Over this past year, I have found that the middle of the night is my most productive reading and writing times. With so many things keeping me awake—none of them good—it was the best way to navigate that long-dark silence. However, I have been sleeping better as of late and a big part of that has been—for reasons only God knows—my endless twitching has diminished… a little. This has resulted in me getting way behind in my reading (I have 5 books partially read) and writing. But last night was the exception. I was hit early in the morning by what I think was intense side effects to the chemo I got ten days ago. While I did not feel well enough to get up and to write, I did lie in bed and ponder what I would want to write as I continued this subject.
This whole idea that we have reached a period in our history where TRUTH does not matter anymore, being replaced by truth, was on public display this week during the impeachment hearings. You had the Democrats and Republicans taking turns talking at the microphone and it was as if they were stepping in and out of two different bubbles of reality. If the two sides were equally concerned about TRUTH, then they would be practically on the same page, listening to the same evidence and making the same conclusions.
At this Juncture I must once again restate my intended definitions. The way I use TRUTH, is in the classical definition, meaning that which is consistent with reality. It is an is an absolute—not influenced by my point of view or desires—TRUTH. On the other hand, truth in small case, the way I’m using it, is our own personal truth, which is completely based on our point of view and means the same, in this case, as opinion. But I call it “truth” because that is what people now call their opinions and beliefs and anything that doesn’t support their point of view, “lies” or fake, instead of facts. Sometimes those things are lies, but often they are not.
I have a great love for history, especially the history of western civilization and the Church in particular. I spent a decade studying it very carefully. However, I realize there are still plenty I don’t know and sometimes I get things wrong. History itself is complex. It is not simply causal, such as event A caused event B, which caused event C. It is much messier, more like a (Costco-sized) can of alphabet soup being poured on the floor and then trying to connect the dots between the hundreds of As, Bs, and Cs.
Last time I was writing about the late theologian Francis Schaeffer. He described in his 1968 book, Escape from Reason, how western civilization was giving up on reason, having been disillusioned by the terrible world wars. During the 60s, there was a turn to the absurd in the area of the arts in response to this disillusionment. Schaeffer believed western civilization was on the verge of entering a new dark age and it was up to the Church to be the bulwark of preserving reason (God-given intellectual tool for finding TRUTH) and absolute TRUTH, itself.
The first dark age was a product of the Church when it, mistakenly, adopted the Platonic view that the material world, including reason, the arts, and labor, were insufficient when compared to the more important heavenlies or spiritual. The Renaissance was an awakening from that dark age with the rediscover of the works of Plato (and Aristotle in northern Europe) and redefining Plato’s higher realm as human experience rather than the heavenlies.
However, Schaeffer was wrong in his prediction. Reason had served western civilization so well after the Enlightenment, both in advancement of life and profit, that it would not be given up so easily, even though there was disillusionment with it. So, reason continued bring us great things like the silicon chip and the digital revolution. It has brought cancer cures (not fast enough), however, reason has also brought us increasingly destructive weapons, such as a nuclear bomb that can fit in a backpack, and drones that can deliver such a weapon, very precisely, to a distant target.
So now we find ourselves in the twenty-first century were there is a great dichotomy between TRUTH or truth in our social lives and in our scientific endeavors. In the scientific realm, TRUTH is still highly regarded, and the scientific method is very useful in finding that TRUTH by ruling out probability via statistically analysis. But on the social front, we are in a new dark age of the complete loss of TRUTH, having replaced it with truth (strong opinion). The Church was not the bulwark that Schaeffer had hoped for, but, in many cases, contributed to this loss of TRUTH, by its own insistence on a “cheaper” truth instead.
In my first article I mentioned that one factor causing this breakdown in TRUTH, is the loss of the reliable authoritarian TRUTH (e.g. Walter Cronkite), being replaced with the fragmentation of TRUTH into truth or niche realities. Ironically, our scientific technology brought us this “opportunity” through satellite-cable, and radio and now the web. These niche realities pull people further and further into that false narrative that is based on emotions, not reason. I will close this installment with an illustration of the point I’m trying to make.
Imagine that when you were ten years old your father lost his job when his company hired an immigrant, who was willing to do the same job for far less money. This was a very upsetting era in your life, leaving a bad taste in your heart toward immigrants.
When you reached adulthood, you find a cable news channel that had several stories about the problem of immigrants taking jobs away from white American men or doing bad crimes. This became your favorite channel because it reinforced your negative view of immigrants and you felt more justified in your negative attitude. But then, one day, this broadcast had a guest who described a theory (although presented as fact) that the immigrants have a strategy of taking all jobs away from white Americans, with the well-thought-out intention of making the white male unemployed and poor, so the immigrants can take over the country. This emotionally upset you even more, but you didn’t doubt it as factual because it was aired on your favorite news show. At the end of the broadcast, the guest commentator referenced his website, where he had more information.
You feel enough concern that you start to visit the mentioned website. On that site there were many stories of where immigrants were raping white girls, killing defenseless older-white-retired couples and robbing them. There were articles about how most immigrants are part of violent gangs that plan on talking over the entire country and turning the white man into slaves, while taking their white women as their girlfriends. This upset you even more, however, you never doubted the information because it was from a source that you saw as authoritarian truth and it was consistent with your prior belief system. You go out and buy weapons for the coming war with the immigrants and to defend your family. Now, during this course of events, your truth was arrived at by using the part of your brain (limbic) that is designed to handle emotions, not using (much) the part of the brain that is equipped with logical reasoning.
In contrast, I will describe how the scientific community would approach such a situation, when their only desire is TRUTH. Imagine that a premise was made that immigrants were taking jobs away from white men. You would suspend your emotional bias and look for objective data, not expecting one outcome of the other. You then collect data from the government agencies that keep employment records to see how many white men were displaced by immigrants. If needed, you would go out ad interview employers and employees. When you are done, you find that your father’s situation was extremely rare. That most immigrants come and work jobs that white men refuse to do, or they start their own small businesses.
My next, and hopefully last, article is looking at how during the twentieth century, situational ethics and the fudging of truth. I will also look how the American church, in many ways, lost its interest in TRUTH and became part of the problem rather than any solution to society’s general loss of TRUTH.