First Posted 23-Apr-2015
Yeah. Truth. Kind of a no brainer, right? I mean, truth is fact, yes? Isn’t natural law self-evident? For the guy that prompted this post, natural law is beyond debate. Heh. He said that to a story-teller. He said that to me, who spins tales of emperors who believe that they are the Imperial power in charge of the city of Berkeley, Ca. He said that to me, who believes in the Holy Trinity, in the resurrection and the life ever lasting. Tin hat stuff. I couldn’t resist turning that premise into a blog post.
How much debate on truth can there be? Can you really argue about the color of the sky or the lunar calendar? It’s settled science that the dangerous climate changes are due to human malfeasance, you can’t debate that. As one of the malcontents and from personal experience, yes, you can. Sadly, truth is not just fungible, it is absurd.
For us Christians, the Bible is the word of God and is thus true in a deep way. End of argument, right? Uhm, no, sadly. Any quick study of church history will show that if there is any common theme to the church it is that we fight. Our founder, Jesus of Nazareth, started this out of a dispute with the church of his day. St. Paul’s letters are testimony to the disputes of the early church. The last serious debate over what to include in the canon was the First Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D. The bickering did not stop there. Hear in the good old U.S. of A. we had the great awakening and all the utopian movements of the 19th Century. More recently has been the strife over the definition of marriage, abortion, and standards of ordination. I’d like to say the answer to, “what do we believe” was a settled question. I can’t.
I am a member of St. Giles Church. We are one of the churches that left PCUSA over conflict on abortion, ordination and marriage. I come from a family that has been in the thick of the debate over doctrine for a few hundred years. If I were to stay true to what my family believes I’d still be in a church that is part of PCUSA and cool with letting individual congregations decide some of these issues. I’d be more gay friendly. I’d not plant my flag on saying that abortion is murder. It’d not trouble me so much if my pastor had another bolt as a life-partner. I didn’t stay true to my family. My father is not pleased with me.
His truth and mine differ. Something is definitely wrong. Truth is self-evident, no? Sorry, no. Haven’t punched the monitor yet? Let me help you with that. Let’s mash up your definition of self-evident truths with the philosophical term solipsism. If nothing exists beyond the present moment and it is all just me, what is true? We do have a problem. What of my buddy who throws down the phrase “natural law” as a vicious roundhouse intended to deliver a debate ending knockout punch?Truth is annoyingly fungible even with the “natural law” punch thrown. I mean, “absurdism” is a thing.
The word “truth” in American English is another inadequate word to cover its multitude of meanings. A syllogism is true if it is constructed correctly. That truth held until the Kierkegaard in the 19th Century. Heads exploded. Challenging Aristotle was blasphemy. Yet we went there. You can get good replacement monitors at New Egg. Merriam Webster gives 9 definitions of the word truth. I don’t talk about truth in this space as a certainty. The truth here is that of the bard, of story and poetry. It defies being anchored in fact. The truth discussed in this space is the set of narratives and beliefs people use to inform their behavior. My grandma never bought chicken pieces. She always bought a whole chicken and cut it up herself. Her truth was that she felt it was cheaper to buy the whole chicken. That’s a small example. Whole books have been written trying to untie the Gordian knot within the question, “what is truth?” The definition isn’t static, either. It changes, has changed over the generations. We had a huge upheaval in our understanding of truth and philosophy over 300 years ago with the arrival of modernism. Then again with postmodernism. What my dissident denomination believes to be orthodox doctrine is distinct in important essentials from the Catholic Church and PCUSA. Each of the Great Awakenings within the church since the 1800’s has marked a changed understanding of what truth is.
I’m out of my league when it comes to theological or philosophical discussions of truth. I know a little. I know enough to get myself in trouble. I do know, though, as a storyteller, that the realm of truth held by fiction is distinct from that of the priests or secular philosophers. Ours is the truth of metaphor and parable. Absurdism lives here. The question then, is one I’ve spoken of elsewhere. What are the beliefs we hold that drive our choices and behavior? Are they working for you? What is your orthodoxy? How does that affect your orthopraxy? Mine start with this, “to love God with all my heart and soul, to love neighbors and enemies alike, to treat others as I wish to be treated and finally, to be the change I wish to see through small acts of kindness done with great love.” Matthew 7:12, 22:36-40, Mahatma Ghandi and Mother Theresa. My story has forced limits on my behavior such that I do better if I live an examined, intentional life.
I posted this the first time because I ran into a friend who was really bothered that I might not be on the same page with him when it comes to truth. For him, you can’t argue the tenets of natural law. He didn’t like it that I live behind the looking glass with Alice and Lewis Carol. I’m not alone. My current problem? I’ve written over a thousand words and I don’t have a way to end this. Let’s end it this way: truth may be absurdly fungible but the world seems to manage anyway.