Death of Truth?

Can the truth die? Just go away forever?

We know, of course, that the truth cannot die. Truth will live on for eternity, because truth is of God, Who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” John 14:6. One of His disciples said, “ye know…that no lie is of the truth,” 1 John 2:21.

So, why use this title at all if I have debunked the idea before I even make my case?

Because while it is a fact that truth cannot die, it can become dead to us.

How truth is transmitted

My generation has witnessed communication morph from handwritten letters and conversations on landline telephones (with cords) to instant, wireless connections with people all over the world. Those changes have brought great benefits, but some results could not have been anticipated.

Sociologists detail changes in society, including those that have occurred because of technology. For example, the good old automobile, a wonderful advancement in transportation, affected the social fabric by doing more than just taking us places faster than the old horse and buggy could do. It also served to take dating from the front room of the parents’ home to the backroads of who knows where. The inventors, we know, were not trying to create a more private location for courting. They were just giving us a faster way to get around; yet, their advancement became used for all kinds of things they could never have envisioned.

We love communicating with each other, and as technology advanced, we welcomed offers for free email accounts and platforms that allowed us to grow more connected. Social media provided a way to share our pictures and family events with people we cared about in real time. No more waiting for film to be developed and packaging those prints in a letter to Grandma. We had access to all of it, right now.

In time, social media also became a forum for expressing our opinions, sharing our creativity (one of my favorite uses), and exposing our drama. Rousing debates erupted, often turning bitter. Twenty years ago these group conversations could only have occurred in person (sometimes broadcast via radio or television), or through printed media (competing newspaper editorials, for example). They occurred infrequently in any sort of public arena. Now, anyone and everyone can put their thoughts out there. Like seeds in the wind, they can go viral in minutes.

What we communicate

Debate itself is not unhealthy, of course. A famous business man once said, “When two men always agree, one of them is unnecessary.”* But in the old days, there was an understood ethic that the publisher or broadcaster, took responsibility for whether the statements had basis in fact, or some merit in logic and rationality.

Now we are inundated with images of giant catfish and mammoth-sized pythons. Who generates this stuff? We could track that down, but we seldom take time. “People” spring up online who never existed, because a profile can be constructed (possibly out of those family pictures we posted years ago that are vulnerable to being recycled by a child predator).

I submit to you that on the internet, truth has died. Whole sites have sprung up dedicated to fact-checking, but we don’t always even trust them. What if they have an agenda all their own? We wouldn’t know unless we had first-hand access to the facts in a case. We cannot be sure of what is true and what is not, but that doesn’t stop some of us from sharing it as though we are absolutely certain.

I suppose the most discouraging thing about the “death” of truth in our common area of communication is that we are running low on the will to care. I stopped caring enough to fact-check very many things a while back. Instead, unless I know the people and the situation, I just don’t bother to pass on the information. I have no time to care that deeply.

Unfortunately, there is more at stake than the simple humorous, “gotcha” kinds of fake postings. We now know that the portal to our minds and hearts that is social media has been used by those intentionally spreading false information. At our heart and gut level, we are not fully sure who is saying what about whom that is true or false. We just hope we are getting it right in how we make our choices on, but our uneasiness is growing.

A danger

Once upon a time, misbehavior was punished after thorough inquiry, even court proceedings if warranted, sentencing, and appeals. We now witness the following: a thing occurs, people are accused, lives are ruined. It is that simple. Due process doesn’t occur in social media (if you don’t know what doxing is, be sure to study up on it and pray you’re never on the receiving end).**

The verifiable facts of a case may eventually be published once diligent inquiry is made, but by then the public has moved on. The facts never make the same splash as the accusations. The damage is done. People clutch their opinions tightly and suspect the motives of those providing contrary information. We know that people can say anything in social media (or broadcast or print media), whether it is true or not.

We have truly experienced the death of trust of our sources of information, which effectively leads to the “death” of truth. It is camouflaged so effectively that we must fight to find it.

