‘Truth’ in a Post-Christian West
A great quote attributed to George Orwell, author of 1984, is, “During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”
In poring over the news of late, it’s amazing how much untruth there is, mixed with partial truth. Spin and euphemisms often replace truth.
I read recently that an abortion doctor was honored for his work. But not once was there a mention of the word “abortion” or even a hint of the grisly work he is involved in.
Just last month, noted Matt Rocheleau for the Boston Globe (1/8/15), “Up to 64 Dartmouth College students — including some athletes — could face suspension or other disciplinary action for cheating in an ethics class this past fall.” Cheating in ethics class? This speaks for itself.
Meanwhile, a Christian publisher pulled a book detailing the alleged foray into heaven of a boy who died and came back. The boy admits now he made it all up to get attention.
Even when people preface what they say with the phrase “Well, to tell you the truth,” do they mean to imply that they normally don’t tell you the truth? Note to self: Try to drop that phrase from my speech.
One of the most amazing exchanges in the history of the world was when Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea, was trying Jesus of Nazareth and the prisoner referred to “the truth.” Pilate then asked Him, “What is truth?” and he pivoted and walked away.
Just a few hours before, Jesus had said to His disciples during the Last Supper, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by Me.” Here was Truth incarnate standing before Pilate, and the blind governor had no clue.
As the famous line in the movie puts it, “You can’t handle the truth!” Or as the great American short story writer Flannery O’Connor once said, “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”
In our day of relativistic ethics, where there is supposedly no real right or wrong, how can we condemn lying—truly? Unless, I suppose you get caught.
But that wasn’t the way George Washington saw things. Before he retired, he imparted a masterful written speech in 1796, his Farewell Address.
In that Address, he famously noted: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”
He went on to say that we can’t expect morality to continue if we undermine religion. Keep in mind, this was at a time when the vast majority of Americans were professing Christians.
He also said, “Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice?”
In other words, how can we expect someone to obey a sworn oath to tell the truth if they have no “the sense of religious obligation,” undergirding that oath?
The founders understood that belief in a God who sees all things and who will one day hold us accountable made a huge difference. That’s why in our days truth is breaking down—even among some professing Christians. But let God be true and every man a liar.
This isn’t just an American problem. It is a problem in the post-Christian West.
George Weigel, an insightful Catholic writer, said in the LA Times in 2006: “If the West’s high culture keeps playing in the sandbox of postmodern irrationalism—in which there is ‘your truth’ and ‘my truth’ but nothing such as ‘the truth’—the West will be unable to defend itself. Why? Because the West won’t be able to give reasons why its commitments to civility, tolerance, human rights and the rule of law are worth defending.”
He added, “A Western world stripped of convictions about the truths that make Western civilization possible cannot make a useful contribution to a genuine dialogue of civilizations, for any such dialogue must be based on a shared understanding that human beings can, however imperfectly, come to know the truth of things.”
The battle for truth has major stakes.
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