How to Know the Truth in a World of Lies
The words of John 8:32 are prominently engraved in the lobby of the CIA headquarters in Virginia: “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” One could hardly imagine a place on earth today, where those words are less honoured than at the Central Intelligence Agency of America. Maybe its founders once had noble dreams, but already John F. Kennedy knew how perfectly Orwellian those words sounded against that granite wall. That is probably why he didn’t last his full term as US President.
Thankfully truth is like natural beauty. You know when you behold it. It is liberating, inspiring, and comforting. But it is first of all convicting, which is why we sometimes speak of “an inconvenient truth.” And it is definitely not relative. Anyone with a sound mind would consider the view of Lake Ontario above to be beautiful. We would not regard an opinion that it is ugly seriously. That’s what good philosophers mean when they say beauty points us to the truth… and to God. And yet, abiding in the truth for life will only be possible through the personal knowledge of Him who is the Light of the world, and who first spoke those words engrained on the wall of the CIA long ago.
This post is, however, not so much about knowing him, but about discerning truth from error and deception in the crazy maze of the affairs of this world. For ultimately, following Jesus is also about making sense out of all the images and headlines bombarding our senses every day. It is rather sad to observe how many who have once claimed to love God have lost their moorings, and drifted downstream, because they did not care how to discern fact from fiction, or reality from delusion, in the midst of all the news and information dumped upon us every day.
During Covid I was asked by an old schoolfriend: “How can we know the truth?” Those were the days when so many good people swallowed the official Covid response-narrative hook, line and sinker. So, I jotted down a few thoughts in a notebook in answer to that good question, but then failed to pay much attention to it again. Recently, as I was witnessing the massive shift happening with regards to the public opinion on the war in Ukraine here in the West, I looked at those notes again, and thought: “Maybe I should write something on my blog.”
Seeing Things for What They Are
I am neither rich nor famous, and quite modestly educated, but for some reason God has graced me with the inconvenient gift of seeing things for what they are, when so many don’t. The only problem is, I then also have to stick to my guns for the sake of “God and country,” amidst all the pressure, frowns and awkward silences. So the “gift” is often experienced as a burden, for swimming against the tide is not much fun. I am not only speaking of the tide of the world here, but even of friends, family and church. I guess it must be written in our genetic code as humans that we want to be part of the crowd.
And so, we tend to swim in schools and run in herds, feeling insecure when some distance opens up between us and the rest. Yet, there are few warnings in Scripture so clear and pertinent as the one not to enter by the big gate and not to travel down the broad way.
The positive side of it all is to find oneself vindicated time and again, often surprisingly so, when those opinions previously thought to be unacceptable or even ridiculous, slowly emerge as the truth. But it is also sad to see how hardly anyone dares to admit that they were wrong, once the paradigm has shifted. They seem to turn their sails to the wind, whenever it suits them. Fewer even, would dare to offer an apology to those who might have suffered abuse for their “unacceptable” views.
If all of this was all merely a matter of differing opinions, on fairly inconsequential issues, who should care? But it is not. The way of the “silent majority” not speaking up for truth (when it is so much needed), is the way of our world sliding down into an ever deeper morass of chaos and evil. German philosopher Jürgen Habermas (b. 1929) emphasized that democracies can’t possibly survive without an informed public opinion. I recall my Political Science professor telling us the same thing back in 1982 in Pretoria. Yet, while would-be tyrants love silent masses, we say: “What difference will my voice make?” And so look where we are now. We have reached a critical point (at least in the West) where hardly anyone trusts anything their establishment is saying anymore, while that same “establishment” has more power than ever before.
But they (the establishment) are not the only ones to blame. We refused to hold them to account, in our parks and pubs, chatrooms and chapels, and around our barbecues and baseball diamonds. Many even boasted that, “in our home we never talked about religion or politics.” Wow! How would Stalin and Mao ever have loved that! And so now we are at a place where the elites in the West have acquired unlimited power, and a proverbial carte blanche, with the whole dream of democracy hovering over the abyss. I certainly can’t recall anything like this in my brief six decades on this earth, when the “commoners” thought absolutely nothing of the “nobility,” while at the same time being basically powerless before them. Long ago a monarch taking too many chances could still end up in the Tower of London, even with his or her head on the block. Today none of the eternally rotating ruler-class ever have to fear half that much. Thus, the old saying proved unfortunately true: “evil triumphs when good men do nothing.” Christians are not blameless in it all either. We too often mistook cowardice for wisdom; lacked the power to disagree in love; or longed too much for the end of the age to come.
So here are my two cents for knowing the truth…
- Do you really want to know the truth? Ask yourself what it will take to change your views on any given subject?
- Ask yourself what your deepest motive is for holding to your views on a given subject. Would it be too costly, either socially or financially to change your views? At least be honest and admit that you don’t want to be “cast out of the synagogue.”
- Do those you like to listen to provide solid evidence for their claims, or is it based on hearsay, propaganda, confirmation bias and group think?
- Do you easily accept claims based on “anonymous sources” or do you take it with a grain of salt (perhaps even suspicion) until corroborated by mounting evidence?
- Do you care for a logic and coherent argument? Every detective looks for a motive behind a crime. Why do we so easily accept the popular view, when, upon closer scrutiny, it makes no sense.
- Can someone who is not in your camp be true on something? Or do you dismiss someone’s word simply because they are controversial or from the opposite side?
- How do you view the media blame-game? Do you realize that a few super-wealthy corporations with a monolithic bias and agenda control almost all our corporate news, and with a very clear agenda?
- How important is public apology and admission of wrong, when someone was falsely accused or claims were falsely made? Do you demand such apologies from your trusted news sources and leaders? Or are you happy to forget about it and move on to the next talking-point?
- Do you care if your favourite talk show host or politician seems to be a person of sincerity and humility, and who speaks the truth even when it is risky? Or does it make no difference to you when he/she is slick and arrogant?
- Does it make a difference to you how the news you are receiving every day is funded or sponsored?
- Does your news-source want to be corrected? Do they ever admit when reports are unconfirmed, or when evidence is scarce and flimsy, or do they just make sweeping statements, while sweeping counter-claims under the rug?
- Does your news-source show a proclivity for ad hominem arguments, or do they focus on events, actions and words, allowing you to draw the conclusions?
- Does your favourite news-show regularly give equal airtime to the opposite side or an alternative view?
- If you are asked for hard evidence by a friend on a hot topic, and you can’t provide any, what do you do? Does it force you to reconsider?
- When you are provided with evidence that your views were unsubstantiated, do you honestly and humbly admit it, or do you just go on to the next topic?
- What does reliable evidence look like in your opinion? Would it include: (1) sources that can be trusted and verified, (2) testimony by reliable witnesses (3) mounting evidence that has not been refuted or tampered with (4) and, arguments that follow sound logic?
- Do the premises you provide in an argument really support your conclusion, or are they disconnected and invalid?
- Is your opinion based on raw emotion or on sound reason? Is it driven by an animus against others, or by a sober mind?
We should always strive to go wherever solid, incontrovertible evidence and a good coherent argument lead us, as long as it does not violate God’s revelation in creation and Scripture. Let us consider that a Christian who is not willing to change his or her opinion on anything (should the evidence provide itself) is not really a serious disciple of Christ at all, but an individual beholden to pride or fear. Disciples want evidence. They want to be persuaded. For the path of the righteous is like the rising sun, which shines ever brighter, until the full noon of day, says Prov. 4:18.
And then finally, never rely on Wikipedia, but pray a whole lot more!
This is Why Your Opinion Matters…
Political leaders can only do this because their people don’t speak out against it!