What does God say?

I wouldn’t be a good Christian blogger if I didn’t bring the Bible, the Word of God into the equation. It is truth (John 17:17).

Distortion of truth did not begin with the advent of social media. It began in the Garden of Eden: “Yea, hath God said…?” the serpent said to Eve in Genesis 3:1. The enemy’s misinformation eroded Eve’s confidence in the truth, and she made a grave error based on faulty logic that justified fleshly lust.

Throughout history we see patterns of truth being proclaimed, obeyed and forsaken, over and over again. History seems to follow this example: redemption from the world by God’s intervention, the establishment of boundaries to protect that new-found redemption, a period of walking within those boundaries until the original mouthpiece of them had been taken away (Moses and Joshua, various judges and righteous kings, Jesus Christ and the apostles), followed by distortion of the boundaries by those who arose after them, yielding to the flesh and gladly chosing an easier way. But those who are stirred to seek the truth with all their hearts are guaranteed to find it.

Some of God’s statements on truth are:
“Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free,” John 8:32.
“God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship Him in spirit and in truth,” John 4:24.
“Let God be true, and every man be a liar,” Romans 3:4
“And for this cause, God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness,” 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12.
“Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold,” Matthew 24:12.
Truth matters to God. It is Who He is. Unless it matters to us, we can never serve Him.

What should we do?

We cannot effect the change in society that would cause people to suddenly settle for nothing less than the truth. We can only cause that stand to be taken in our own hearts.

How do we do this? Cry out to God to cleanse and heal our own receptors for truth. Confirm to Him our desire to know Him through the truth, the only way He will be known. Seek Him for the strength to let truth move in our hearts and change us. Ask Him for the faith to believe that we can know the truth for ourselves.

Picture the image of a scale where each side must balance (the type depicted in seals or logos for courts and judges). “Knowing truth” is on one side, but “obeying truth” is on the other. We will know God’s truth only to the degree that we humble ourselves and become willing to obey the truth or the commandments of God.

No one receives the revelation of Who God is–the mighty God in Christ, the man Christ Jesus–without fully committing to walk according to His Word. If we consistently demonstrate that we prefer ease and convenience and soothed consciences over stark and painful truth, He will choose our delusions (Isaiah 66:4). We will happily go our own way until we meet Him in the judgement and meet an end we did not expect.

No, I know that truth is not dead. In fact, we can know the truth. The question is, do we really want to? For, to know truth is to allow truth and its direction to reign in our lives, to submit to it. Who wants to do that?
Those who want to live forever, like the truth will do.

*1The origin of this quote is itself the subject of some debate. The earliest attribution is to William Wrigley, Jr. (the chewing gum magnate), from an interview published in The American Magazine in 1931.

**Doxing, derived from the word “document,” refers to the practice of researching and revealing the personal information such as telephone number, physical address, place of employment, etc. of a targeted individual without permission. The intent is to give an angry public direct access to them, often resulting in threats and/or actual violence, and at the very least embarrassment and ridicule. Individuals are targeted for various reasons, including being suspected of a crime, simply disagreeing with an opposing group’s point of view, or being a member of a targeted group. Publishing the information compromises the safety of the individual and destroys the normalcy of their lives.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the Holocaust, and history in the making

What makes sane, intelligent people choose to follow a Hitler? To assist in rounding up, imprisoning, torturing, and murdering an entire race of people?

The war to stop Hitler ended a mere fourteen years before I came on the scene of humanity, and it has held a sort of painful fascination for me most of my life. I suppose it began when, in my early teens, I came across a copy of Night by Elie Wiesel, and devoured it. Since then, there have been many more: Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place and other individual stories similar to theirs; Anne Frank, and other accounts related through magazines or media. It just seems I never tire of reading the stories of individual bravery in the face of unbelievable atrocity.

