Thinking Aloud About Truth

‘”What is truth?” said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer.’ Those words of Francis Bacon have always made me uncomfortable. Truth is often challenged by those who don’t want to accept its demands. Ridicule, impatience, sarcasm — they are all ways of avoiding that which unsettles us. They provide us with the illusion of power and control, but it is an illusion. Truth has a way of undermining the egotistical edifices we try to build. We cannot hide from truth for very long. When Jesus assures his followers that he will send another Advocate to be with them for ever, the Spirit of Truth whom the world cannot receive, he knows very well what he is doing. He is sending the Holy Spirit, tongued with fire, to cleanse, illumine and transform us, so that henceforth we may live in the light as truthful beings, freed from the fear that makes us hide away in darkness and subterfuges. He is promising us Truth himself, but that is not a promise many of us are very comfortable with. We actually prefer lurking in the shadows to being exposed to the light.

To many people, however, this idea of divine truth — all-powerful, transcendent, compelling — is utter nonsense. Truth is not an absolute but something that may be manipulated/adapted for other ends. We embrace just enough of it to obtain some advantage or avoid some unpleasantness. We have, in effect, privatised the concept of truth. It is not uncommon to hear someone talking about ‘my truth’ or ‘being true to myself’ when what they really mean, I think, is ‘that which I am prepared to accept as true, a highly personal and individual, possibly even individualistic, interpretation’. Granted, it is impossible for a human being to be completely objective (we still need our own brains to think with, our own senses to receive information from the world about us, no matter how hard we try to lay aside our prejudices and predilections) so, inevitably, our apprehension of truth must always be partial; but the fact that our apprehension is partial does not mean that truth itself is changed thereby.

Some of the current debate about being spiritual versus being religious and the idea that one can do what one likes provided it doesn’t hurt (or appear to hurt) anyone else is based on, or at any rate highly influenced by, this privatised idea of truth. A private truth, if such a thing can be said to exist, can make no public demands, cannot have a social consequence except in a very limited and imperfect way. The Christian understanding of truth as a moral imperative as well as a philosophical concept is, by contrast, very public and very social. We are obliged to act in certain ways. To do otherwise would be to deny not just a private conviction but God himself. It is that difference in understanding that makes it increasingly difficult for those who have no religion to understand where the religious are coming from. Sometimes it makes it difficult for the religious, too.

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2 thoughts on “Thinking Aloud About Truth”

  1. Thank you, Sr Catherine, for this post. We so need reminding of its message when common values have descended into the shambolic and signposts have disintegrated.

    We are all free to express our own will, but we have to understand that ‘private truth’ and ‘my own religion’ do have their own responsibilities, knock-on effects and real consequences ‘out there’ which may not be intended.

    Our only hope is to pray earnestly for the Spirit.

    God, the Creator and ultimate controller of the universe, whose love for us is manifest in the incarnated Christ, is not dependent upon our belief in Him. Our world is ‘rescued’ insofar as it turns to Him with a humble heart.

    The Truth will out. ‘In the beginning was the Word’. Truth also has the last Word. Even the lie becomes the truth by which the deluded and the liar pronounce judgment upon themselves.

    God is a God of Grace and longs to spare us.

  2. The truth is like a mirror that shows us all the wrinkle lines and warts on our own face that we wish weren’t there . It is the voice of the officious bystander that says the thing we don’t want to hear. It has no respect for politics or religion. Very rarely however it does speak a word of approval or shine a light on something beautiful , then what joy!

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