Have you heard any of these comments in the last few years? "Well, it may be true for you, but it's not for me." Or "Look, all truth is personal. You've got yours and I've got mine." Or "Aren't you being a little arrogant by claiming you have the truth? Come on, get real." Or "You need to determine what is right for you and I need to determine what is right for me. You need to be tolerant. Don't impose your values on me."
One of our well-known politicians once said that parents should not have a choice in choosing between public and private schools because public schools are the best. He went to a private school and his children also went to a private school.
So. What is the truth? How do you define it? Where does it come from? Do you listen to the radio or watch TV? Do you believe everything you hear or see? How do you know what to believe?
We are not the first generation of people to be concerned about truth. For example, Thomas Aquinas said "truth is defined by the conformity of intellect and thing; and hence to know this conformity is to know truth."
Mortimer J. Adler, an American educator and philosopher, along with Robert Hutchins, chancellor of the University of Chicago, originated the Great Books program and later the 54 book Great Books of the Western World, which included writings of 74 authors.
Adler gave this somewhat lengthy description of truth: "Just as the truth of speech consists in the agreement or correspondence between what one says to another and what one thinks or says to oneself, so the truth of thought consists in the agreement or correspondence between what one thinks, believes, or opines and what actually exists or does not exist in the reality that is independent of our minds and of our thinking one thing or another."
Today, we are finding another school of thought called relativism, which says, "There is no objective standard by which truth may be determined, so that truth varies with individuals and circumstances." The type of quotations given in the beginning of this article stem from this philosophy.
It is likely that most of us do not sit down and spend time considering the topic of "what is truth?" It seems logical to suggest that many of life's experiences, problems, goals, etc., depend on the answer to this question.
How do we know what is true? For example, is gravity true? Or do you want to jump off the first cliff you see to find out? I think I know your answer to that. We can rely on what testing over many years has proven to us, even though we would be hard-pressed to actually prove gravity. (How about gravity in a space vehicle?)
If you say, "Clinton is president," it would not be true today, but it was true at one time. So, time becomes a factor in truth. People for hundreds of years believed the world was flat. Time and discovery changed that view. Can we believe that 2 + 2 = 4? Yes we can. Can we believe politics? You have to answer that question for yourself.
I am reminded of the grade-school child who asked his teacher if all fairy tales start with "Once upon a time." Her answer was, "No. Sometimes they start with 'If I'm elected.' "
A short look at the history of truth can give us something to consider. For centuries, man looked to God for the truth and, for them, it was the same in the past as in the present and will be in the future. That feeling was reflected in our Constitution, when it said, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator, with certain unalienable rights," etc.
Then, beginning with the Renaissance in the 1300s with great strides in literature, learning, art and architecture, the doctrine of humanism appeared, which stressed human dignity and regarding man as the center of all things.
Then came Enlightment in the 1600s, when man became more important and the need for God was less. The Industrial Revolution of the 1700 to 1800s included many inventions, innovations and research, and experimentation founded upon verifying the research.
Each of these times found a growing belief that man could make his own decisions as to what was right or wrong. He needed to look only to himself to know. Then came the l800s, as a part of the period known as "Modernism," when we saw the theory of evolution and such movements as "God Is Dead."
And now, what many call the period of "Postmodernism," which began between 1960 and 1990, according to Stanley Grenz in his book, "A Primer to Postmodernism," is ours.
Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler in their book, "The New Tolerance" and a number of other writers summarize some of the characteristics of the Postmodern period (the one we are in) with "'Truth does not exist in any objective sense"; "truth -- whether in science, education, or religion -- is created by a specific culture or community and is 'true' only in and for that culture"; "all thinking is a 'social construct' "; and "since human beings must use language in order to think or communicate, and words are arbitrary labels for things and ideas, there is no way 'to evaluate or criticize the ideas, facts, or truths a language conveys."
So, how do we know the truth? Where do we find it? What can we believe?
Many of the decisions we have to make should rely upon the truth.
I write this article simply because I realize that many or even most people do not have the time or the desire to spend time in reading. Since I believe that truth is important, perhaps this article will give you cause to consider an answer to the question, "What is truth and how do I find it?"
Arris Johnson, Hays, is a member of the Generations Advisory Group.