When is the Truth the Truth?

Notes on the Sunday address by Dr Francis Macnab, 21 July 2015.
By John Abbate.

And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. —John 8:32 (KJV)

Truth is difficult, complicated. Truth gets lost. People demand truth, yet very often refuse to face it. Many people have died in wars over competing claims for the truth. Today, our relationship with truth is tarnished by the violence associated with conflicting ideologies, dogmatically held.

How do we know the truth? One person might decide what is true based on a belief; another person might decide the truth based on a feeling, or a relationship, or an opinion about the source of information (the person or authority speaking). We make judgements about whose judgement is worthy of our trust.

Sigmund Freud showed that the truth of the self is not even known to most of us. The unconscious mind works against the conscious will. Behind our everyday experience and knowledge of the world, there is always something more that is missing, something in the background that never quite comes into focus.

A commonly heard phrase is, “follow your conscience.” But conscience is not a reliable guide. “We can cushion our conscience, or somehow deceive our conscience, make peace with it,” said Dr Macnab. It is too easy to rationalise things in our favour, making the conscience a poor barometer of truth.

How, then, are we to live?

“We search to live the best truth,” said Dr Macnab, “somehow, that will enlarge our own life and not hurt other people. But that is extraordinarily difficult. [..] Be careful in your advocacy of the truth, because it may not be the truth.”

“We think we possess the truth. […] Perhaps we are being possessed by something quite different from the truth.”

“What is truth?” asked Pontius Pilate. Dr Macnab admits that he wishes Pilate had entered that conversation. Instead, Pilate walked away. “Truth is the dialogue, of your view and mine,” said Dr Macnab.

“Truth can fan out and become something much bigger than our dogmatic decision—the dialogue of tolerance, intelligence and growth. Truth is getting beyond the ready tendencies of anger and hate, and finding a different way.

“We will rarely know the whole truth, but we go on searching…for a glimmer of the truth, creating and shaping various strands of the truth, being open to the flow of filaments of the truth, and staying alert to the fringes of the truth.”

“In spite of the blemishes, the bad behaviour, all the negativities…still, we are reaching out to a life that is worthwhile, full of grace and truth.”

One comment on “When is the Truth the Truth?”

  1. Helen Hardham says:

    Very complex subject

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