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The Nature of Truth

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Pretty much everybody has concluded at this point that President’s Trump’s tweeted wiretapping allegation is less than fully truthful. From writers at National Review to the Wall Street Journal editorial board, standard conservative sources are, after James Comey’s testimony, proclaiming the credibility of the Trump presidency damaged.  Trump’s staunchest supporters will be quick to note that “standard conservative sources” have been Trump skeptics all along.  Fair enough, but that does not change the fact that to date there is no evidence to back up the president’s tweeted claim.  And while these sources are skeptical, they, like any good conservative, would rather see the Trump administration succeed than fail.  There is simply too much at stake.  These criticisms are not born of opposition to Trump, they are born of a desire for the best from the current administration.  They are the very definition of “constructive criticism.”

By this time everybody knows that the president’s tweets are, in some sense, a thing apart from the operation of the actual administration, but that does not change the fact that the man is POTUS so his tweets carry far more weight than the average quip sent out there into the ether.  I am sure that if all the facts become public, which they very well may not in this lifetime, it will become evident that there is some sort of validity to Trump’s claim.  For example, hypothesizing – given the president’s ego which I doubt can draw a strict boundary between himself and his campaign, this morning’s Politico “SIREN,” and Comey’s admission of an investigation, Trump’s charge could be based in that investigation. As far as we know now, that investigation is not of his actual person which makes his claim specious, but at least spinnable as based in “reality.”  If I wanted to continue to strain my brain I am sure I could invent other ways to tell this tale so that Trump does not come out as a blatant liar, but even a less-than-blatant liar can have credibility issues.

Such discussion begins to call into question that very nature of truth itself.

Yesterday while my wife and I were getting our evening exercise, a bus drove by festooned with an ad for a streaming show “Sneaky Pete” with the tag line “The truth is always changing.”  Apparently the show is about a con man, so in that context the tag line makes some sense, but all the bus ad said was “The truth is always changing,” which certainly set me back until I could look it up.  Can truth really change?  It is now being argued that relativism is being replaced by two different absolute certainties in our modern thinking.  I have often run into certainty in wrongness, probably been guilty of it a few times (“I KNOW I left the car keys right there!”), but apparently such is now the case about matters far less trivial than where we last left some object.  It would seem the truth is no longer relative, that there are in fact multiple truths?  How can that possibly be?

The dictionary definition of “truth” is fascinating:

  1. a archaic :  fidelity, constancy

    b :  sincerity in action, character, and utterance

  2. a (1) :  the state of being the case :  fact (2) :  the body of real things, events, and facts :  actuality (3) often capitalized :  a transcendent fundamental or spiritual reality

    b :  a judgment, proposition, or idea that is true or accepted as true truths of thermodynamics

    c :  the body of true statements and propositions

  3. a :  the property (as of a statement) of being in accord with fact or reality

    b chiefly British :  true 2

    c :  fidelity to an original or to a standard

The use of words like “accepted” and “standard” would indicate that truth is in fact malleable by common consent.  Certainly scientific truth is all about “the commonly accepted view,” but within the scientific community there is an assumption that the commonly accepted view is based on the entire community reviewing the data (facts) and agreeing that the view comports with the data.  However, with increased specialization, such is no longer the case even there.  Many a biologist is willing to punt his commonly accepted view on climate change to the guy down the hall that is a “climatologist.”

Hmmmm, so the truth about Trump’s claims are measured at the moment by one’s level of support for Trump and one’s view on climate change is based on association with an “expert” down the hall.  Is truth about loyalty and devotion?  Is that why it appears to be so fungible?  Are competing truths really a matter of devotion to a particular “guru?”

One of the most oft-quoted utterances of Jesus is, “…you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  Rarely; however, is that quotation considered in its full context.  Jesus is teaching and in dialogue at the Temple in Jerusalem.  He is making an extended argument about just who He is, His relationship to God the Father, and the ramifications of that identity.  His claim is, in essence, that He embodies truth because He is God Incarnate.  Access to truth it seems really is a matter of devotion.  Christ is arguing that access to truth comes via devotion to Him.

A few quick observations based on this.

  1. This being the case credibility matters a great deal.  The more credibility, the more devotion.
  2. We have to choose our “gurus” wisely.  VERY wisely.
  3. Ultimately a guru that is God makes a lot of sense to me. Particularly when you watch the way the world is operating right now.  The supernatural “god’s eye view” is the only thing that can settle the differences between the competing truths.

Let’s close with a question.  If the nation does not share to some level a devotion to something greater than and apart from ourselves can our courts, bodies charged with finding the truth, function?


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