The Gift of Truth

The Gift of Truth

We humans are wonderful creatures, yet we have significant limitations. We can be either in this location or that one, but not in both at once; go up or down the stairs but not in opposite directions at the same time; see as far as our vision permits but not beyond that; remember the past, observe the present, but do neither with the future.

Our most impressive gifts, those of soul and mind, transcend our material bodies. They include the ability to feel emotion, ponder experience, perceive relationships among events, frame thoughtful questions and seek answers to them, recognize similarities and differences among existing ideas, and form ideas and beliefs we never encountered before. Despite their impressiveness, however, these gifts are as imperfect as our material gifts. Our emotions can be negative as well as positive, our perceptions correct or incorrect, our ideas wise or foolish, our beliefs sound or unsound.

Another gift that all human beings have been blessed with, but one not usually classified as such, is the gift of TRUTH It is perhaps the most important gift because all other gifts depend on it. Truth is defined as “the state of being the case,” reality, factuality. In other words, it is the correct answer to any conceivable question, notably Who? What? When? Where? How? Why? In what way? With what effect? The expressions of truth are thus more numerous than all the stars and planets in the universe combined, and for every truth there is at least one and often many more corresponding errors, fallacies, or lies. For example, the statement, “The American Civil War took 750,000 lives” is true, which means that every such statement with a different number is false.

The best way to understand how much the gifts of soul and mind depend on truth is to imagine what the world would be like if truth never existed in the universe. In that situation, we might be able to feel some emotions, but we would have no way of judging them positive or negative. We would likewise have experiences but no way to determine their meaning or value.  No doubt we would also be able to form opinions but no way to form a rationale for holding them, especially if they were in any way complex. The reason is that, if there were no such thing as truth, there would be no standard for accepting or rejecting ideas and thus no purpose for feeling and thinking about them.

But wait a moment! If truth never existed in the universe, the condition of humankind would have been very different from the beginning. Whatever feelings, experiences, and opinions we would have in the present age would be no less primitive than those of our ancient ancestors. There would therefore have been no progress in our world. After all, the most rudimentary of inventions—fire, the wheel, the spear, cave drawings—surely began with the desire to make life surer, safer, more bearable, followed by a search for a better way. But if truth did not exist, a better way could not have been identified and invention would not have been possible.

The reader may have learned from the last two paragraphs that imagining a world without truth can produce a large headache (as the author experienced while writing them). The difficulty of imagining a world without truth supports the belief that the gift of truth is arguably the best gift we humans have received. Without it, none of the billions of insights, inventions, and breakthrough understandings in medicine, law, education, government, commerce, philosophy, technology, and religion would have been possible. Progress itself would have been unimaginable.

Thankfully, the gift of truth has been recognized and valued in all recorded civilizations (though at times taken for granted.) The wisest among us have both honored truth and cautioned us to cherish it. Here are three of those cautions: “There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.” (Soren Kierkegaard) “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.” (Winston Churchill) “Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.” (Fyodor Dostoevsky)

These cautionary words should make us shudder, for there is mounting evidence that our civilization has lost its respect for truth. Consider the following examples:

Asserting that “woman” is indefinable, thereby denying two millennia of anatomical and physiological research.

Announcing with conviction that the border is secure, thereby mocking irrefutable graphic evidence to the contrary.

Reporting that a demonstration is “peaceful” while the speaker’s own cameraman is showing burning buildings in the background.

Communications media classifying true statements as false and false statements as true, and censoring those who say otherwise, thus undermining the crucial distinction between truth and falsehood.

Persuading young children that surgically changing their gender will have nothing but positive effects in denial of psychological and ethical evidence.

Falsely telling people that the economy is improving when they are having increasing difficulty buying food, heating their homes, and filling their gas tanks.

Arguing (absurdly) that the planet’s climate is improved by having countries with advanced pollution control end fossil fuel production and those with no pollution control increase such production.

Such disrespect for truth, significant enough in any civilization, is especially so in our western civilization, for which truth has a much deeper spiritual meaning. This civilization is rooted in the Bible where Jesus said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me. . . I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” [John 14: 6-11, emphasis added] The meaning of this could not be clearer. God is not just the creator or author of truth. God IS Truth! Equally clear is that to disparage, distort, or deny truth is to insult God. There is no greater arrogance—or folly—than this.

Copyright © 2022 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved

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Vincent Ryan Ruggiero