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Real Truth

Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him.

In the above verse, when Jesus was brought before Pilate at the request of the Jewish leadership, Pilate asked an intriguing question.  What is Truth?  I have been musing on this question lately as I look at American culture, and I believe that we, as a society, do not have a satisfactory answer to this question.  There are individuals who do, but as a whole we are lacking understanding of what real truth is.  People are looking for truth, but without an adequate foundation on which to base it on, it will elude them.  The only adequate foundation for truth is an unchanging, all knowing being who transcends truth, and in fact is truth Himself.  Without this unchanging standard, truth becomes relative and unknowable.  And our culture is slowly but surely removing this standard from American life.  And I am afraid that those who do not have this solid  foundation will only discover a new truth, which in reality is no truth at all.

Before we start, I want to say I am addressing America because I have a more thorough understanding of this country having lived here all my life.  I have had a great opportunity to observe our culture and the changes that have occurred.  However, I will not isolate this as a purely American problem.  This issue of the erosion of truth is a world-wide phenomenon.  Moreover, it is not something that has recently entered the scene.  Remember the analogy of the frog in hot water.  If a frog is dropped in boiling water, if will fight to get out.  If, however, it is put in warm water and slowing brought to a boil, it will stay there until it is boiled to death.

First, let us look at truth itself.  There are essentially two types of truth.  Objective truth is truth that is the same for all people, groups and cultures.  It is unchanging; true things will always be true, and false things will always be false.  Our beliefs have no bearing on the truth or falseness of a thing.  What is true is always true no matter what we believe, and what is false is always false no matter what we believe.  On the other hand, subjective truth is  a relativistic form that is based on what we understand or choose to believe.  Truth is not discovered, but contructed based on what works for the individual, group or culture.  Therefore, one truth is as valid as another, even if they are contradictory.  As many have said, “That may be your truth, but it is not my truth.”

Second, let us look at the three basic laws of logic.  First, the law of identity. This states that if a statement is true then it is true, and if a statement is false then it is false.  In other words, A is A.  Everything is itself, and not something else.  As stated above, objective truth will always be true.

Next, the law of noncontradiction.  This says that, in the same context, a statement cannot be both true and false at the same time.   In other words, A is not non-A.  If a shelf is made totally of wood, then that same shelf cannot at the same time not be totally made of wood.  Subjective truth can be true in one group and false in another.  This is not the case with objective truth.

Finally, the law of excluded middle.  This is the idea that a statement is either true or false, with no other possible alternatives.  In other words, either A or non-A.  A shelf is either made totally of wood, or it is not made totally of wood.  Something is either true or not true.  There is no middle ground.

With this framework in place, let us look at how we are losing the idea of objective truth and replacing it with the subjective kind.  There are several things we can look at.  First, let us look at the eighteenth century German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.  Hegel was instrumental in outlining in his philosophy of discovering truth the idea of the shifting of truth (my term, not his).  NOTE, It is not the purpose of this post to exhaustively explore this idea, however, there is an aspect that I believe began to push us further into the realm of relative truth.  The concept of Thesis/Antithesis/Synthesis.  Francis Schaeffer in his book “The God Who isThere” writes the following.  It is rather long, but I believe, very important.

What Hegel taught arrived at just the right moment of history for his thinking to have its maximum effect.’ Imagine that Hegel was sitting one day in the local tavern, surrounded by his friends, conversing on the philosophical issues of the day.  Suddenly, he put down his mug of beer on the table and said, ‘I have a new idea. From now on let us think in this way; instead of thinking in terms of cause and effect, what we really have is a thesis, and opposite it an antithesis, with the answer to their relationship not a horizontal movement of cause and effect, but the answer is always synthesis’  Now suppose also a hard-headed German businessman had been standing by and overheard his remark. He might of thought, ‘How abstruse and impractical!’  But he could not have been further from the truth.  Because whether Hegel himself or those listening understood it to be the case, when Hegel propounded this idea he changed the world.  If one understands the development of philosophy, or morals, or political thought from that day to this, one knows that Hegel and synthesis have won. In other words, Hegel has removed the straight line of previous thought and in its place he has substituted a triangle. Instead of antithesis we have, as modem man’s approach to truth, synthesis.”  (Francis Schaeffer, “The God Who is There”, Page 13-14)

What Hegel is saying is that truth can be shifted, or changed.  Before Hegel, one person would advance a proposition, then another refutes it, either successfully or not.  If successfully, then the original proposition is dropped.  If not, then the refutation is ignored.  But with Hegel, neither are dropped, but a compromise is reached.   As an example, our thesis statement might be “murder is a sin.”  The antithesis of this statement is “murder is not a sin”  Based on these two, the synthesis could be “some murder is sin.”  See how our original statement of truth, our original thesis has shifted to the synthesis that some, not all murder is sin?  This process is repeated again and again, declaring a new thesis which is the previous synthesis, declaring a new antithesis and deriving a new synthesis until the final so-called truth is created.  Thus, a  compromise.  We can see this shift taking place in many parts of our culture.  We have gone from abortion is wrong to abortion is a right.  Reading the bible in school is acceptable, to reading the bible in school is offensive.  Prayer in public is allowed to prayer in public is seriously frowned upon if not outlawed.  And like our frog example above, it was gradual as well as covert and effective.

