(c) Doug Slagle, Minister to the Gathering at Northern Hills, All Rights Reserved
President George W. Bush, you may recall, publicly claimed on several occasions his absolute certainty in the existence of God. He had, he said, experienced her work firsthand. In his thirties, Bush was a wayward man with little direction. Although he was married and had two daughters, he still acted as if he was a college frat boy. Despite being born to privilege with the opportunity to learn from persons of prestige and accomplishment, Bush was washed up at a young age.
When he turned forty, however, his wife persuaded him to join a men’s Bible study. The group thrived on bringing others to God. For whatever reason, the group appealed to Bush. He quickly became a regular and was taken with the group’s lessons on forgiveness and change. Later, after his father arranged for him to meet Billy Graham, Bush had an emotional born again experience. As Christian evangelicals say, he recognized his sinfulness, admitted he was powerless to change himself, and accepted Christ as his savior.
From that point onward, Bush was a different man. He gave up alcohol, dedicated himself to work, became a successful Texas oilman, and was soon a rising politician. By age fifty, he was elected Governor of Texas twice and on his way to be President. As he claims, all of that was due to God. God, for Bush, is demonstrably true because she dramatically showed herself in his life.
I related last week that I had a slightly similar experience. I had turned to Christianity and God for many of the same reasons as Bush – to change me. I’d had same sex attractions for much of my life and I hated the supposed sinfulness of it. I wanted to be what is mistakenly considered normal. God was the solution I turned to in my fear of eternal judgement.
I thought, at first, that God had changed me. But over time, it was clear she had not. Being gay is not a disease. It need not be a destructive part of one’s life. It is not a sin or flaw in any reasonable understanding. It can be – and is – uplifting and empowering. Love is love is love.
This realization that God did not and could not change me was its own epiphany for me. It made me question the truth of God and led me to rigorously examine faith in general – an inquiry that was unafraid to consider religious inconsistencies, misdeeds and hypocrisies. Through intensive study I arrived at what I perceived to be a concept of God as capital ‘T’ Truth. The God concept of an all powerful Being who either condemns or forgives – I determined is NOT true.
I relate these stories because they help set up the topic of my message today. Last week, I examined the theme of “What is God?” from the perspective that she is a part of everything and thus a unifier. Today, I propose the idea that God is Truth. As I said last Sunday, I use the word God very loosely and place it within quotation marks to indicate a non-traditional definition. I also use the feminine pronoun to indicate my distaste for implying God has male attributes – ones I believe can be paternalistic and domineering.
Getting back to my opening stories, they are evidence of opposing ways to determine what is true. One approach is to find Truth through emotion and fear. The other is to study, observe and inquire. A classic definition of ‘truth’ states that it is anything in accordance with fact and reality. It is the opposite of anything false. But as we see, George Bush is convinced he found Truth because of an emotional response to life change. I believe I found Truth because my life did not change – and that, THAT most importantly in my mind, prompted me to study and use my reasoning abilities to determine the difference between opinion and fact.
I believe the ideal of capital ’T” Truth embodies God-like qualities because it is founded on objective fact and proven empirical inquiry. Truth is the good force that can and should guide our lives – since we logically reject what is false. It’s a common cliche, but appropriate to say, that if the devil is real, he would be the father of lies. Conversely, we can also say the opposite: if God is real, she would be the mother of Truth.
Modern philosophers have boiled down three primary ideas on how Truth can be defined and thereby discovered. A coherence theory says that truth is found through interconnected true beliefs. Something is true if it coheres with other beliefs one may have. An example used by one philosopher says that the proposition John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln is true if we believe historians report facts they learned from previous historians; if we believe newspapers in 1865 reported accurate information; and, if we believe modern encyclopedias are trustworthy. In other words, the original proposition is true because it coheres with the other beliefs we hold – all of which report Booth shot Lincoln.
A correspondence theory of truth says that something is true only if it corresponds to reality and what actually is. Something is true if it is consistent with what is verifiably seen, heard and touched.
Plato and Aristotle initiated this approach by calling Truth “aletheia” which literally means to un-hide. The ancient Hebrew word for Truth was “emeth” which literally translates into firmness or constancy. Both words implied that Truth is a reality that is unchanging and open for anyone to perceive. Indeed, reality is defined as something that exists objectively and independently from opinion. I cannot assert that this podium does not exist and have you accept that as truth. It’s here. You see it. You can touch and feel it. No matter that I might opine it isn’t real, its existence corresponds with objective reality.
