Truth Is Stranger Than It Used To Be
By: Michael McKinney
From: FoundationsMagazine.com | Return to Web Version of this Article
The contemptuous Humpty Dumpty, sitting up on his wall, said to Alice, "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean—nothing more, nothing less."
Somewhat perplexed by this, Alice said, "The question is whether you can make words mean different things."
"The question is," barked Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master—that's all."
It’s a sad reality that Humpty Dumpty’s attitude is all too prevalent today. Truth has become whatever we wish it to be—that's all. It is whatever we decide it to be. We are the yardstick We are the master. The old, traditional concepts look the same and they are discussed in the same way, but they do not have the same meanings.
Surely there’s a consensus on truths such as “2+2=4” and “the earth revolves around the sun,” but there’s a whole body of truth that is just as knowable and provides greater comfort and meaning to the human soul. Truths regarding the big fundamental questions – Who are we? Why are we here? What should we be doing? How are we to interact? – that once seemed within our grasp, seem intangible to us now.
Today, truth has come under the Big Top. It is a circus full of sideshows. We have for our approval, an endless cacophony of ideas to consider. The fringes are attacking the core. Nonsense is taking center stage. All opinions and feelings are valid and up for grabs. Society doesn't consider any truth to be absolute. There are not one but many beliefs, many realities, many truths. Indeed, in our time, truth is stranger than it used to be.
How has this come about?
It would be difficult here to give a complete overview, even in a very general way, of the history of Man’s relationship with Truth. We cannot cover all the complexities and nuances of a good epistemological study. However, we can agree that Man has always had the quest to know. He has always sought the answers to the big questions. He has searched for truth, order and the meaning of life. And when the answers he has found have left him wanting, it has sent him in all kinds of creative directions. Let’s review a few of some of the twists and turns man has taken to get where he is today.
Just over a thousand years ago, when the survivors and descendents of the barbarian invasions and the catastrophic fall of the Roman Empire stood on the threshold of the new millennium in 1000 A.D., they feared for the end of the world. When the year came and went, and new days dawned with mouths to feed, they began to rebuild the world we now find ourselves a part of today. They started by creating what was perhaps the most “religious” oriented period of time in our history—the Middle Ages. They wanted to contemplate God, study God, understand and advance His Will as they understood it.
The quest for truth became a function of the dominant religion of the day, the Catholic Church and its teachings. Self determined intellectual inquiry was replaced with prayer and the church's reading of the Scripture. The church overshadowed all. In the mind of the average man, there was one God, one church and one Truth.
In reaction to the domination and excesses of the church and the medieval system, over time a rising attitude of secularism brought a new emphasis on the individual's direct and private relationship with God. As a result, the church began to be called into question on almost everything. There was a resurgence of Classical thought. During this period of time, called the Renaissance, the truth began its transference in allegiance from religion to science. Whereas truth was determined in reference to something else—God, universal intelligence, natural law, reason, or nature—man became, to borrow a phrase from the Greek Sophist Protagoras, "the measure of all things."
Consequently, man began to see things in a new way. Francis Bacon certainly stands out as one who got the intellectual wheels of man turning in a new direction. While not a scientist himself, Bacon is credited as being the father of the scientific method and saw in science something far more profound than his predecessors. He saw it as "a way to improve the human condition." The determination of Truth, once the providence of God and the church and maybe also the "divinely ordained" king, was now in the grasp of all men—reason with a common touch. This seemingly subtle reorientation created a profound change in our thinking. Our thinking was transformed into a world as seen through the eyes of science. Truth was now to be defined by pulling it down from the heavens and into the inductive, quantitative realm of science. This empirical approach is at the core of our thinking today.
Armed with the new tools of science, man was prepared to literally revolutionize his world. What followed were a series of revolutions, explorations and the conquest of the planet.
These new ideas were applied and adapted to all areas of our life. Modern society, beginning with the Scientific Revolution and on into the Age of Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, has been built on a foundation of science, the technology that resulted from it, and the "invisible hand" of Capitalism to finance its inexorable advance.
As tools of and by themselves, they have proved effective in advancing the physical realm, but as a foundation for all truth, they are deficient.
Society has been plunged into an individualistic abyss of meaninglessness because each of us—now with our own individual ideas of Truth—have become disconnected from each other. Universal Truth is no longer available to bind us collectively. We have drifted into the meaninglessness we once sought refuge from.
Friedrich Nietzsche, the last of the three great German philosophers of the nineteenth century—the other two being Hegel and Marx—came along and made the definitive statement that set the stage for what was to follow. Contemptuous of those who tried to secularize morality by divorcing it from Christianity, Nietzsche pronounced God dead. This meant the death of truth—above all, the truth of any authority beyond the self. By the beginning of the twentieth-century, his nihilistic thinking began to weave its way into the fabric of society. Perhaps offensive at first, his thinking, like the proverbial frog on the stove, has crept up on us. What was once thought of as incomprehensible and absurd has now become widely accepted.
