Many readers will recognize the title of this piece as an excerpt from John 8:32. Jesus is in the temple area, teaching on the requirements and rewards of being His disciple. If the teaching environment did include some friends, it was certainly also well stocked with rivals and enemies, in the form of scribes and Pharisees.
But, the next time He was to talk about truth, the stakes were much higher, as He was conversing with Pilate in the praetorium. When Jesus said that “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice,” Pilate could only reply with the cynical, if legitimate query, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38)
Unabridged dictionaries hedge on the definition of “truth,” by offering many alternatives, and usually include an explanatory note such as
Truth is a general term ranging in meaning from a transcendent idea to an indication of conformity with fact and of avoidance of error, misrepresentation, or falsehood.
This is further complicated in our “enlightened” age, given our weakness for situational morality, and even such absurdities as the oft heard “That may be true for you, but not for me”—as if truth can change from day to day, or from one person to another. If some precept really DOES change, then it was not true to begin with, was it?
Recently, the nature of truth came up during the so-called fauxtography scandals, involving doctored photos and video feeds from Lebanon. Several supposedly respected news agencies were either duped, or purposely passed off bogus images as the real thing. As is becoming routine, experts from the blogosphere were the first to publicize the misdeeds.
As is also becoming routine, the news agencies involved first denied, then attempted to minimize, then finally acknowledged limited culpability. Clearly, the responses were inadequate in that the guilty parties seem blissfully unaware that credibility is essentially all that they have to sell, and as they gradually lose this, they will lose everything.
After all, that is exactly why the powerful cross-examination question, “Were you lying then, or are you lying now?” works as well as it does.
You may recall the document, promoted by Dan Rather prior to the 2004 election, that reflected poorly on George W. Bush’s military career. Unfortunately, for Rather and company, the document was a forgery, and was a rather poor forgery at that (pun intended). As Rather and CBS were desperately trying to figure out how to deal with this problem, someone on their side proclaimed that the document was “fake but accurate.”
Supposedly, this bizarre verbal construct was invented to convey the idea that even though the document is not genuine, the message it carries is valid. Thus, somehow we “know” that Bush lallygagged through his military service (apparently via some other mysterious unnamed source) so that even though this document we present to you is completely fake, do not hold that against us. We know that there “must be” some evidence somewhere that will eventually prove our contention. In the meantime, take our word for it, even though we have already lied to you about the genuine nature of the document we presented earlier.
In other words, truth, in this case, is what Dan Rather et al. wanted it to be. Or, putting it another way, the malefactors were being TRUE to their cause, which was the defeat of Bush. But, more than that, the pure TRUTH did not matter, and was subverted for a “greater good.”
However, the notion of a greater good that is important enough to trump the truth—absent little white lies such as the way you might reply when your wife asks you if an outfit makes her look fat—is at the very least logically troubling. If it is all right to abandon veracity as a benchmark, then by what standard have you embraced the very cause that represents this greater good?
How can you be so sure that all the information you obtained to convince yourself how bad George W. Bush is, for example, is valid? The only possible answer is that you can’t be sure. Instead, your “greater good” is based on emotion. Emotions are powerful, but they may be wrong, and could certainly lead you astray. By definition, the truth cannot lead you astray, can it? Better not to be a prisoner of emotion.
Thus, the truth will set you free. Looks like Jesus was onto something.