We also have the idea of “constructed truth.”  This is the concept that we construct truth based on what we believe and are willing to accept.  Truth is relative, not fixed, which means we contruct our own truth.  Truth is not absolutely knowable, therefore everyones truth is as valid as anyone elses.  No one can know anything with absolute surety.  Truth is a matter of interpretation.  This means that all ‘perceived’ truths are subject to be reinterpreted or deconstructed.  Interpretations are based on the social constructs and beliefs.  For instance, upon conception, a new human comes into existence.  This “zygote” has a complete set of genes which if analyzed would show this is a unique human being, different from both the mother and the father.  This is objective truth.  This zygot is a new human being.  However, many believe this zygote, and even to the point of fetus and to a few just before birth, is nothing but pregnancy tissue. It is not human, just tissue that can be removed.  Two truths on the same issue.  One objective, the other subjective.  And now they are trying to define this child as non-human until up to eighteen months after birth.  Also, if this “pregnancy tissue” is killed by someone other than the mother while still in the womb, this is considered murder.  Is the killing of this new life murder or not?  To those who do not accept objective truth, it depends on what they decide at the moment.

This shifting or reinventing of truth not only takes place at a universal scope, but also within the realms of groups, tribes, and societies.  One group may choose to keep objective truth.  However, other groups may not approve of the old truth, and they create their own truth based on what they believe and what is important to them.  Truth becomes what they want it to be, not what objectively is.  Truth, at this point, becomes what you prefer, not what is.  With the elimination of any foundation for truth, this is where we end up, in a world where the only truth that matters is your truth.

Also, these truth constructs are used to assert power and influence of others.  Many  politicians will say whatever it takes to stay in power or get what they want.  Much of the news media will write anything that will support their beliefs and causes, or provide the revenue they require to continue in business.  Remember how Harry Reed and others who supported the re-election of Barack Obama in 2012 accused Mitt Romney of not paying taxes for ten years when there was evidence that he filed and paid his taxes for the last twenty.  Much of the news media pushed this distortion to the people through network news channels, radio and newpapers.  It did not matter what evidence to the contrary was presented, what they declared truth was the important thing.   (Note: These declarations are not limited to one political party, or to liberals or conservatives.  Almost all do it, and it is wrong whenever it happens)

There is more I could say on this topic of the deconstruction of truth.  However, my goal here is to present the idea that because of the removal of God as the foundation of all truth, and the standard setter of what truth actually is, we are left with a form of truth that is not objective, but something that can be created or changed at the whim of an individual or group.  With no objective truth, we are left with preference as the arbiter of reality.  And this same thing is happening within our churches and seminaries.  This is especially sad because we have His truth in His written word and in Christ Himself.   I have seen so many preachers on TV and in churches we have visited who preach a different gospel, claiming it as truth rather than what is found in the scriptures.  This too is subjective truth and an abomination.

So, what do we as Christians do about this?  We must be the ones who stand up for objective truth no matter what form it takes.  We must be modern day Bereans, who the Apostle Paul commended for checking the scriptures to determine if what they are told is true, even from Paul himself.  We must thoroughly check any truth claim and determine if it is indeed truth, objective truth, that is true for everyone.  And if we find it is not, then we must reject it,  completely and wholeheartedly.  If human life begins at conception, then we must not accept, for any reason, the aborting of the unborn.  If a politician promotes a policy or idea that goes against what is objectively true, then we must reject it completely. even if we have never disagreed with them before.  We must be willing to stand for true truth, even if no one else stands with us.  Moreover, we must be vocal and visible in this support.  If we stay silent on the distortion of truth, then we essentially assent to the distortion.  All truth is God’s truth, and it is our job to stand up for truth whether it be spiritual, scientific, political, cultural, whatever.  It may not be easy, and it probably won’t be.  But if we do not stand up and counter the lies purported to be truth, then we will lose the battle.  And if we do, we will find ourselves in a world where truth is determined by the preference of the powerful, influential, or the majority.  Objective truth will be ignored, and those who disagree will need to choose between persecution and compromise.  I choose to stand strong and accept persecution rather than compromise and fit in.  For what I will actually be compromising is the truth and justice of God.  And that I will never do.

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