Tuesday, February 23, 2016

What is Truth

What is truth?  

Is truth simply the opposite of a lie?  I don’t think so.  

I am not writing on the topic of truth to expound on how telling a truth versus telling a lie.  I think that would only cause us to go round and round with reaching the heart of the matter.  My goal is to delve deeper and address the differences between subjective and objective truth.  I have reached the conclusion that truth tends to be more subjective rather than objective, especially regarding the topics of God or religious belief, humanity, and the origin of all that exists.

Dictionary.com defines “truth” as the “true or actual state of a matter, conformity with fact or reality, a verified or indisputable fact, or the actuality or actual existence of something”

According to Bible text, Pontius Pilate spoke the words “what is truth” to Jesus just before Jesus was condemned to be crucified.  In looking at four different Bible translations, we see that each one reads differently.  The punctuation varies causing the meaning of the words to also change.  Commas are arranged differently and the use of question marks, exclamation marks, and periods also varies.  Punctuation was not part of ancient Greek writings and was added to scriptures in order to bring ease to their reading.  However, punctuation holds the power to affect the meaning of words.  Observing the differences between the translations only reinforces my desire to write this article on truth.

Here is John 8:37-38 in four different translations:

Pilate, then, said to Him, “Is it not then so?  A king are you!”  Jesus answered, ”You are saying that I am a king.  For this also have I been born, and for this have I come into the world, that I should be testifying to the truth.  Everyone who is of the truth is hearing My voice”.  Pilate is saying to Him, “What is truth!”  
(Concordant Literal New Testament, CLNT)

Pilate, therefore, said to him, `Art thou then a king?' Jesus answered, `Thou dost say [it]; because a king I am, I for this have been born, and for this I have come to the world, that I may testify to the truth; every one who is of the truth, doth hear my voice.' Pilate saith to him, `What is truth?'  
(Young’s Literal Translation, YLT)

Hence, Pilate said to him:  Hence, are not also you, yea you, a regent?  Then answered Jesus:  You, you say, that I am a regent; into this I, I have become (born) and have come into this, into the cosmos, so that I may witness concerning (on account of) the truth; every one being out of the truth hears My voice.  Then Pilate says to Him: Who (what) is truth?  
(The Writ, Dabhar Translation)

Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”  Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?”  
(New American Standard Bible, NASB)

Those are four different variations of the “truthful” dialogue between Jesus and Pilate.  In his question to Jesus, I believe Pilate was making a rhetorical statement, not one he expected an answer to.  I read it as him saying to Jesus, “Who can really know what the ultimate truth is?  Your truth is not necessarily my truth.  If only we could get to the actuality of truth.”  The four different translations of the very same event described in John 8:37-38 highlights the point I will be making in this article: human beings are often speaking in a context of subjective truth rather than objective truth.  

What is the difference between subjective and objective? 

I found a simple and easy to understand explanation at the site http://www.differencebetween.net/.  Their article titled “The Difference Between Objective and Subjective” says this:

In stories, newspapers, and the spoken word, people all over the world are trying to convince you to think as they do. They are bombarding you with facts and figures, opinions and projections. It is up to you to create order within this chaos and find the patterns that will help you to understand what is true, what could be true, and what is outright false. In order to do all this, you need to have a firm grip on what is objective and what is subjective.

Objective is a statement that is completely unbiased. It is not touched by the speaker’s previous experiences or tastes. It is verifiable by looking up facts or performing mathematical calculations.

Objective statements are facts that can be verified by third parties while subjective statements may or may not be entirely true as they are colored by the opinions of the speaker.

Subjective is a statement that has been colored by the character of the speaker or writer. It often has a basis in reality, but reflects the perspective through with the speaker views reality. It cannot be verified using concrete facts and figures.

Subjective can be used when nothing tangible is at stake.

“Objective is a statement that
is completely unbiased.”

“Subjective is a statement that has been colored
by the character of the speaker or writer.
It often has a basis in reality,
but reflects the perspective through
[which] the speaker views reality.”


I hope this doesn’t come across as a shock, but every human being is biased.  We are so biased that we are typically blind to our own bias while quickly pointing out the bias of others!  And right here, I will admit that this writing will be tainted with my personal bias based on who I am and the experiences of my life. 

Bias is part of who we are and how we feel and act. 
Bias is part of our character and our personality.
Bias is ingrained deep within our soul. 

For the most part, our bias stems from things over which we have had no control.  It is continuously being embedded deeper into our human soul as we process all the experiences that began the moment we were conceived.  What is truth to me simply may not be truth to you and vice versa.  Why?  Because we are unique individuals, and we have had very different life experiences.  As human beings, we are similar in the aspects of human nature, but within our heart and soul, we are as distinct as our fingerprints.

In my previously posted article “Is There Such a Thing as Free Will?” I stated:

“Every single choice we make has been influenced by something that has touched us in our lifetime.  Every single thing that we have ever heard, seen, felt, and experienced in this earthly world has influenced our thought processes and the choices that we make. 

When we were conceived and formed in our mother’s womb, we had no choice and no control over:

the day of our conception
the circumstances surrounding our conception
the genetic make-up of our parents
if we would be male or female
what time period we were born in
the exact day we were born
in what location of the world
what we would look like, “attractive” or “not so attractive” to the human eye
the color of our skin, our hair, our eyes
the shape of our body
if we would have all ten toes and ten fingers and be of sound mind and speech
our personality or talents
into what family we would be born in
the behaviors, traditions, or beliefs of that family
what kind of parents we would have
if we would have any siblings and what their personalities would be like
or the day we will die”

Every choice we make and every belief we hold dear and proclaim as truth has been influenced by the combination of who we are at the most basic level and all which has touched us in our lifetime.  Every one of the factors predetermined for us at the moment of conception and every single experience we’ve had since then (from the most mundane to the most complicated) has played a part in developing our bias toward what we believe is true or not.

