Whatever happened to “truth”?

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by Chris Momany

 

The mixture of condemnation and hand-wringing over the Trump presidential candidacy would be amusing if the stakes were not so high. Those running for office have perfected the art of truth-bending, even those who do so under the banner of not being a “politician.” Yet independent fact-checkers are wearing themselves out with Trump’s rhetoric, and social media is ablaze with tweets and memes that condemn irresponsible accusations by The Donald. I share the concern, so much so that I have been thinking about a quaint (some might say antiquated) notion of late. Truth.

 

I’ve spent enough time in the disciplines of philosophy and theology to know that fact and truth are not necessarily the same thing, but they are not unrelated, either. When a politician invokes events that did not happen to support his or her message, something is wrong – as when Donald Trump made widely discredited claims about American Muslims celebrating the 9/11 attacks. Of course such rhetoric is inflammatory, alarming, and downright offensive. Because Mr. Trump has linked this claim to suggestions that certain people be registered in a data base, his language is understandably identified with totalitarian periods of history. I, for one, am more than concerned.

 

However a background question haunting us is this: Whatever happened to “truth”? This concept no longer seems to serve as a standard, and many have toiled for decades to make sure that it is no longer relevant. Truth has become one more means on the way to implementing an agenda, or in the chic parlance of spin orchestrators, truth is but one more tool for developing a “compelling narrative.”

 

Academics have been playing this song for decades. It is music typically accompanied by some celebration of the Enlightenment’s demise. Modernity and its search for unshakable foundations are dead, and scholars have been dancing on the grave of modernity for a long time now – so long that the dance has become rather uninspired and tiresome. Mention “truth” at the meeting of any reigning academic guild and you are likely to receive blank stares (at best) and arrogant dismissals (at worst). Nobody talks about that stuff anymore, and you are reminded of this “fact” (without a hint of irony). So simply claiming that something is out of date becomes accepted intellectual justification for its dismissal.

 

Oh, some on the right have engaged in attempts to buttress the “truth,” but more often than not they point fingers at the left and invoke their own version of the truth. They are not as concerned with discovering truth as with massing a collectively subjective voice to impose their kind of truth. So who is really to blame for our blatant disregard of truth?

 

Perhaps we should look in the mirror – all of us.

That great reservoir of reflection can either challenge us or reinforce our perceptions of reality. A mirror can point out our flaws or simply energize that gorgeous image of everything we already believe. We created Donald Trump – you and I. When we decided that truth was no longer trendy, we gave license to all kinds of behavior disconnected from others. That is the scary part. I can claim my own inner truth, and others can be damned, if I so desire. This is a perspective that dominates both the left and the right these days.

 

There was a time when the church cared about the truth. I’m not so sure anymore.

 

We post rants on the left and then say things like “there is no truth” or “all is relative.”

We post rants on the right and then praise the economic relativism of crony capitalism to make sure that powerful people remain arbitrators of “truth.”

 

Lord, help us.

Someday soon we are going to have to consider the idea of truth in all of its glory, whether it advances our well-organized agendas or not.

Until that time, all of the ignorant support for dangerous political candidates and all of the self-righteous outrage over their candidacy will mean very little.

Chris Momany, UMR Columnist

Chris Momany

Chris Momany has been chaplain and director of church relations at Adrian College since 1996 and has taught in the Department of Philosophy/Religion since 1998. He is an ordained United Methodist minister, and a graduate of Adrian College, Princeton Theological Seminary, and Drew University. His academic interests focus on Christian ethics and philosophy. He has been published in the Christian Century, the Wesleyan Theological Journal, The Asbury Theological Journal, the Circuit Rider magazine, the United Methodist Reporter, and other venues. Chris also writes for the Daily Bible Study curriculum of the United Methodist Publishing House and for MinistryMatters, an online ministry resource. His book on the Wesleyan ethic of love and justice bears the title, Doing Good: A Grace-Filled Approach to Holiness. Chris has led many conferences, workshops, and continuing education events. For several years he has combined his research and teaching with a focus on human trafficking. Today it is estimated that 27 million people are held as slaves throughout the world. Chris has been a national leader among college and church professionals in confronting this issue.

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11 Comments on "Whatever happened to “truth”?"

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
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Hank Greeb
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Unfortunately, there’s enough “truth-bending” and “self-aggrandizement” on all sides of the political spectrum. It’s not unique to Donald Trump, or to the Republican Party. Many (unfortunately too many) put their own ideology ahead of the general welfare of us “peons in the proletariat.” Lettuce Prey that somehow, some day, rationality will return to Washington and the art of negotiation, understanding of opposing views, and compromise reinstated for the general welfare of the country.

David
Guest

One way to know you are proximate to Truth is when you get noxious responses from all sides. How dare you prick the indulgent self confidence of all parties sir! Based on the responses thus far, I believe your prophetic arrow split the tree. Though some may quickly have turned the mirror from themselves back onto others, Bravo! At least you’re making the effort to invite us ALL into deeper reflection.

Chris Momany, UMR Columnist
Guest

David: Thank you for receiving the column as an imperfect invitation to reflection.

Alicia
Guest
P.C., Although your points are not novel (and shouldn’t be–Truth doesn’t change), I appreciate your comments. I appreciate your words because they are the gentle yet urgent proddings for me to recalibrate myself towards True North. In a world where the Truth is so often bent, I often need help getting centered. I find it interesting that so many can be so easily offended by, what I consider, simple, straight-forward and honest words. Yes, we are all at fault, regardless of political and religious standpoint. And yes, we all often believe our “truth” is the Truth–or at least, the “best… Read more »
Chris Momany, UMR Columnist
Guest

Alicia:
Thanks so much for taking time to read the column and for “getting” it. I am grateful for your ministry as a sister, follower of Jesus, and mental health professional. Great insights from your work. You are a blessing!

George Nixon Shuler
Guest
It’s very interesting that one of the right-wing denizens here would somehow morph this into an attack on the President and democratic voters. After George W. Bush’s disastrous Presidency the assertion that Barack Obama is somehow “incompetent” would seem to indicate the writer does not know the definition of incompetency. The fact is beyond starting wars and such there is little the executive branch can do to affect change without a cooperative Congress. The two single greatest accomplishments of President Obama are without a doubt his appointments of Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. Without those two… Read more »
Kevin
Guest

“all of the ignorant support for dangerous political candidates”
Really, Chris? I could say the same about the low information voters who put the most incompetent president in our history in the White House but where does that get us? If you want to engage in dialogue you might want to dial back on the accusatory language. Pull your head out and dive into the real world.

Paul W.
Guest
I read Mr. Momany’s column a little differently. While making his point, he was perhaps ill-advised to only give examples from Mr. Trump which could easily be viewed as partisanship. While I don’t disagree with the examples Chris provided, I’m fairly sure partisanship was not his intention. Certainly, it is no stretch to provide many similar examples from all across the political spectrum that would make the same point (i.e., Hillary Clinton, President Obama, Sean Hannity, etc.). Personally, I haven’t been able to figure out Chris’s politics from reading his columns, and I find that to be a good thing.… Read more »
Chris Momany, UMR Columnist
Guest

Thank you for the thoughtful response, Paul.

bthomas
Guest

Careful. You must not say such things. It will offend left-wing liberals of the current sort who put the current resident of the white house into office. Try to be understanding of their feelings. They are embarrassed enough. Don’t throw facts in their face.

Richard Hicks
Guest

Silly question. Since before Socarates and the other Greek fellers “truth” has been in the eye of the beholder. Thank you, Richard F Hicks, OKC

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