Truth has always been a delicate thing. It’s always jarring to be reminded that even simple truths sometimes need to be defended, old truths are sometimes debatable, and objective truths are sometimes only as helpful as their advocates.
This has always been the case. Truth can be frustrating that way.
But I don't think I'm alone in feeling that things are not the same right now as they always have been. Truth has always been debatable, but everyone at least assumed that there was a truth to be debated. Even established truths—the earth is the center of the universe, some races are superior to others, Americans can’t play soccer—could be revised once new information presented itself or new voices had their say (well, we’re still working on that last one). But this at least assumed that everyone would care if conflicting information were uncovered.
What seems different now, at least in degree if not in kind, is how plainly and unabashedly many people don’t care. We can catch arguably the most recognizable person in the world say that apples fall upwards before dozens of cameras and hundreds of journalists all live-streaming internationally in real time, but if that person denies saying such a thing when it becomes expedient for him a couple weeks later, then we find ourselves back in the Twilight Zone-like position of having to argue not for some complex philosophical principle but for the trustworthiness of our very eyes and ears. And it’s not enough to simply playback the tape, if you can’t force everyone else's eyes open to watch it.
But don’t lose hope just yet. Yes, all of the characteristics that make truth truth—that it's gentle, it's patient, it's kind—also make it easy to drown out in a shouting match. But truth is nothing if not resilient. And the second they stop shouting, truth's low, unabrasive hum will still be sounding strong.
My new analogy for truth in our current landscape is this scene a minute into this clip from National Lampoon’s “Vegas Vacation.” Why? Because all dams are temporary. Dams only seem to have won the war against the water if you zoom in close enough on your timeline. Zoom out a little bit, and they're all doomed. Trying to cover up the truth forever is like trying to plug up Hoover Dam with gum.
Whether the dam in question is a corrupt media station, a self-serving ideology, a congressional seat bought and paid for—they can temporarily succeed but will ultimately fail. Like trillions of gallons of water pressing up against it, truth will never violently pound down the whole thing at once. It will simply be more consistent, more steadfast, and wait out the opposition.
How easy should it have been to maintain the institution of slavery indefinitely when all of the laws were being made by the enslaving race? How easy should it have been to keep women from entering the voting booth when only men could authorize them to do so? How easy should it have been to keep workers from having a pedestal to speak on when all the pedestals belonged to the industrialists?
The low hum of these truths should have been relatively easy to shout out. But one always tires of shouting eventually.
And maybe now we’re closer to that meaning of Jesus’ phrase “You will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
Living in a way that denies truth can be materially profitable, probably far more so than the alternative. But at what cost? One can only be fully committed to that path by imprisoning one's conscience. And that is an all or nothing deal. One drop of truth can become a flood if one isn't careful.
Now, there is one more frustrating issue for those of us still interested in truth. If truth can’t be resisted forever, neither can we use any methods to advocate for it that it wouldn’t use itself. We can’t bend it to be more presentable. We can’t lie right now and plan to speak the truth later. We can’t use false means to bring about truthful ends. And if we ever catch ourselves resorting to force, we can be sure that it’s not for the sake of truth. Truth needs advocates, but it doesn’t need untruthful ones.
So the question is not can you shout as loud as the people who deny truth?
The question is, Can you be as consistent as water in your love of truth? Or to put it still another way, Which side of the damn dam will you be on when it collapses?
Cheers and Peace,
Jared Witt (Twitter: @realjaredwitt) is a pastor in the ELCA and, along with Aaron Schmalzle, is a Founding Director of Castle Church Brewing Community and Castle Church Faith Community.