Some truths. About truth.

Truth. We teach children to tell it. Courts depend on it. Relationships suffer for want of it. Science and religion both claim to provide us with access to it.

Truth is absolutely essential for freedom, according to author and social critic Os Guinness, who describes truth as a “precious” and “fundamental human gift, without which we cannot negotiate reality and handle life.”

And yet, ours is a culture that plays fast and loose with truth. Disturbing evidence for that reality came to light in the March 9, 2018 edition of the journal Science, when M.I.T. researchers published the results of an exhaustive study looking at how English language stories—verified as either true or false—spread on Twitter. The data comprised some 126,000 stories tweeted by 3 million people more than 4.5 million times. Their findings? “Falsehoods were 70% more likely to be retweeted than the truth.”

Bots are not to blame. “False news spreads farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth,” write the study’s authors, “because humans, not robots, are more likely to spread it.”

It all adds up to increasing cynicism and scepticism. Can anything be trusted as true? Indeed, scholars say that the notion of any kind of metaphysical truth is collapsing. Timothy Tennent, President of Asbury Theological Seminary says that when people no longer believe that there is a truth to be known, a crisis of meaning occurs. The emerging generation wonders, he says, whether there can be “a reliable revelation from God.”

Young people, it seems, are choosing to put their faith in the truths that can be known through science instead. Recent research by the Barna group into “Gen Z”—those born between 1999 and 2015—confirms it. Exploring some of the major barriers to faith for non-Christian teens, Barna reports 20% of nonbelievers polled cited their belief that “Science refutes too much of the Bible” as a barrier to faith. Barna further relates that “the perceived conflict between science and Christianity is also a factor for Christian teens. More than one third of engaged Christian teens (37%) and more than half of churchgoing teens (53%) say that the church seems to reject much of what science tells us about the world.”

But it is a fallacy that science and faith conflict at the level of observable facts, says M.I.T. chemistry professor, Troy Van Voorhuis in a video lecture. “Science and faith are both in the business of interpreting evidence,” he explains.

In other words, when asked, “Why is the sky blue?” a scientist might expound on light waves and the Earth’s atmosphere. But a theologian might respond, “because God, the Creator, delights in beauty.” Two different interpretations, but both would be true.

That science and faith are both in the business of interpreting evidence is a truth that the Church can and ought to proclaim.

After all, Jesus described himself as “the truth,” said he came into the world to testify to the truth, and that truth would set us free. Those of us who try to follow him need to pursue, uphold and defend truth—wherever and however it may be found.

 

 

 

Preparing for more surprises

A shelf of textbooks

I’ve long believed “All truth is God’s truth.” The statement may have become a cliché but it accurately summarizes my thoughts. I believe truth resides in God and originates with God. Jesus claimed to be truth personified and said that truth would set people free.

Holding this conviction has been freeing. At times, when I’ve sensed others feeling defensive – particularly in situations where long-held beliefs, admired leaders or cherished institutions were challenged, I’ve felt emboldened by the certainty that we need not be afraid of questioning “sacred cows” because it’s better to know any truth, no matter how uncomfortable or difficult, than to believe, live with, or perpetuate a lie.

But as a seminary student, I’ve been in for a few surprises. I’ve learned that questioning my own entrenched beliefs can be difficult; even more so when those beliefs are so deeply rooted that they have simply become a subconscious part of who I am. Learning something that challenges heartfelt convictions can be shocking, uncomfortable, even painful. First, is the awareness that I may have put my faith in something as being true, which may not be, and then there is the realization that an alternative – which I might have once dismissed or even never considered – could be closer to the truth.

As a person who likes boundaries, rules and definite answers, it can be discomfiting to confront the reality that my search for definite answers seems often to yield only further questions.

What we believe matters, for the content of our beliefs shapes and determines how we live. The Christian way presents itself as being both the right way of being human and as being revealed truth. I’ve built my life on my understanding of that truth as it’s been revealed to me. Having my understandings challenged and corrected can feel like the very foundations of my life are being shaken.

For almost five years, I’ve been studying part-time at seminary. As I prepare to begin another academic year I am reminded that I must approach Scripture and my studies in a spirit of humility and open-mindedness, being careful to put my faith not in my interpretation, nor even in anyone else’s interpretation – but in God alone.

And I must prepare for more surprises.

*

“All great spirituality is about letting go. I say this as an absolute statement. … Spiritual wisdom reveals that less is more. Jesus taught this, and the holy ones live it.”

– Richard Rohr

*