Consider the Muslim women who are made to wear burqas and be completely submissive to those of the male gender.  Muslim men proclaim that is the way God (their version of God) says women must dress and act.  Due to a subjective belief in their religion, Muslim women are treated as lesser human beings, oppressed, and humiliated. For them to speak or act against any of it could mean serious physical harm or even death. 

People are capable of understanding and expressing objective (tangible) truth.  But I've discovered that we often get caught up in a great amount of subjective (biased) truth and try to put it off on others as being objective.  

It is an objective truth that I am alive and breathing, sitting here at the computer typing these words, and my dogs lay asleep at my feet.  However, some of what I write here contains subjective truth based on how I perceive things.

I believe we are all subject to our Creator and to how we were created to be.  Where each one of us stands in our belief system ultimately rests in God’s hands.  All the factors that affect our beliefs, from the most basic in nature to the most complex experiences, have been ordained and set into motion by the Creator and Sustainer of life.  This belief can be considered a subjective truth and may even be found ridiculous by some people.  I cannot tangibly show you God.  I cannot drive you to God’s house, knock on his door, and have you see and speak to God in a tangible, human way.  However, my personality and experiences have led me to conclude that God is real. Your personality and life experiences may have led you to conclude the total opposite.  And I will be respectful of that.

Some people cannot believe that God exists.  They have not seen or heard convincing proof of God. The “proof of God" a believer can offer to an atheist will be about as effective as the "proof" an atheist can offer to the believer that God does not exist.  I think many people choose not to believe more so because of their great disdain for the God which is described by religion.  Those people have not heard of a God they can believe in. 

And even within the people who do believe in God, it would be a miracle if two of them could completely agree on what God looks or acts like.  One person's perception of God can be another person's worst nightmare.   

Where does that leave us as we face our differences of truth?

There are all kinds of beliefs and religions out there in our big world!  I came across the Big Religion Chart on the internet listing many of the world’s religions and some quick facts about them.  Each religious belief proclaims to be the truth that all should seek and live by.  That is subjective (biased) human reasoning!  On the other hand, it is an objective (unbiased, tangible) truth that under each main religion there exists a variation of individual beliefs.  One hundred percent uniformity does not exist within any religion.

Let's look at three main religions.  

The Christian camp professes God is revealed in the son of God, Jesus Christ, and the writings of the Bible.  The Muslim camp professes that the prophet Muhammad and the Quran writings reveal God’s character and will.  The Hindu camp believes in one God made manifest in many gods and trusts the Vedas to be the holy writings.  The camps question and scorn each other’s beliefs about God, their holy writings, who or what reveals God, and their forms of worship.  Each camp proclaims that only their version of God and their established writings are the absolute truth. The God defined by Christians, Muslims, and Hindus has very different characteristics.  So, which one is true? 

A Facebook friend once posed this question on his timeline:  

If there is only one God then who's God is the right one?” 

What an excellent question!  I would challenge anyone reading it not to thoughtlessly say, 

“Well, only mine, of course!  “The [writings or teachings of so and so] say it is true!”  

Each one of our personal versions of God is subjective to countless factors from the moment we were conceived.  I challenge readers to think long and hard about the question above and its implications before formulating an answer.    

Regardless of whether you believe God exists or not, I believe it is an objective and tangible truth that whatever we believe about
the origin of this earth and whole universe,
what happens after we die, and
what will happen in the future,
are all in correlation with who we are in our soul (genetics/personality) and how all of life’s experiences and our culture have affected us.   

Day after day, the differences of beliefs between people all over the world go on and on.  These beliefs are used for good and evil.  In one form or another, we have all observed and participated in hurtful judgments and attacks.  People become susceptible to this destructive behavior in their desire to push and force their truth upon others. “Your truth is a lie, and my truth is right!”  “You are wrong, and I am right!”  While we should have the freedom to share what we perceive to be true, we do not have the right to ravage people’s characters or emotions or to demoralize them because their version of truth does not align with our own.  We do not have the right to condemn others and murder them with our words (or hands) if they do not conform to our viewpoint.

Though I no longer place myself under the banner of any particular religion, I believe God to be the source and sustenance of my life and breath. Because there are no more religious doctrines building walls around me, my love and graciousness for other people has increased by leaps and bounds. I understand now how a faith which fills us with utmost, selfless love and respect for others cannot be religion made. With religion there is always some wall to divide with or some hierarchy to answer to. I have found myself casting less and less judgmental stones because I wholeheartedly believe we are all valuable and worthy.  Instead of maintaining walls or throwing stones, I have been filled with a growing desire to better understand the people around me and to hold out my hand in help, kindness, grace, and love without thinking that just because they are different from me, they are lesser in any way.  I can clearly see how much alike we are in spite of our differences.

I often think of this story told in Genesis 11:1-9:

Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.” And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”

The Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. The Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city.

Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.

It seems by God’s design, we were not meant to think, act, or speak exactly the same and perceive things the same way. (That would have been so boring!)  However, I am convinced we are called to transcend the destructive attacks upon our differences and instead view them as complementary to one another.  In spite of our diversities, we are to come to a realization that we all come from the same origin, and we are all having this earthly, human experience.  We are called to love and care for one another generously because not one of us is better than another.

Instead of demanding adherence to our truth, we should be more concerned with grasping and defining true love for our fellow man and acting on that.

[This post is a revised version of a 2014 post bearing the same title.]

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