Mon Sep 10th, 2007 at 06:59:45 AM EST
One of the more famous quotations of the Bible is found in John 18:38
Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all. (King James Version)
Millions of sermons have been based on this text because the easy message is that even an educated and cynical Roman governor could see that the Christ embodied truth. This has spawned a millions critiques pointing out the dangers of equating religious dogma with the truth.
The world-weary what-is-truth sigh is often seen as a rite of passage that a student must go through to become a well-educated citizen. I had a college roommate who spent several weeks and expended MUCH energy writing a philosophy paper that "proved" he did not exist. When I asked him if the paper he was showing me wasn't in fact proof of his existence, he looked at me as if I were a heathen who would never get into the club he so desperately wanted to join.
Interestingly, even though such behavior is probably insane, it seems to be encouraged. And some never grow out of the "seeking" stage. I know a brilliant woman with a degree in law and a successful business she created from scratch who has dabbled in a dozen belief sets from Tarot to Buddhism. She is an educated-by-nuns lapsed Catholic so apparently it is possible to reject perhaps the most complete belief set ever without rejecting the idea that truth comes as beautifully written sentiments packaged in moments of supreme insight.
Unfortunately, the "truths" as spread around by gurus, priests, and schools of academic thought are often not very true. It is a very unreliable way to spread the sort of ideas folks need to become good solid citizens. Fortunately, there is another path to truth that is much more reliable because it is self-correcting.
The Plan B method of finding the truth works something like this. There are millions of little truths that are beyond any rational debate. Examples would include the chemical composition of the atmosphere or the elevation of one's house above sea level. And while the vast majority of such little truths have been discovered in the past 200 years as the result of more accurate scientific measurements, they were even available to Pilate. Jesus could easily have answered his cynical question by saying, "if you want a harvest in the fall, you must plant in the spring--and that is the truth."
But, scream the cynics, those little truths are nothing but factoids. When we philosophically search for truth we are looking for answers to the big questions such as: why is there evil in the world? why must we die? do our lives have meaning?
The response to the cynics is actually both simple and very logical. All large things are assembled from smaller components--why would big truths be any different? The more small truths one can gather in one place, the bigger the truth one can build. Even better, a large truth assembled from smaller truths is far more likely to withstand close scrutiny. Conversely, a pronouncement of a guru will fall apart if a foundation assumption is flawed.
Assembling big truths from little truths is a LOT more work than sitting at the feet of a guru. Fortunately, there are power tools such as computers, search engines, and the Internet itself that now help lighten the load. As a result, the pile of small truths available to anyone now approaches infinite. So the question then becomes, how does one best use these powerful tools?
One of the happy discoveries of the Internet is that if people of good will are genuinely searching for an answer, the number of exchanges is usually about five with a range of between 3 and 15. At the end of the exchanges, folks seem happy that the real answer has been uncovered--in fact, the last exchanges are usually polite expressions of gratitude so that the same folks will assemble to answer another question in the future.
The elements to the creation of large truths seem to be:
- A genuine desire to find a new answer.
- The willingness to admit someone else has discovered better information.
- A willingness to show one's research--links are essential.
Of course, there is plenty of pure bullshit on the Internet so this process of assembling truth is FAR from automatic. In the end, the most important element in finding truth is the passion one has for it. This in fact may be cultural. In mine, Christianity says, "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
(John 8:32) The first line of Luther's 95 thesis was, "Out of LOVE for the truth and the desire to bring it to light."
One does not need to be a Protestant Christian to be a lover of truth, but it helps to have it woven into the culture. Not surprisingly, a culture that believes even little truths are important because they can lead to bigger truths, tends to discover a LOT of the little ones.
In a world where lying has become a paid profession and "spin" a synonym for unadulterated BS, it is encouraging to know that the lovers of truth have made it possible to find an infinity of the sort of truth that can light up your face for weeks with the purest "a-HA" look. And no matter the amount of darkness the liars would spread, light ALWAYS wins.