The other day, as I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, I noticed some disturbing comments on a friend’s pro-life post. The person making the comments was pro-abortion, and I found myself wanting to engage him in discussion. So I asked him a few questions and tried to find some common ground, as this typically is the best way to engage a person who disagrees on any given topic.
However, in this case, my attempts were met with vitriol and ridicule, as well as a string of poorly drawn conclusions ascertained invalidly from my questions. Since my attempts were going nowhere, I respectfully backed out of the conversation.
The whole exchange was disheartening in several ways. But since I always strive to have a take-away from my interactions, I’m going to tell you what I learned from this exchange. I’m not going to say that he was right, or that I was right. In this case specifically, that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that only one of us was interested in having a dialogue and pursuing truth. Only one of us saw the importance of meaningful discussion, and that’s not good.
There are some people in the world who simply don’t care about truth. I don’t mean to say that these persons are all liars, though some of them certainly are, but they are persons who are either unwilling or uninterested in seeking truth. When confronted by someone who is concerned with truth, or someone who disagrees with the veracity of their beliefs, they instantly descend to the level of ad hominem attacks and playground bully stratagems. It is maddening to dialogue with them because they are unwilling to consider alternative ideas.
Further, many people go so far as to claim that no such thing as truth even exists. These are the relativists, and they are rarely interested in discussing truth because they believe everyone’s “truth” is different. Even when they are interested in discussing truth, the discussion will not and cannot lead anywhere because when there are 7 billion different versions of “truth” in the world, it is impossible to come to consensus on anything significant. Wherever a disagreement exists between two relativists, each will appeal to his or her own “truth”, and that will be the end of the argument. This is also maddening in its own way because nothing of substance can ever be agreed upon and no minds need ever be changed.
When two people are arguing and both of them are attempting to find the truth, that is a good and useful argument. It is easy to tell when two people are trying to find truth. They ask questions, they consider alternative possibilities, they examine evidence. They don’t immediately categorize the other’s argument as wrong, hateful, or inane simply because they disagree with it.
On the other hand, when two people are arguing and only one person is attempting to find the truth, that is a fruitless endeavor. It is unproductive to seek truth in a discussion with someone who doesn’t care about or acknowledge truth.
What Is Truth?
Indeed, a man who does not believe in or care about truth is a man who steps out in the morning wearing a green shirt telling everyone it’s blue. When a passer-by has the audacity to comment on his green shirt, he launches into a diatribe about how he has the freedom to see his shirt as whatever color he likes, and how dare anyone impose their truth on him. But even if a man has the freedom to think his shirt is blue, the truth is that the shirt is still green even if he fails to recognize it. Something is true so far as it conforms with reality. So the truth is the truth whether the man accepts it or not, just as reality is reality even if he chooses to reject it. But if he is unwilling to even consider the notion that his shirt might be green, having a conversation with him will be futile.
Now it is one thing to argue over the color of a shirt; it is quite another to argue over moral truths. In the cases of moral truths, the conversations have greater implications and therefore, we ought to pursue truth in these cases with increased ardor.
Please don’t mistake this as me trying to remove the speck in my neighbor’s eye while ignoring the plank in my own. I’m wrong all the time. Even when I have occasionally been positive that I was right, I have been wrong. But the difference is that I want to know the truth. I will gladly admit when I’m wrong because I don’t like falsehood and I’d rather be truthful. I want someone to tell me when I’m drifting further from the truth so I can correct myself. If we are seeking truth, we can admit when we are wrong. If we are unwilling to admit we are wrong, we are not seeking truth, we are simply trying to win an argument. Thus, my approach is to seek truth at all times.
The truth matters because a world without truth is a world without goodness, hope, virtue, purpose or direction. It is a world of depression and despair. It is a world inhabited by people on quasi-journeys who have no road markers, no street signs, no maps, and no destination. After a while, the misery and hopelessness of this journey begins to set in, and instead of trying to find a road, they just plop down in a heap and claim that it doesn’t matter anyway. And if there is no such thing as truth, plopping down in a heap is a perfectly acceptable course of action. If there is no destination, then the journey simply doesn’t matter.
Further, truth matters because if we cannot agree on the idea that there is truth to be discovered, then we have nothing left to even talk about. If we are not living in reality, then nothing else matters. How could we agree on anything at all if we don’t agree that there is such a thing as truth that could be sought or agreed upon? Without truth, all we are left with are opinions, and even if our opinions align, what does that matter? It might make for delightful discourse, but without truth, there is no end toward which to strive. Without truth, our conversation has no legs on which to stand and is essentially meaningless.
Most importantly, the truth matters because God is Truth. He created reality. He is the perfect ideal of Truth, and the closer we get to truth, the closer we get to God. Conversely, the farther we get from truth, the farther we get from God. Since the absence of God is hell, the farther we get from truth, the closer we get to hell. If we want to avoid hell, we need to seek truth.
I vigorously seek truth because I am actively avoiding hell. Moreover, the extent to which we abandon truth is the extent to which we neglect our eternal souls. If we decide that truth does not matter, then we have decided that our salvation does not matter. If we decide to neglect truth, then we are deciding to neglect God Himself. Obviously, if we decide to neglect God, then we are deciding to neglect our eternal souls. We are, quite literally, choosing hell.
The truth is that important. It’s worth fighting for. It’s worth talking about. It’s worth admitting when we are in error. But when we have asked questions, examined evidence and come to a logical and consistent conclusion, it is also worth standing up for what is true. It’s clear that our world has lost this attitude, and we need to help bring it back. We need to fight against falsehood and lies, and work to bring truth back to the world that has caught the plague of relativism.
The Battle for Truth
To be sure, this is a noble campaign. It is equal parts critically important and immensely challenging, but there are some real, concrete steps we can take to help accomplish our mission.
The first step is to engage the culture of relativism. Be open to and embrace meaningful dialogue with others. No battle has ever been won by screaming from the sidelines. We need to get out onto the battlefield and fight. We cannot idle in the back like spineless cowards and expect others to do the work. The number of people willing to stand up for truth is dwindling, which makes it all the more imperative that we embrace this calling and become prepared to stand for truth. I find myself saying this often, but if it’s not us, it’s nobody. The time to act is now.
Next, we need to listen and find common ground. As my Facebook exchange established, this can be extraordinarily cumbersome. It is true that sometimes even before we can discuss what is true, we need to establish that there is truth to be acknowledged in the first place. For example, a man might say, “I don’t care about truth, I only care about being good to people.” But this man has already admitted that he knows being good to people is the right thing to do. The fact that there is a right thing to do is a truth, and he might be willing to admit that. Always be on the lookout for common ground, as this is how conversations can both begin and progress.
Lastly, stand firm in the truth with an attitude of passionate charity. I am weary of tolerant, wimpy charity. This type of charity regards acceptance as a virtue and supposes no right or wrong. Passionate charity, on the other hand, is charity that is strong, cares about the well-being of the other and does not wish to see the other continue to live in lies and falsehood. It is charity that continues to want what is best for the other even when the other is not open to it. Passionate charity does not back down in the face of adversity and loves truth even in the face of hostility. I cannot stress how important it is that we cultivate this passionate charity. Tolerant, wimpy charity will not get us closer to truth.
Let’s remember that seeking truth is seeking God, and avoiding truth is avoiding God. We should seek truth because our eternal souls depend on it, and we should encourage others to do the same because their souls depend on it as well. It’s clear that the modern world is desperately in need of truth, so let’s arm ourselves with courage and forge ahead into the battle as though the world depends on it.
After all, that is the truth.