The Cultural Problem with Truth

by Doy Moyer

The truth shall set you free (John 8:32). To borrow an idea from another well-known statement, had it not been for the truth, I would not have known lies.

Oxford's word of the year in 2016 was "post-truth." That should not really be a surprise. For decades Postmodernism has eaten away at the concept of truth in favor of a subjective creation of one's own "truth." Truth is no longer considered to be objective, but is relative and subjectively determined by the way one feels. If we feel something, then it is our own personal truth. The only feelings we can trust are our own, if we can even trust those. Consequently, we trust no one because no one can assure us of real truth. There are only feelings in a post-truth world, and those feelings rule the day. None can tell us otherwise.

A culture in which no one can trust truth or anyone else to discover objective truth is not in a good situation, particularly morally. The very fabric on which a society can function together is torn apart when truth is lost, or even if in constant suspicion. Without truth, there can be no justice, for justice requires that we know what really happened. Without justice, a society falls deep into oppression, selfishness, and chaos. And here we are. It's as though we read Paul's statement in II Timothy 3:1-5 and decided it was a good idea to follow the vices. We are, indeed, a culture that loves pleasure over God, and we love to have it so.

The irony is that at the same time that we don't trust truth, we insist on justice for those who violate standards for which we don't even know the origins. While we shun absolute, universal morality, we are demanding that violators of some unknown universal morality be brought to justice. We deny there are lines, then draw heavy lines based on our personal preferences. The problem isn't that there are lines. There are. The problem is in how we as a society deny the foundation for the lines, then proceed to draw our own. Then, we react harshly and swiftly against perceived offenders, even though we would fall back to relativism if forced to defend our moral stance.

Think about the way our society has begun reacting to accusations and defenses. This is not about particular cases, but rather an observation of typical procedure. An accusation is made on the one side, and many automatically assume guilt. On the other side, many assume that the accuser is lying. Both sides jump to conclusions before evidence is ever weighed. Decisions are then made in the public court of opinion, and much of that is grounded in how we roll politically. We make up our minds ahead of time, we don't trust witnesses, and objective truth is left unknown and untrusted. We don't know anything, but we react as if we know it all. Arrogance bitterly fights against arrogance, and like children in a playground, we are pulling hair, spitting, and thinking that whoever pins the other down wins and gets to say what is true.

Today we are living in the shadow of yesteryear's distrust of truth. This has, of course, also impacted the way people view religion. Any religion that claims objective truth is automatically held in suspicion, distrusted because the objective nature of truth often runs counter to the feelings that we yearn to protect. They cannot have the truth, for we know by our feelings or personal experiences otherwise.

The problem of truth is that it is easier to believe lies, and were there no truth, there could be no lies. "Truth" now is only on the side of our presuppositions and biases, and those alone can hardly be trusted either. This is where we find ourselves. We can trust no one, and society as a whole is in moral ICU wondering how they got here.

Let's understand, however, that everything we as Christians stand for is based on the recognition of Truth. The truth does set us free, but only if it is real. "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me," said Jesus (John 14:6). Without truth, and without Jesus as The Truth, there is no way to God. We would be hopeless and helpless. Sadly, as we have lost confidence in the reality of truth, so also have we lost hope.

The gospel accounts are grounded firmly in the historical reality of what happened (Luke 1:1-4). Jesus further knew the value and importance of having multiple witnesses in order to establish the truth of something (cf. Deuteronmy 19:15-19). His appeal to multiple witnesses helped to establish His identity (cf. John 5). Paul's argument concerning Jesus' resurrection is grounded in the reality of that historical event (I Corinthians 15). Without it, all that we try to do in the Lord is in vain.

Truth is everything, and while we are breathing on this earth, we still have an opportunity to share the truth that can and will change a person's life and give an eternal purpose. Speak that truth in love, in patience, and with resolve. Let's make the most of it.