These ideas were given further impetus by Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution. Our origins aside, the idea of natural selection places man on a linear basis of development—whatever comes later must be an improvement on what existed before. This progressive approach diminishes past authority and advances the notion that any change that is responsive to current thoughts and trends must be good. Therefore the ground is always shifting. Justification, now in our hands, is given substance by personal gratification. Man, separated from his foundations and lost, has been blindly searching for truth ever since.
The modern world has searched for that source of truth scientifically. Modernism possesses a confident worldview. Believing that nothing exists beyond what our senses can perceive, modernism confidently determines truth as we experience it. Modernism with its unconditional belief in objective reality sees truth as a result of inductive statements that can be either proved or disproved. It is an idea founded on a false assumption—the autonomous man. This idea that we alone can determine reality and truth has made truth self-legitimizing. Although it sounds inspiring and appeals to our basic human nature, it is not a genuine formula for satisfaction and contentment.
The applied science of technology was supposed to be the twentieth-century messiah, but for many, it appears to have exhausted its potential because it has not, as Francis Bacon wished, "improved the human condition." The problem is, we put absolute faith in something that by definition isn't absolute, so as a result we are quite naturally disillusioned, anxious and untrusting. But, instead of going back to the basics and rethinking our premises, we now say no one is right and everyone is right. This is relativism of the most brazen sort. With a loss of confidence, we see the world as a byproduct of many realities and many truths. Everything is possible and nothing is certain. Truth is a story. It isn’t the end, it’s the means. This reactive mood to the overconfident stance of modernism is the essence of post-modernism.
Management guru Peter Drucker states that we are living amid the most profound societal change in human history. Sadly, we are facing this unprecedented cultural change with no guideposts to sort it out. We can't stop or slow down change, but we can find anchors to help us cope with it. Truth is such an anchor. But we prefer opinions. We prefer stances that allow for relative values giving us wiggle room. Personal preference means we don't have to think. We don't have to be unpopular. We can be lazy and avoid dealing with anything. We can rest on sentiment. Echoing Linus as he defended his belief in the Great Pumpkin in the comic strip Peanuts, "It doesn't matter what you believe, so long as you are sincere." This is the meaningless guideline of the neutral approach to truth we see today.
A post-modern society taken to its inevitable conclusion means there is no such thing as common sense because there are no commonly held thoughts, feelings or opinions to which we can possibly appeal. This is a condition fraught with confusion and prone to strife.
With no foundation for truth, the highest value that can be placed on any truth is its capacity to please and its practical utility—how it makes us feel. Feelings and opinions must then be elevated over truth. And this we have done.
Beginning in the 1970's, it became evident that we had lost the language of truth. Yet, human beings seek stability. Consequently, this post-modern society has retreated to the only thing we really can know—our own feelings. A self-defeating position at best. Enamored by our own feelings, we want contradictory things. We are lost but we don't want anyone to show us the way. We want justice but we don't want judgments. We want results but we don't want discipline. We want love but we are turned inward. We want tolerance but we don’t like differences. We want unity but we want to be left alone. We want solutions but nothing is absolute. We don’t even know how to know what we know.
In Culture Shift, author David Henderson wrote, “Feelings dominate our world. They have hijacked our language. We say, ‘I feel’ instead of ‘I think’ or ‘I believe.’ When we have a decision to make, a belief to defend, or an action to justify, it is to our feelings we go for confirmation. If it feels good do it. Few people have the self-mastery to make their feelings secondary and conduct their lives according to convictions. In a world in which self-expression and self-gratification reign, concepts like self-denial and self-control seem like antiques.” And Henderson then quite poignantly adds, “Why should I mistrust my feelings when I’ve worked so hard to get in touch with them?”
Today, awash in the gush of emotions we are sinking in the language of the self.
Robert Hughes thinks we need to grow up. In his book, Culture of Complaint, he wrote, "the pursuit of the Inner Child has taken over just at the moment when Americans ought to be figuring out where their Inner Adult is, and how that disregarded oldster got buried under the rubble of pop psychology and specious short-term gratification. ...[W]e create an infantilized culture of complaint, in which Big Daddy is always to blame and the expansion of rights goes on without the other half of citizenship-attachment to duties and obligations. To be infantile is a regressive way to defy the stress of corporate culture: Don't tread on me, I'm vulnerable. The emphasis is on the subjective: how we feel about things, rather than what we can think or know." Again, feelings over truth.
This philosophy of life permeates our entertainment as well. Bob Pittman, the founding chairman of the ever popular MTV Network, said, "What we've introduced with MTV is non narrative form ... We rely on mood and emotion. We make you feel a certain way as opposed to you walking away with any particular knowledge." Is it any wonder that pop-star Sinead O'Conner, after losing a rather nasty custody battle for the three-year-old daughter she had deliberately conceived with a self-described stranger, was able to sincerely conclude, "I wouldn't do it again. Not because it's immoral, but because it was stressful." And we as a society certainly understand.
