More About Truth
G.K. Chesterton, in his book “Heretics” says we are like people standing under a street lamp who begin to demand, each for his own reason, that the lamp be torn down. A monk in the crowd suggests that before destruction commences, there should first be a discussion about the value and purpose of light. But no discussion ensues. The people simply rip the lamp from the pavement. Upon doing so, they congratulate themselves smugly. Then they realize they cannot see. They are in utter darkness. They do not know how to get home, and cannot find those with whom they came. They begin wildly clawing in the dark, which turns to panic, and comes to blows – people striking out in the dark, not knowing who they are striking. Eventually everyone is tired from fighting and it dawns on them one at a time that a bit of light might be useful for various reasons (values and purposes). Only now the lamp is torn down, and what they might have discussed before under the light, they must now discuss in the dark.
It is not just intellectuals who are interested in truth. Normal, everyday, non-intellectual people live their lives in the pursuit of truth. About a thousand times a year, such people come to me and ask the question, “What should I do?” People who want to know what they should do are people who are seeking truth. The “right” course of action is the one that aligns with the reality of the situation. If my daughter has a horrible toothache, and I choose to take her to buy peanut brittle instead of to the dentist, I have made a wrong choice – one that contradicts the reality of the situation. In light of my daughter’s toothache, what is the right thing to do – what is the thing that corresponds with reality as it actually IS? Going to the dentist. Truth is the thing that aligns with reality.
Truth matters to you in the way you live your life moment by moment. There are realities in your marriage, realities at your job, realities in your personal and emotional life. Those realities must be understood so that you can make accurate choices based on them.
If you do make accurate choices, then your choices correspond to truth and reality. If you make wrong choices, then your choices correspond to falsehood and fantasy. This is really as simple as it could be (even though specific TRUTHS might be hard to grasp). The idea of truth is not made complicated by people like me who write and talk about it. Truth as a concept, as a reality, is made impossible to understand by people like Beth and Lee who talk about truth in ways such that if they are correct, truth is not even truth at all!
George Bernard Shaw said that the only golden rule is that there is no golden rule. Now Shaw is either right or wrong about that. If he is wrong, then there in fact IS a golden rule. But if he is right, there is STILL a golden rule, because then the statement “The only golden rule is that there is no golden rule” is itself is a golden rule. Thus his statement is self-contradictory and meaningless. Or, using yesterday’s term, “vacuous.” And, if we go the last step with it, completely foolish.
This is not mere philosophical banter. For as I have already said, normal, everyday, non-intellectual people are seeking to make decisions every day based on truth. But we increasingly lack an understanding of what truth actually is. If we think, like Beth and Lee, that we can create truth simply by adopting it for ourselves as truth, we’re in for a world of hurt and disappointment as we discover that we simply cannot make something true simply by believing it.
Songwriter Randy Stonehill perfectly captures this conundrum with his lyric, “We are all like foolish puppets who, desiring to be King, now lie pitifully crippled after cutting our own strings.” Before those strings were cut, perhaps a good conversation about their role, meaning, value, and purpose would have been beneficial.
When we do not know how to think about truth, we are like those who tore down the street lamp and were therefore unable to see our way home afterward, or like the foolish puppets who cut the puppet strings hoping to tower over all, but were then unable even to stand. Before we decide to tear down the lamp, to cut our strings, to define truth according to our own desires, perhaps it would be wise to think clearly about what truth actually IS.
If you are seeing how vacuous Beth and Lee’s understanding of truth is, and would like some clear-headed teaching on it, you might check out http://veritas.org/media/talks/608.