Truth Against the Tide

I recently spoke with a friend about the nature of Truth.  She is a self-proclaimed relativist practicing the popular “hermeneutic of humility.”  Hermeneutics is the science of interpreting the data we read or hear.  When used in conjunction with “humility,” the phrase simply means that any interpretation one makes must fall short of declaring a definitive, exclusive conclusion.  In other words, I am (or at least seem) humble because I will not assert anything with confidence–subjective experience consistently trumps objective, authoritative Truth.

I thought about our conversation, and the many logical breakdowns and inconsistencies that happen when we build our house on the sand of relativistic reasoning.   I realized that, my friend, like each of us, functionally believes in  truth, even though she denies it vigorously.  After all, to deny is, by definition, to declare a stance in opposition, and to declare any stance is to maintain a belief in some unwavering premise, in some “truth.”

So, I thought I would attempt to put some of my thoughts on the nature of Truth into a poetic framework.  I may have bitten off more than I can chew–and certainly, I have only scratched the surface of this branch of philosophy, perhaps even awkwardly so.  But it was a fun and entertaining puzzle to try to piece together, and that’s what The Occasional Caesura is all about!

The rhyme scheme here is ABAB on each stanza; the meter, trochaic heptameter: /x/x/x/x/x/x/.

Truth Against the Tide

“Only fools are positive.”  “You sure about that?” “I’m positive.”

–The Three Stooges

“Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.”

“Perhaps a lunatic was simply a minority of one.”

“In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

George Orwell, 1984

 

Pilate asked Him, “What is truth?” when Jesus stood on trial,

Bearing witness of the Truth to all who heard His voice.

Though philosophy rejected it, stood in denial,

Still, the Way, the Truth, the Life allowed mankind its choice.

                                             .

“What is truth?” though, sounds urbane, superior to law.

Hermeneutics of humility smooths out the field.

I seem more sophisticated, cultured, not bourgeois,

If it’s all a mystery, still hidden, unrevealed.

                                          .

So I claim, “There are no absolutes; it’s relative,”

Disregarding that my statement’s antithetical.

My assertion controverts itself (though tentative),

By proclaiming proclamations “theoretical.”

                                             .

Next I try, “Who really knows what truth is, after all?”

All my friends agree with me; they wisely nod, concur.

Confident in doubt, with inconsistency banal,

Logic cast aside, to diametrics they demur.

                                               .

How about “There is no right or wrong; it’s in your head!”

Satisfying concept until I’m the one abused.

Then my default is to judge the wrongdoer instead,

Never asking, “Why impose my ‘truth’ on the accused?”

                                                      .

“Well,” I claim, “I make my own reality; it’s true.”

If you counter me on that, I’ll argue all the way.

Think about it, though, because just how can I undo

True belief with skepticism; how will doubt have sway ?

                                                .

Really, if I don’t have Truth, I don’t have anything.

Two plus two must equal four, or all the rest is void.

If we have no premise to employ linguistic string,

Then our discourse has no point; we’re barely humanoid.

                                                .

Truth’s the binding to our book, the glue that holds secure

Logic, Reason, plain Consistency, our common ground,

Making possible each conversation to be sure,

Infrastructure of our culture, verity profound.

                                                  .

Then . . .

Let the relativist hush, he has no argument.

Making absolutist claims without the Truth is mad.

Only schizophrenics would attempt to circumvent

Rationale with their subjective unbelieving fad.

                                                  .

Maybe Truth’s “behind the times,” unstylish, square, uncool,

Maybe if I cling to it they’ll call me “Simpleton.”

All I know is Truth, derided, under ridicule

Still is True, and I’ll be its “minority of one.”

                                                .

Yes, I’ll make that choice to speak the Truth against the tide.

Orwell’s “revolutionary act,” though I’m alone,

Pilate asked Him, “What is truth?” and history replied, . . . that

Truth, though spurned, remains Civilization’s Cornerstone.

 

 

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6 thoughts on “Truth Against the Tide

  1. In that famous and moving story you’ve referenced where Lord Jesus stands before Pilate, and Pilate’s question is asked, did He not stand mute?

    I reject the supposition that he might have saved himself had he engaged the governor in conversation, giving him some answer. No, He already knew that his fate was sealed, so why engage in something false?

    The question remains: Why not tell Pilate something, not to save himself, but with the possibility of helping Pilate, or some of the crowd, to understand? I’ve wondered about that and here are some possibilities:

    Jesus knew that none present could understand what he might say. Pearls before swine kind of thing.

    Jesus knew that Truth could not be put into words; that the very language used could not capture It, only distort It more or less. We might say that this embodied, brain-dependent being that we are here can not experience Truth via language (only “through a glass darkly). The best poets, orators, sages, gurus, philosophers can only *point* to truth, as when the Zen master, in response to a similar question, remained silent and pointed to the moon. As if to say, my finger is not the Moon. Be quiet.

