WHY TRUTH MATTERS
What is truth, and does it even still matter?
Truth is a statement of reality, a reflection of things as they actually exist. But it goes much deeper than such a sterile definition. There is (or at least there should be) a positive connotation to it. It has a religious element to it. The term should elicit a bit of an emotional response, much like “honor”, “courage” or other such qualities that tend to stir a man’s soul.
Because it deals with reality, the concept has severe implications for how we live our lives. Truth is like an anchor, or perhaps a lighthouse on the horizon. Without it, the ships of our lives cannot be steered toward anything resembling usefulness. Without that reference point, we’re doomed to blindly wander the wide oceanic expanse of our existence. In a similar way, it is a fixed stake that a surveyor uses. Before he can make any calculations whatsoever, he needs something immovable that will always stay the same, no matter what changes around him. He needs something objective, unchangeable.
THE WORLD WE LIVE IN
These seem like no-brainer concepts. Green will always be green, the big orange thing that gives us heat will always be called the sun and gravity will always keep us from floating off into space. But truth isn’t always a given. The Oxford Dictionary defined “post-truth” as it’s Word of the Year in 2016. In the everyday world around us, evidence abounds that “Truth” is no longer in vogue. This should come as no surprise. Truth is often inconvenient, and thus shouldn’t be our natural inclination. When a child breaks his mother’s favorite vase, it’s likely not in his self-interest to cop to the deed. It may be more convenient to blame the calamity on the family dog. Absent some moral training on the importance of truth, the child in question will likely take the path of least resistance. Grown humans are no different. Absent some recognition of the importance of truth (and an acknowledgement that there is an absolute truth), we too might take the path which offers the most benefit to us.
CLAWLESS CATS, BENIGN MARRIAGES AND CLUELESS ECONOMIES
I once knew a furniture conscious pet owner who purchased a young tom cat, only to remove his claws. She wanted a cat but didn’t want the inevitable hassles that came with having a precocious feline. She desired the cuddly, playful kitten who would bring her joy, but didn’t want the pseudo-feral feline that would damage her furniture. Courtesy of modern science, she was able to have her proverbial cake and eat it too. In the same way, we’ve made a habit of using our vaunted science and cutting-edge thinking in an attempt to get the good things out of life while avoiding the responsibilities and hassles that truth dictates come with them.
A few years down the road, our cat-lover moved into a new house. It was a great house, but it had been vacant for some time and was surrounded by wooded lots. As would be expected, there were mice on the property, and some made their way in the house. A pseudo-domesticated cat is, of course, mankind’s oldest solution to a mouse problem. But the cat in question had no claws. He did his best to fulfill his noble calling. He chased mice with a passion. But his efforts to dispatch them were in vain. The best he could manage was to occasionally bat one across the floor. Furthermore, he couldn’t even work outside (where his mice eradication efforts really should have been focused). We all know that a cat without claws can’t even take care of himself when he’s exposed to his natural habitat.
All too often our society does the same. When we toy with the idea that there really isn’t an absolute truth, a God-given order to things, we start to mold matters to fit our own desires. We choose paths that offer the least resistance. We make decisions that will (we think) allow us to have our cake and eat it too. We find ways to have the fun and benefits of a playful cat without the claw-marred furniture.
Romantic relationships are fun. They’re exciting and bring with them a host of emotional benefits. They’re supposed to culminate in family, which forms the bedrock of a solid society. In our post-truth world, though, we’ve decided that we can tweak reality. In many cases, we’re trying to have our cat without the clawed furniture. For all its benefits, a traditional romantic relationship requires dedication and discipline. It’s becoming more common to substitute such relationships for open arrangements. Why, after all, should it really matter? If there is no absolute truth to the world, then perhaps the idea of a committed relationship is just some cultural construct. We believe we know better than God, and thus we tweak the situation in a way that will let us have the benefits of a “committed” relationship without the hang-ups (exerting the discipline to limit oneself to one sexual partner). It no doubt sounds like a solid idea in some academic space, but the realities of life show different. Truth stays the same, and there will come a time when the relationship reveals itself to be a cat without claws. A sick child, dying loved one or any number of life-typical tragedies requires the rock-solid strength of a loving relationship, not a free-love throuple or love ‘em and leave ‘em sex life.
Our hubris is not limited to individual choices, either. We do the same as a society in the way we address our economy. Economics is an admittedly complicated issue, but it’s based in relatively simple concepts. I have things (services or goods) that I can produce or offer. I also want or need things that other people can produce. So, we trade. Money is essentially a medium to make this transaction simpler. All of the high-level, complicated aspects of the economy spring from these basic truths. They’re truths that are grounded in human nature and the plain-ole way that God made the world to run. The economy is great, but it also has some downsides. Just like relationships, an economy will have rough times. So, all too often, we decide that we can create our own truth. We choose to have our cuddly cat without the hassle of claws. What if we, through our government, take over a certain aspect of the economic process? Couldn’t we have the good without the bad? For example, what if we just print more money? This, of course, historically leads to inflation. Anytime we think ourselves wise enough to be above the truth, we inevitably foul things up. Truth is stubborn and has a way of reasserting itself. Cats will still be cats and the truth will always remain the truth.
WHY IT MATTERS
It’s easy to lambast society’s headlong slide down the hopeless hill of relativism, but the greater application may be in our individual lives. How much does truth really still matter?
For most of us, issues of economics and high philosophy are beyond the decisions we’re usually called upon to make. But the concept is still an important one in our everyday lives. We live in a world that seems to place little value upon truth. In fact, it often punishes those who stubbornly advocate for it. Employers may laud the attribute of integrity in their job descriptions, but many don’t care for it when the truth may bring to light situations that prove embarrassing to the corporation. Our friends and families may claim to want a straight answer, but there is often a price to pay for giving one. Sadly, even our churches may be less than exuberant when parishioners confront situations that might be less troublesome if left unaddressed.
The truth, though, is a stubborn thing. Our silence at work may allow the company to avoid dealing with a wrong that’s been committed, but that doesn’t eliminate the consequences. Someone, somewhere, suffers for our silence. Our insistence to our significant other that their outfit looks great on them might ensure that the tone of our evening out isn’t ruined, but our white lie doesn’t do them any real favors (not really) when they go out in public. A refusal to confront a sin or doctrinal error in our church may avoid confrontation, but the sin remains. It’s allowed to fester and damage the church’s ability to complete its given mission.
No, silence in the face of difficulty doesn’t alter the truth of a situation. It may keep things more comfortable for us as an individual, but it doesn’t change reality. Such silence is as much a transgression as a lie itself, and the consequences are far-reaching. A society that loses its appreciation for the concept of absolute truth is doomed. Like the ship with no navigation point, it is cursed to wander aimlessly. Its voluntary naivety may bring comfort for a time, but it will eventually find itself dashed upon the rocks of the very consequences that truth would have warned of.
Truth is a stubborn thing and we, as individuals, should be equally stubborn in its proclamation.