Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Is It All About Truth?

So there's some demeaning talk out there about truth being relative. As in, "I understand truth and you're watering it down with all this talk of nuance and perspective." I tend to think, though, that it's more about how we understand truth itself than any actual truth. Those people who are after absolute truth or understand truth in definitive ways are really talking about a propositional truth - that some things are always true.

That argument ultimately lasts until it passes from your mouth to someone else's ear. Even if you're not on board with the "my truth is my truth and your truth is your truth" movement, you almost have to admit that everyone is going to have a slightly (or drastically) different perspective on what's true - AND none of us is going to get it completely right. I do appreciate the effort, though. I do think we should be seeking absolute truth - we just can't look at it propositionally; doing so is basically an exercise in absurdity.

What we need to do instead is understand truth relationally. Truth is not some abstract notion or idea or principle - truth is that which extends between two people. The way we treat others, the way we act, tells everyone all they need to know about what we hold true.

This is where a lot of Christians get in trouble - well, religious people in general, really - it's certainly not limited to Christianity. We sometimes get so worked up trying to defend (to others and to ourselves) our notion of truth that we equate our understanding of truth with actual truth. What's more we do so by seeking to prove some truth claim by another person to be wrong or faulty or imperfect. In doing so, though, we betray another truth we'd rather not own up to - in short that being right is the most important thing, that being right comes before showing love and grace to others.

At its core, Christianity hold that absolute truth is Jesus Christ. Truth personified - that idea even came out of his mouth. Christians believe that truth is not an idea or a concept or something to be mastered or defended - truth is a person to know and by whom to be known. Truth is inherently relational. We need to treat it that way.

Jesus never went out to crush the ideas or perspectives of others, he only really had criticism and challenge for his own people - the religious leaders of the day. He was holding people accountable who were already part of his own group - he wasn't challenging strangers or seekers with some propositional knowledge. He just sort of loved people. He did a lot of forgiving, often in ways and places where it didn't always seem wise. He was gratuitous with grace.

This is something we forget when we make truth propositional. We forget that real truth is not a concept, but an action. Truth is living out what we believe to be true - living in imitation of Jesus, seeking to live in peace and value everyone for the human being they are - a human being made up of actions and experiences uniquely formative of that particular individual.

Perspective does indeed matter when it comes to truth. We can only really approach truth when we recognize and respect the perspective of another. Yes, there are certainly propositional values that are important to Christians, but they're not learned for their own sake, but out of relationships - both with God and with the world (and the people) around us.

So when people get up in arms about "defending the truth," I think, "the truth is fine on its own; it doesn't need defending." What the truth needs, though, are people who believe it enough to live it out. That might make a real difference in the world and, who knows, might actually help other people find the truth themselves.

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