    Jesus, being Truth embodied, had already answered the question for eternity.

    Which brings me to another question: What is “Truth embodied?” I would love to be able to think this through, but again, thinking can only take me so far before it drops off into the abyss. Unless that is, I take one of its conclusions and run with it: Now I have the truth, I’d say. And from that point on, until the program crashes, which it inevitably must do, everyone else is either wrong, misinformed, or a little less intelligent. Sheesh. Enough of that.

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  2. One more thing: When I wrote that Jesus had already answered the question for all eternity, to clarify, “eternity” because Truth is beyond time or space–those are in the “glass darkly” realm–yet even the word “eternity” is inadequate, referencing as it does time, as is “beyond,” being a spatial referent. Words just don’t do it, but for some reason it’s worth trying.

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  3. These are interesting questions you bring up, Fred: why didn’t Jesus answer Pilate’s question? I agree with you that, of course, it wouldn’t have changed the outcome–after all, this was after Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (“Not My will but Thine be done.”); it was after Jesus had set his face steadfastly to go to Jerusalem, where He knew He would be tried and executed. Jesus Himself told His followers that He laid down His life freely, that no man took it from Him.

    So, we are left wondering why He remained silent. Certainly, to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah: “he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb,so he openeth not his mouth.”

    Aside from that, perhaps Jesus simply knew Pilate’s heart as He knew the hearts of all men (and, of course, women). Maybe Pilate’s question was mocking, or dismissive, or insulting; frustrating that we can’t hear his “tone.” If that were the case, though, the “pearls before swine” idea would definitely be why Jesus didn’t respond.

    After all, if Pilate were asking the question sincerely, pensively wishing to understand the truth from the only One Who could explain, then it would seem that Jesus would answer him. So, I think maybe we can assume that Pilate was not actively or sincerely seeking an answer to “what is truth?”

    Another thought is that maybe, with the multiple trials (several secular and several by the religious authorities), there had been sufficient lying, manuevering, hedging, accusations, etc., by Jesus’ enemies, that the whole case seemed a tangled web of half-truths and deceit. In that case, Pilate would be basically throwing his hands in the air and asking the question, “What is truth?”– implying that the previous tribunals had made such a mess of things that truth was now undiscernable. And, again, Jesus would have no need to answer.

    Or, my last idea: Pilate, like many Hellenists of his social circle, simply enjoyed the “hermeneutic of humility” that made a question like “What is truth” so stylish. By raising what he believed was a philosophical quandary, he could turn his decision about Jesus’ guilt or innocence into an abstract “moral dilemma,” relieving himself of the concrete reality of Jesus’ fate at the hands of His people. In this case, Pilate’s words would be a verbal way of washing his hands of Jesus’ blood, and Jesus’ lack of response would simply be His acceptance of the next step in His journey to the cross.

    Your next question, “what is Truth embodied?” and its follow-up: “where do the answers to that question take us?” formed the basis of this poem and its conclusion. If we search the Scriptures to answer those questions (“comparing spiritual things with spiritual.”–I Corinthians 2:13), we see the following statements:
    “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6)
    “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” (John 14:16-17–Jesus’ words)
    “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” (John 17:17–Jesus’ words)

    These are just a drop in the bucket of all the Scriptures say about what Truth really is, but even from these few passages, we can see that, according to the Scriptures, Jesus claimed to be Truth; Jesus promised to send His Spirit of truth to dwell within His followers; God’s Word is truth. Truth, then, is embodied in Jesus, in the Holy Spirit, and in God’s Word, as seen in these verses.

    Now, I guess that’s where the rubber meets the road, because we each choose to either accept or reject that Truth in the Bible. This is hard-core truth, exclusive truth, that, when taken to its natural conclusion, if you “run with it” makes the unpopular claim that, as you mentioned, some people must be misinformed, or wrong, or (hee hee) less intelligent.

    But I don’t think that those who “run with it” are being cruel, arrogant, intellectually dishonest, or overly simplistic. I mean, doesn’t the essence of truth mandate that there is, indeed, untruth, and that real truth must necessarily exclude that untruth? Doesn’t it presuppose that anything falling outside that truth is not truth? After all, if everything is truth, then Adolph Hitler simply lived his truth; Idi Amin lived his, the Apostle Paul lived his, and Jesus lived His. But we are hard-wired to know, as beings made in the image of God, that there are some things that do fall outside of truth. You don’t meet many people willing to give Hitler a pass for his “understanding” of truth.

