Experiments with Truth

When our Macedonian Ministry staff brainstormed “truth” as a topic of our February column for 2017 it was about two months before the Oxford dictionary declared that the “Word of the Year” for 2016 was post-truth. The Oxford dictionary combs through data bases of word usage and selects a word each year that has attracted the most interest and is judged to reflect the ethos, mood or preoccupation of that year and that has lasting potential as a word of cultural significance.

Post-Truth. It’s an adjective. “Relating to or denoting circumstance in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Post-truth. We’ve even, apparently, gone as far as alternative facts. The post-truth world is part of a larger cultural movement that aptly recognizes that facts do come embedded in larger narratives about how the world is and what is worth our attention. Christians certainly don’t pretend to operate without a larger narrative. On the contrary, our larger narrative – which is about humans as both precious and flawed, and about the world as God’s good and ordered creation, meant for the flourishing of all creation – is what provides our essential framework for interpreting the world.

It seems to me that Christians cannot abandon truth or, perhaps even more importantly, truth-telling. Such virtues provide open, common ground on which we can pursue truth and truth-telling in our common life and in the body politic. There has to be a shared reality beyond self-interest for the concept of telling the truth to gain traction. Otherwise speech is merely self-assertion.

And yet we must pursue truth with humility, openness, correction and discussion. Ghandi titled his autobiography, Experiments with the Truth and notes “The seeker after truth should be humbler than the dust. The world crushes the dust under its feet, but the seeker after truth should so humble himself that even the dust could crush him. Only then, and not till then, will he have a glimpse of truth.” A hopeful posture to take in this world of competing truths and alternative facts. He adds, “Truth is like a vast tree, which yield more and more fruit the more you nurture it.”

And years ago, William Sloane Coffin, Jr. observes what is more true now than ever, “The word is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love.”

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