honesty as the basis of truth
Remember back when people defended truth? And postmodernists were the enemy for questioning it?
Ah, the good ol’ days. With nostalgia, I remember the days when it felt radical to criticize “absolute truths.”
Only ten years ago, I was sparring with a large Evangelical organization that initiated a campaign for absolute truth, and I was an example of the postmodern nemesis (in their eyes). I sent them an email suggesting that maybe imposing ideas of absolute truth wasn’t the most helpful way to engage the younger generation. They responded by telling me I was wrong (no surprise there!). They went on to clarify that my position was not Christian. When I responded by saying that this was strange since I was a Christian and it was my position, they declared an end to the conversation. So, I guess, good conversation was not their point.
Looking back, it seems quaint – their interest in truth, that is. Their membership would soon fall head over heels in love with a leader famous for unleashing a “tsunami of untruths” (20,000 documented “false and misleading claims”). Was it ever about truth? It doesn’t seem like it.
When I rattled some cages by disputing absolute truth, I did it as a fan of everyday truth based in honesty. I don’t know about others who have learned some postmodern lessons, but for me I was impressed that postmodern humility was more honest than what had come before. Claims of absolutes didn’t impress me much, no matter how loudly they were shouted, when they were based on discounting experience and evidence – in other words on self-deception. And even the claims of science, the postmodern critics emphasize, are only facts when they are honestly measured and honestly reported.
Shouldn’t this whole pursuit of truth have begun with honesty all along?
I have no interest in abstract defense of “absolute truth” because it has no basis in honesty. I am interested in people bearing faithful witness to what they have experienced – telling the truth and being open to new truth. This is the common basis of the sciences, the humanities and good religion. Isn’t it?
When I see support of blatant dishonesty as if it could have some righteous end goal, and I see this support coming from the same voices that were shouting for “absolute truth,” I want to weep in frustration. Now, it seems as though there are many that we can’t even engage in conversation because they have walled themselves off in an alternate universe in which honest engagement has become impossible, and they have made truth more relative than it had ever been for the postmodernists.
Can we begin again by being honest with each other? What have we experienced firsthand? What has made us so scared of each other? What has made us so afraid of ourselves?
The root of honesty is our being able to face the painful reality of our own self-deception. If we have the courage to look with compassion at our own darkness (our weaknesses, mistakes, jealousies, lusts, frustrations, resentments, violent desires, fears, etc.), we can participate in honest conversation with anyone – all those who share some of our darkness and much of our light.
We cannot stand the sight of our dark side, so we repress it, push it under, thinking we have thereby disposed of it. But we have not. We have simply pushed it into a place where it both has us in its grip and automatically projects itself on the person or the nation we do not like; so the tension we will not stand in ourselves is carelessly and irresponsibly cast out to increase the tension and strife and anguish of our world.Charles B. Hanna, The Face of the Deep