    The issue I find myself returning to with those who reject this sort of exclusivist truth is, if our truth is not found in Scripture, then where does it originate? If it originates separately within each of us, apart from the God (the exclusive God) of the Bible, then we can’t say with intellectual honesty that Hitler’s truth was skewed or perverted. Skewed compared to what? He was certainly entitled to his own truth, right?

    And if we find our truth outside the God of the Bible, then where is our “line in the sand?” Where is the point outside of which we say, “Nope, that’s not right.” By what authority do we say that anything is not right? And if we don’t say that some things are, surely enough, NOT RIGHT, NOT TRUE, then civilization must descend into complete anarchy, with each of us “doing that which [is] right in [our] own eyes” (Judges 21:25), with no external measure of what is truly right.

    Just some thoughts . . . –but, enough for now–some people in this house are wanting supper! Thanks, Fred, for this very enjoyable dialogue, and for doing me the great honor of engaging with what I have written.

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  4. I would not consider myself to be humble. In fact, the moments of true humility, when they come, do not seem to come from “me” at all, but rather some larger, broader, deeper source. That said, hermeneutic appreciation of sacred text seems to be necessary, in that (and we’ve been talking about this all along) the human mind, at least in its natural state, may not be capable of grasping Truth. I’m going to stop there and ask you, Do you disagree?

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  5. This morning I was out and about, to Elna’s for Quaker meeting, then over to Woody’s dropping off the story I’d read at Writers on the River. Getting out of my left brain relieved something I didn’t even know was bothering me; I was taken by the quiet in the valley and the simplicity of just being there, with friends or alone. This poem resulted:

    Quiet on the road.
    Windchimes from David’s tree
    As when temple bells
    Sound through an open window
    In the monastery.
    From the pasture, a raven grawks.
    Wind from the north
    Makes a muffled roar in my ears.

    I’ve been talking with a friend
    About Truth. Years past
    In this kind of conversation,
    Such little experience of life
    I could barely listen;
    Now something in my listening
    Has expanded; there is love,
    The love of truth, motivating
    All that is good in me,
    Guiding it, shaping it—a stranger
    Bringing it and laying it
    At my door..

    Without mind’s pretense
    The dark glass becomes
    Mirror like, in which waits
    One seen Face to Face.

    ***

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  6. Beautiful poem, Fred, bringing tears to my eyes; a benediction of this holy dialogue in which we have the privilege to participate. Thank you so much for sharing that!

    You ask a good question: if I believe that the natural mind can grasp Truth. I have to tell you, that on my own I can only rest on my personal experience, which has proven, time and again, to be less than accurate (trust 7 kids to remind me how often my view of the world is just a mental construct of my own making!). But, I believe that the Scriptures are pure and true :“The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O Lord, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.–Psalm 12:6-7 “. . . the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.–Psalm 19:7) And, because I believe that those words are pure, preserved, true, and able to make me wise, I look to those words to illuminate my understanding.

    Jesus said, in John 8, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” A few verses later, He reinforces this point by saying, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” And further on, in response to their anger and unbelief, He says, “And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not. . . . And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me? He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.”

    Thus, Jesus is saying that those who are “of God” know the truth, and those who are “not of God” do not believe the truth. Since we know that Jesus declared, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father but by Me,” we can see that this ability to grasp Truth is in direct proportion to one’s belief in that Truth: Jesus. In other words, He is saying that those who are “of God” believe in Jesus Christ, and therefore know the Truth, and, accordingly, the inverse: unbelievers do not know (grasp) Truth.

    Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, explores a similar concept, replacing the terms “of God” and “not of God” with “natural” and “spiritual”: “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” (I Corinthians 2:14-16)

    So, it looks like, according to this passage, the natural man cannot know (grasp) Truth, because it is spiritually discerned, and because the natural man does not have “the mind of Christ.” A person can only know his/her own mind, so the “natural man” only knows his own mind, since he does not have “the mind of Christ.” More from I Cor. 2: “ But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.”

    I know there are those who feel that this outlook on Truth is too narrow, insular, unsophisticated, or even offensive; in fact the Scripture warned that many would regard its message in precisely those ways. Yet to those of us who believe, these are the Words of Life, the Truth, and the power of God.

    Paul speaks of this in the chapter previous to the above words: “ For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.

    “Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? . . .For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.

    “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.”

    Peter responded when Jesus asked “the twelve, ‘will ye also go away?’ . . . ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.’” I would agree with him.

    I have found this Truth we are discussing, not within my natural self, but miraculously, powerfully, by the Word, the Spirit, dwelling within and transforming that natural self into a spiritual self that, by the power of God, can grasp Eternal Truth. And, as Paul told the church in Ephesus, I am ‘making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power[.]”

    Words of life. And the great privilege to unwrap and consider them together. Thank you, my friend.

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