What is Truth? by Jim Denney

Opinion by Jim Denney, author of Answers to Satisfy the Soul

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Truth sculpted by Olin Warner (completed by Herbert Adams) in bronze, the left door of the main entrance of the Library of Congress Building. Photo: Public domain.

Kathy Myatt has been a missionary nurse in Brazil, an instructor in pediatric nursing at Tennessee State University, and an instructor in psychopathology and psychopharmacology at Gordon Conwell Seminary. She recalls a patient she observed while working at a psychiatric hospital in Colorado.

The patient was admitted to the hospital while undergoing an extreme psychotic episode. A doctor interviewed and examined him, and the man claimed to be Jesus Christ. The doctor prescribed the powerful medication Haldol (haloperidol). After two days on the medication, the man no longer claimed to be Jesus, but insisted that he was the “fourth member of the Trinity” (apparently unaware of the numerical paradox his claim implied). After a few more days on Haldol, he revised his claim: “I’m one of the Beatles,” he said, but declined to state which one.

Finally, after a week of treatment, the man gave his right name and identity. With continued treatment, he returned to his family and was able to function in his normal life once more.

This man had suffered a serious psychotic episode due, in part, to an imbalance of a neurotransmitter (dopamine) in his brain. His psychosis caused him to lose contact with reality. With medical help, he regained his grasp of the truth about himself and the world around him.

After relating this story, Kathy Myatt asked a crucial question: Since the underlying assumption in our culture today is that “truth” is merely a matter of personal perception, personal preference, and subjective experience, why medicate the man? After all, we are increasingly told that there is no such thing as objective truth. So why not let him go on believing he is Jesus Christ? “What if he was right?” asks Myatt. “Who were we to say that he was indeed not Jesus Christ — or one of the Beatles?”

There’s a refrain I hear all the time, and perhaps you do, too: “You have your truth. I have my truth. There’s no such thing as objective truth.”

So is truth really important? More to the point: Is there even such a thing as truth?

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Motto at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville. Photo by Americasroof, used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

Some years ago, I was posting on two Internet bulletin boards, testing ideas for a book I was writing by debating those ideas with people online. Most of the people I interacted with were college-age.

More than half of the young people I exchanged views with said they did not believe in objective truth or absolute right and wrong. When I cited the Nazi Holocaust or recent school shootings as examples of absolute evil, many disagreed. They refused to label even these horrifying crimes as “evil” or “wrong.” A sampling of their responses:

“There’s no such thing as evil, only a perception of evil.”

“People don’t set out to do evil — even school shooters probably think they’re doing a good thing.”

“Good and evil, by their very nature, are subjective. What’s evil to one person isn’t necessarily evil to everyone else. There is no real evil — just a bunch of opinions.”

“Evil is subjective. Morality is relative. Next to my interests, the interests of my fellow man are irrelevant.”

I had a fascinating online discussion with the young man who posted that last statement. I wrote, “You say ‘Evil is subjective’ with such objective finality. How do you objectively know that evil is subjective?”

He replied that it didn’t matter if it was objectively true. Why? “Because,” he wrote, “as far as I’m concerned, I’m all there is. I cannot prove that god, or even you, exist. So I’m all that matters, and to heck with everyone else.”

I pointed out that this was an old idea called solipsism — the belief that one’s own self is the only reality. I added, “Something for you to think about — assuming, of course, that you exist.”

His reply: “I was disappointed when I learned a few months ago from my history teacher that I wasn’t the first with this perspective. He called solipsism the ‘quintessential teenage philosophy.’ But don’t worry about me existing, it’s you I’m worried about.”

It was a cordial exchange — but chilling nonetheless. Such discussions showed me how deeply entrenched the post-truth mindset has become. Again and again, I’ve seen the slogan parroted: “Everything is relative.” But everything is not relative. Truth is not a matter of opinion. Truth is what is real regardless of opinion, regardless of whether anyone believes it or not.

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These words of Jesus are inscribed in marble on a wall at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia: “And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). Photo: Public domain.

The fact that a generation has lost faith in the very existence of truth is one of the great silent tragedies of our culture. As Christians, we are called to proclaim the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world — but how can we persuade the people around us that Jesus is (as He claimed) “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6) if those people don’t believe in truth?

Hours before He went to the cross, Jesus prayed for His followers, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).

The idea that truth is objectively knowable is essential to the Christian faith. God told Israel through the prophet Isaiah, “I, the Lord, speak the truth; I declare what is right” (Isaiah 45:19). The apostle Paul writes that God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). Jesus told his followers, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).

And when Pontius Pilate decided to wash his hands of Jesus, he asked aloud, “What is truth?” Two thousand years later, people are still parroting, “What is truth?” — then washing their hands of Jesus.

Do our friends and neighbors and co-workers believe in the existence of objective truth? Do they believe it’s important to believe the truth? Do they see us living the truth? Do they hear us sharing the truth?

If we want to share Christ with the people around us, maybe this would be a good place to begin:

“Do you believe in the existence of truth?”

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Note: You may also enjoy my op-ed piece on Walt Disney’s impact on the American space program. You’ll find it at the FoxNews.com website: https://www.foxnews.com/opinion/walt-disney-deserves-credit-for-our-progress-on-the-moon-and-mars-not-just-mickey-mouse.

And don’t miss my interviews with Christian romance writer Robin Lee Hatcher (author of Who I Am With You and An Idaho Christmas: Past and Present), and Christian science fiction writer Kerry Nietz (author of Amish Vampires in Space and Fraught). Visit my website at Writing in Overdrive. See you there!
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Note: Battle Before Time, the first book in my newly revised and updated Timebenders series for young readers, has just been released in paperback. Click this link to learn more.

And if you’d like to learn more about how to write faster, more freely, and more brilliantly than you ever thought possible, read my book Writing In Overdrive, available in paperback and ebook editions at Amazon.com. —J.D.

 

Jim Denney also blogs at Writing in Overdrive and Walt’s Disneyland

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