Thursday, December 8, 2016

What Is Truth – Part II

Okay, so I got carried away in my previous blog piece. I focused almost exclusively on the spiritual side of the battle for truth. In my opinion the battle for truth is first and foremost a spiritual battle but I know stating it in those terms is off-putting to those who believe they live in a materialistic world in which all things can be certified by the scientific method using the five human senses aided by a competent brain. I am not anti-science nor do I believe we can ignore the signals arriving through our senses. I admit that all of us have to live in a sensual "real world." So how does one distinguish truth from lies while living in such a world?

I should first explain why I put "real world" in quotations. Discovering reality in our world is not a simple case of believing what you see, accepting what you hear, knowing what you've learned. All of our sensory information is subject to disputation by another human being who brings a different perspective to the same set of information. Which of us is right? If 51 percent believe a certain way does that negate the experience and opinion of the remaining 49 percent? What if, next year, the 49 percent convince two of the 51 percent crowd to accept their understanding? Has truth changed?

Well, that depends on how one defines truth. And that gets to the crux of the problem we face as a society right now; is there such a thing as truth, is it the same truth for everyone and if so how do we determine what it is?

Fortunately our world is so constructed that its inhabitants can be wrong much of the time and still achieve the majority of what they set out to accomplish. I say that is fortunate because we so often are operating on false premises or on premises only dimly understood. Sailors setting out for a particular destination believing the earth to be flat arrive at their intended destination to find other sailors who successfully made the same journey under the impression that the earth was a globe. Our physician may cure our cancer by surgery even though radiation or chemotherapy would have done so without carving away part of our body. Our auto mechanic may appear to have gotten our car running by replacing perfectly good fuel injectors when in fact the problem was caused by a malfunctioning fuel pump that, unbeknown to the mechanic, suddenly began to work again just at the time the injectors were replaced.

In each of the instances cited above objective truth played little or no part in accomplishing the desired end. So is truth even necessary? Can't we all just get along believing what we choose to believe, doing what works for us? Many purveyors of information today believe we can and should. They feel no qualms or discomfort in dispensing blatantly untruthful information, even inventing it for distribution. Our entire marketing system (licit and illicit) is predicated on deception to lesser or greater degrees. (Does photo shopping a model's face to remove a blemish count as deception?) And a large part of our society is complicit in proliferating lies. Without even a thought of attempting verification, by routinely using the Forward button on their computer, they mindlessly send error forth on its destructive way every time a captivating story lands in their In Box.

So, what difference does it make anyway? Have we now moved into a post-truth era from which we may never escape? If so – and I fear it may be so – we have returned to the jungle and it is every person for himself. If so it is incumbent upon every individual to become their own fact-checker or suffer the consequences of being duped time and again.

I still believe in TRUTH! When confronted with opposing descriptions of reality I believe one has to be true and the other false. Unless, of course they are both false. They cannot both be true. And to say they are both false implies that there is truth to be known. If truth is not a valid descriptor, neither is false.

That is not to say that, given a different set of circumstances the two claims could not be reversed, the one standing as true in one situation may be false in another. But given the circumstances under which particular truth claims are being considered, one is true, the other is not, or they are both false, leaving us to continue our search for the true. And reasonably intelligent, reasonable people should be able to arrive at a reasoned statement of truth for that time and place. But it takes effort to accomplish that agreement. And the disputants must want to know the truth. It must be more important to them than any personal gain they might achieve by endorsing the lie, more important than their ego, more important, at times, than life itself.

If a person loves truth there are tools available to assist in determining truth in most of life's situations. Here is a sample of truth-determining-techniques I regularly employ. I submit them to you, a truth lover, for your consideration:

·         Life's experiences should have taught us to believe certain things and distrust others. Don't throw away your years of experience because some slick photo shopped picture lures you to a lying website. If you have kept your eyes open while walking through this world you already have an arsenal of defensive weapons with which to ward off a lie.

·         If the thing being claimed isn't consistent with what is normally observable in our world it should be taken with a huge grain of salt. (If your brother who is a public school teacher is not a pedophile and no teacher you personally know is a pedophile why should you be so easily convinced that the public schools are full of pedophiles? If the Congressman who serves your district, and for whom you regularly vote, is not a crook, why assume that the other 434 are crooks?)

·         If other people you know and trust are not buying into the truth being offered, talk to them and discover their reasons for skepticism. Ask them to lead you through the thought process they use in coming to their conclusion. It could be a model you could use in future situations.

·         Demand verifiable specificity. ("Somebody told me," isn't good enough. Anonymous sources and unnamed locations are a tip-off that you are being fed a line. When you read, "An anonymous source close to the situation, speaking off the record because he is not permitted to discuss the situation . . ." a huge siren should sound in your brain follow by a voice that says, "Proceed with great caution and skepticism.)

·         Check the accuracy of the claims. (If  "well known" Doctors, professors, politicians, economist or Institutions are cited or quoted, first verify, using Google or other sources, that they are legitimate persons or entities and then contact them asking if they are being accurately quoted. I've written to scores of "well known" persons over the years and found that most of them will respond, especially to a brief, specific e-mail inquiry, and MOST OF THE TIME they are incensed that their name is being used to dupe others.)

·         Use the legitimate fact checking sources available to us today. Two of the best are the award winning Factcheck.org and Politifact.com. Another, Snopes.com, seeks to verify a broader scope of claims than the former two. All three do a thorough job of presenting the research behind their conclusions. Be prepared to read a bunch. And be prepared to see some of your favorite people with their pants on fire or wearing a long Pinocchio nose.

·         Determine the philosophical, religious or political leanings of the source of a claim. Wikipedia can usually give you a quick understanding of the person's or the organization's point of view. All purveyors of information have a bias and you need to know what their bias is, how strongly it affects their conclusions and how willing they are to bend the truth to support it. Have they been caught with their pants on fire? Do they make an effort to correct errors?

That is only a short list of things one can do to avoid being duped. Whole books have been written on the subject. Check them out at your bookstore or online at Barnes and Noble or Amazon.com.

I would offer one additional suggestion and then follow that with an urgent plea:

·         If you are a lover of truth determine that you will invest whatever is needed to ascertain and sustain it. In Biblical terms that amounts to "selling all you have" to amass the resources needed to obtain the truth. In practical terms it means taking the time to read and research before deciding those truth claims about which you are doubtful. Such research will give you information with which to defend your position when you have aligned yourself for or against a particular truth claim.

·         Finally, and this is the most important thing I have to say: If you are unwilling to do the work to ascertain the veracity of a truth claim, or the reliability of a source, DO NOT propagate the claim. To do so makes you a servant of the lie whether you feel like a liar or not. The blood of those bloodied by the lie will be just as much on your hands as on the hands of the lie's originator.

My previous blog on What Is Truth suggested that there are spiritual resources available to those who will avail themselves of them. I do not want to suggest that those spiritual sources alone relieves any truth seeker from the responsibility to use all of the other resources available to them nor that those who do not avail themselves of them are incapable of discerning error or fighting to preserve truth. The tools enumerated above – and many more – are readily available to all of us.

All of us, Christian believers, people of other faiths, and people who claim no faith have a vested interest in creating a world in which truth is honored and insisted upon. It is too horrible to contemplate living where truth is no longer valued. That sounds like Hell to me.


We may have passed a divide beyond which humanity cannot turn back, but as long as some of us care about truth we are obligated to fight on truth's behalf until we no longer have strength and breath to do so.

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