What is truth? That was the question Pilate asked of Jesus at his trial.
How do you define truth? Where do you find truth? How important is it to know the truth? Do you believe everything you hear or what you read?
If you post four people on the four corners of a highway intersection and they observe an accident, do you get the same story from all of them? I have had students who fully believe whatever they find in a book, since they believe if it is written in a book, it has to be true.
I have asked such a student, "If you have two books written about the Civil War, one of them written by a Northerner and the other by a Southerner, do you think they will both say the same things?"
So, again, what is truth? And where do you find it? And how do you know it if you think you have found it?
Yes, I know these questions are serious and have serious implications. So, I plan to present a few considerations to think about. It seems to me with an election year at hand and another 10 months before we will vote, the truth becomes important.
Webster has a number of definitions for truth. I will give you some of them that are appropriate: "The quality or state of being true," "the quality of being in accordance with experience, facts or reality," "that which accords with fact or reality," "an established or verified fact, principle, etc.," and "reality."
There are some characteristics of truth we need to understand. Truth is discovered, not made. For example, men considered the earth to be flat for centuries until it was discovered to be round. For centuries, men believed earth was the center of creation, then it was discovered the sun did not revolve around the earth but the opposite was true.
Mankind did not invent mathematics; they discovered it. For example, we discovered two plus two equals four, we did not invent it. We did not invent gravity; we discovered it.
Real truth is absolute. It is not made by a majority vote. We might be led to believe something coming from a majority and then discover later the real truth is different from what we were led to believe.
Dr. Mortimer Adier, a well-known writer and student said: "The truth or falsity of a statement derives from its relation to the ascertainable facts, not from its relation to the judgments human beings make. I may affirm as true a statement that is in fact false. You may deny as false a statement that is, in fact, true. My affirmation and your denial in no way alter or affect the truth or falsity of the statements you and I have wrongly judged. We do not make statements true or false by affirming or denying them. They have truth or falsity regardless of what we think, what opinions we hold, what judgments we make."
There are a couple more considerations to keep in mind when judging the truth. Truth is affected by time, as we saw in the examples above concerning the revolution of the earth. It also is affected in what we say, for example: "Ronald Reagan is president of the United States." That was true, but not now.
Truth also is affected by space. Suppose we are standing on opposite sides of the table when I say, "Your pencil is on the left side of the pad," when for you it is on the right side. Both of us can be right.
Now, we need to consider a problem that has settled upon us in the last few years. It is widely known as "postmodernism." Postmodernists say sentences are not true because they relate to reality but truth relates to what the culture determines. It is characterized by such statements as "It might be true for you but not for me," or "Look, all truth is personal. You've got yours, I've got mine," or "Aren't you being a little arrogant by claiming you have the truth? Come on, get real."
We have come a long way in our history pertaining to the way we look at truth. For years and years, people accepted truth was revealed to us through the Bible and by God. Then we entered into a time when truth was felt to be found by reason, by scientific discovery and research. That period came to be known as the "modernistic" period. The philosophy concerning truth today in the "postmodern" time is characterized as a product of a person's culture.
I realize this topic is a heavy one but it is important. I hope this article has given you something to think about. I believe before the coming vote in November we need to be aware of what truth really is.
We are going to hear a lot of things and each of us needs to be alert.
James A. Garfield, former president of the United States, quoted in a book by Burke Hinsdale, said, "Now, more than ever before, the people are responsible for the character of the Congress. If that body politic be ignorant, reckless and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness and corruption. If it be intelligent, brave and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them in the national legislature."
"If the next centennial does not find us a great nation, it will be because those who represent the enterprise, the culture and the morality of the nation do not aid in controlling the political forces." This quotation is from a great book entitled "Original Intent" by David Barton.
Arris Johnson is a member of the Generations advisory committee.