The third primary theory of truth is called a practical or empirical one. This says that truth is only found through inquiry, examination, experiment, or discovery. This theory began in the last two centuries with the rise of both journalism and advanced science. Rigorous standards for these forms of inquiry require multiple sources of validation to be true – through eyewitnesses, documentary evidence, or positive results in scientific experimentation.
I might say, for example, that President Obama broke the law by illegally wire tapping his opponents. But such a statement is not true unless it is verifiably proven by multiple eyewitness accounts or by several forms of media evidence – like written, video or audio recordings.
I might also say that there is water on the planet Mars. That statement has always been implicitly true, but we didn’t know it to be so until satellites orbiting the planet recently detected frozen water at its northern and southern poles. In each of these cases, empirical evidence is required to prove truth.
What is troubling for these three widely accepted standards for determining truth is the rise of what is called a post-modern theory of truth. That says something is true if a large community of people believe it to be true – even if other methods for determining truth say it is false. This approach allows opinions and emotions to determine truth. As we all know, this theory has emerged only within the last ten years and was particularly highlighted during the last election and in the current Presidential administration.
For instance, this year’s inauguration crowd was claimed to be the largest in history because many people believe that to be true – no matter that photographs of the crowd, when compared to photographs of other inaugural crowds, indicate otherwise.
On a more serious level, human caused climate change is believed to be false. This is believed by millions even though the overwhelming evidence from science indicate human carbon dioxide emissions cause global warming and climate change.
Or, take the issue of immigration. Millions of people believe as true that immigrants harm our economy because they take the jobs of citizens, they use social services like schools and healthcare without paying for them, and they commit large numbers of serious crimes. These assertions have nevertheless been proven false. Most undocumented immigrants take jobs nobody wants, they pay taxes at the same rate as others and they commit far fewer crimes than native born. Even more, immigrant buying power and strong work ethic actually produce a substantial benefit to the economy.
The concept of alternative facts is not just an amusing statement. It’s a real assertion by many people who say truth depends on what a large portion of the community believe.
As I said last week, fear is the primary motivation for most religious beliefs. I add today my assertion that fear is also a primary motivator for denying truth. No matter the reality of a situation, if enough people feel honest fear about immigrants, African-Americans, Muslims, women or any other people or issue, their understanding of what is true will be strongly affected.
But this new approach to truth directly affects human well-being. I believe it is a danger not only to the stability of our government and culture, it is an existential threat to our very survival. This is why I submit that the ultimate power in the universe ought to be defined as capital ’T’ Truth and we ought to honor it as something God-like.
No religion, no supernatural God, no physical law, no science, no math, no humanist belief – all the things people say are God-like, these cannot be and, are not, real unless they are firmly grounded in what is factual and true. In other words, the foundation for how we understand ourselves and the universe is meaningless unless it is true. We each must be able to symbolically stand on solid ground – that being capital ’T’ Truth.
Factual relativism, on the other hand, – what is true for you may not be true for me – this is an untenable way of thinking. It will lead to human destruction. If is it widely adopted and not fought, humanity will have evolved to a point where it has ironically regressed to be lower than other animals. They at least have concepts of Truth hard wired into them through instinct. Humans will have rejected the great ability we’ve evolved to possess – to use reason, logic, science based inquiry and empirical deduction to discover Truth. We will have transformed into creatures who reject the power of our brains to instead be governed by the primitive, fear causing organ at the base of our brains called the amygdala.
Just as I proposed last Sunday that fear is the opposite of love, I claim today that it is the opponent of Truth. Fear leads to irrational thinking and actions. It overrules the brain and stimulates knee-jerk behavior to fight or flee. Fear emphatically stops any reason based thought. Allowed to dominate, fear prevents any of the three primary ways to discern what is true.
Spiritually, Truth is the beauty discovered in distant galaxies, the intricate complexity of a beetle, the profound reality of things we cannot see – cells, atoms, quarks and dark energy, the majesty of a complex mathematical equation, the prompt to love and defend the oppressed, or simply the accurate reporting of what IS. Truth is all that is good in the universe – since that which is evil is implicitly false. From the dawn of time to the infinite boundary of this universe, Truth stands alone in its singular nobility. It is worthy of our everlasting pursuit……….and honor. Truth is worthy of the title God.
I wish you all much peace and joy…