did not seem to affect the knd of philosophy. The lack of objectivity did not mean that there were no facts, it simply precluded us from knowing them with certainty.

    My position aligned with the pragmatists, who equated truth with usefulness. The drawback for all relativistic theories, like pragmatism, is that no matter how strongly I believe something, nor how useful my belief may be, reality apparently doesn’t care. My belief that the world is flat will prove to be false no matter how well it seems to work. My belief that I can fly would end badly if I jumped out of a ten story window. There is what we know, and there is the world. Which comes first: epistemology or ontology? Relativists would counter that beliefs lie within a system of beliefs and consistency is necessary for beliefs to be useful, so my belief that I can’t fly is better than the belief I can. It fits better into what Quine called the web of beliefs.

    What struck me about your essay is that what those who value “truth” are seekers. They value the search for understanding. They try to hold beliefs that are consistent and are bothered when they aren’t. They test their beliefs against reality. They are willing to revise a belief or an entire theory if there is good reason for doubt.

    Trump, and his supporters, apparently, want to hold and express views that are useful for them to accomplish their goals, but are not concerned with consistency, nor are they willing to consider other views, nor test their assumptions against reality. This is why the challenge of dealing with them is difficult. It’s about underlying values. They live in a solipsistic universe. What’s useful for them is not necessarily what is useful for everyone.

    The rise of this backlash against inquiry is disturbing for the reasons you mentioned. It reconfigures the rational universe and leaves us to live in a culture where the main thing that matters is power. When that happens the story is less likely to have a happy ending.

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