The war many of my contemporaries were fascinated with in my growing-up years was the last one fought on our soil.  “The South’s gonna rise again” and Rebel flags abounded. I felt odd being unable to connect with those sentiments so common at the time. I suppose I  harbored a certain level of discomfort with the tales of glory from the Civil War days, though I didn’t fully think through the reason for my feelings. I knew I didn’t like the premise the war was fought on.  I lived, shopped, and eventually went to school with the people who my forefathers fought to keep enslaved, and nothing about that seemed to be a cause for celebration. Still, I loved the South, and still do.

Perhaps if I hadn’t waited so long to read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriett Beecher Stowe, I’d have felt more clearly aligned with the persecuted, and the whole thing could have come clearer to me earlier on. (It wasn’t exactly required reading in school, as I recall). As it is, I recently finished the book that legend says was declared by Abraham Lincoln to have “started this great war”, and with good reason.

Stowe lived the conflict within the nation in the years leading up to war, wherein the Northern states where she lived were trying to come to grips with the insistence of the Southern states that slavery was not only acceptable, but vital to their economic survival.  Debates raged on whether newly admitted states would be slave states or free states.  Slaves escaping to the North, crossing into Ohio, became free by virtue of being in “free states”, until the Fugitive Slave Act was passed, requiring them to be handed over to their “owners” or the bounty hunters sent to retrieve them.  For this to have been the case in the land where we live just 150 years ago is appalling and baffling to me.

As I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the stories of human beings relegated to the state of property burned deep into my heart.  Stowe more than accomplished her mission of making at least Northern states’ residents (and many in the South as well) to see that the pain of one human being is not more or less than that of another under similar circumstances.  No one thought much of separating families for the personal gain of the slave trader and plantation owner, or even of using physical violence to force one group of people to be subservient to another. This was defended politically, and eventually with military force.

I’d never thought of the two scenarios — slavery in the U.S. and the Holocaust– as having so much in common until reading Stowe’s book.  The common element between the Holocaust and slavery seems to me to be the dehumanization of the unfortunate group having been targeted in the minds of the dominant one.  It wasn’t a problem for them to treat others inhumanely, because they’d deemed that they weren’t “human”, in the same sense that they,  the Aryans or the Whites were.  People bought into a “reason” why the system had to be in place: a pure race to be established in Germany, or the economic superiority or even stability of the South to be maintained. They used lofty words like “destiny”, and “rights” to justify what we now see as unreasonable and cruel (even criminal) behavior.

History helps us see that there are no good reasons for enslaving or annihilating other people groups, and certainly no reasons that can stand up to the scrutiny of civilized thought or Christian teaching.  Yet the churches in Germany cranked up the music to drown out the noise of cattle cars rattling by with human beings screaming for help inside.  Churches in the American South somehow managed to concoct a doctrine that said some races were just meant to serve others, and Southern pulpits proclaimed “God is on our side”  as Confederate soldiers marched off to war.

The underlying truth is this: human beings are fully capable of being persuaded that wrong is right, as long as it is proclaimed and practiced by enough of the people around them, so that to make any change from that practice or ideal becomes radical and dangerous.  As a people, we are as capable as ever of believing a lie, even a mass lie, or worse yet not fully believing but silently assenting to evil.

Where does this put you? How will you know if you’re obeying truth or following a lie? What’s the standard for which is which anyway?

The first step in the truth test is to examine where we are in relation to the teachings that the world itself was founded on:  God’s word.  We can find ourselves “earnestly contending for the faith that was once delivered to the saints”, by searching out and obeying the doctrine of the Book of Acts church (the original doctrine of the church), and using the boldness that doctrine produced in the first believers to go against whatever tide we find in society or the religious world that may be contrary to God’s plan.

You see, your history is in the making right now.  You can choose to be enslaved to what is contrary to the word of God, and promote the same. Or, you can opt for the freedom he provides through obedience to the gospel and change your world and those around you.

So what do you think? Have you ever connected these two periods in history? Where would you have found yourself had you been caught up in the events of those days?  I’d love to hear from you, if you’d like to leave a comment.