We're even afraid to express the truth any more. Historian Gertrude Himmelfarb, in her book The De-moralization of Society, quotes British literary critic Richard Hogart making an observation about his hometown: "In Hunslet, a working-class district of Leeds, within which I was brought up, old people will still enunciate, as guides to living, the moral rules they learned at Sunday School and Chapel. Then they almost always add, these days, 'But it's only my opinion, of course.' A late-twentieth- century insurance clause, a recognition that times have changed towards the always shiftingly relativist." She then comments, "'But it's only my opinion, of course.' That is hardly a stirring faith by which to order one's private life." We are not only afraid to speak the truth but we often find it offensive when we hear it. Those who speak the truth are called, harsh, rude, and uncaring.
What is so alarming about all of this is not that these ideas and approaches are new to the history of mankind—they're not—it is that they permeate our society. These aren't the thoughts of a few in the ivory towers of higher learning, these ideas have infiltrated the thinking of every man, woman and child on the planet. They have become our culture.
It’s a mistake, however, to dismiss this as something that just happened to us. We made a choice to give in to our most basic nature. And we will have to make a conscious even heroic choice to straighten the situation out. But it is not a popular choice to make. Why don’t we embrace the truth? Or to put it another way, why aren’t we comfortable with one true answer to our most fundamental questions?
Truth causes us to address issues that we would find easier, certainly more convenient, not to face. Truth encompasses discipline, accountability, character, faith, and principles. Understandably these are tough issues. Truth doesn't allow us to sweep them under the rug.
Truth causes us to address issues that we would find easier, certainly more convenient, not to face. Truth encompasses discipline, accountability, character, faith, and principles. Understandably these are tough issues and truth doesn’t allow us to sweep them under the carpet.
Truth also gives us clarity. It exposes nonsense. It clarifies without us having to wade through all of the sentimentality to get to the heart of the matter. As an anchor point, it gives us direction in spite of what is going on around us.
These qualities of truth give it a predictable edge. Truth cuts, draws blood and people more often than not, become exposed and hurt. At the same time though, truth binds us in a way that opinions and feelings never will.
Humpty Dumpty would have us believe that no truth exists outside of what we can create from our perceptions. Alice was certainly right to question Humpty Dumpty, for ultimately truth does in fact come from a single source—God.
To begin our journey to the Truth, we must go to Life’s Instruction Book, the Bible. In the Gospel of John, Jesus states that the Bible, God’s Word, is truth. One doesn’t have to look far to see the “truth” of God, the laws of our Creator in action. Even an agnostic like Albert Einstein saw that God revealed Himself in the “knowable world”—“in the harmony of all that exists.” Sadly, unable to see beyond his “cosmic God,” he failed to see that God, far from being disinterested in His creation, is very interested and has supplied His supreme creation with a manual to guide them into a way of life that will bring them true happiness and into a relationship with Him.
For most people the Bible and God are not an aid to clarity but a nuisance to be circumvented. Nobody likes being told what to do. Columnist Linda Bowles wrote in WorldNetDaily, “We have arrived at a time when God is viewed as a moral nag, that is to say, the Ultimate Parent, against whom childish man is in rebellion. In other words, religion stands between many Americans and what they want to do and be. As a nation, we are running from eternal truths in desperate fear that they may overtake us.”
Of course, there is nothing wrong with feelings. Life without them would be bland. We all have them, but we are to learn to control them, adjust them, and change them. A wise person knows that their behavior should determine their feelings. By contrast, the unwise allow their feelings to determine their behavior. We can't afford to gauge our actions on how we feel.
We often get the cart before the horse. We say, I know I should be this way, I know I should think this way, I know I should feel this way, BUT, "I don't want to," "I don't feel like it," "They make me want to do something else," "I don't feel it's fair," "It's too hard." And on and on it goes. The word "but" is a modifier. It modifies what comes before it. Our feelings and opinions should come before the word "but" followed by the truth. In other words, the truth should be modifying our feelings. Mankind today, likes to state the truth first, and follow it with modifying feelings and opinions. In conversation and thought we can easily modify the truth with the preposition "but." In doing so we elevate feelings and opinions over truth, duty, and responsibility.
Truth is transcendent. It always has been and always will be. Truth is not relative. It exists outside of us. It doesn't change given new circumstances or a better story. Our feelings don't change the truth.
It's easy to distance ourselves from the truth and put ourselves in the drivers seat. The smorgasbord of choices is tantalizing. But it is also exhausting and disconnecting. With more choices and options we have less meaning. Like rafts adrift on the open sea, armed only with the language of the self, we have no way of connecting with each other. We are alone. We can't make lasting connections with momentary feelings and emotions. We must connect on the common ground of universal truth. It is the starting point from which we can order our lives and connect with the normative choices that are a part of our reality. We should know. And we can know. Without truth at our center, our civilization certainly will decline.
Return to Web Version of this Article | Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.
| ©1996-2012 Foundations Magazine All Rights Reserved.|
The information and materials appearing on the www.FoundationsMag.com website pages are presented for your personal, non-commercial use only. They may not be reproduced, duplicated or distributed without written permission from Foundations Magazine/M2 Communications. Copying these materials for anything other than your personal use is a violation of United States copyright laws. Derivative works and other unauthorized copying or use of stills, video footage, text or graphics is expressly prohibited.