“What is truth?” Pilate speaking to Jesus. John 18:38
As I write these words, our country and the world are dealing with multiple issues swirling around us in a kind of bubbling moral soup. An impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump. The president’s continuing behavior that is crude, unbalanced, erratic, dangerous and immoral. The security of upcoming elections. And the manipulation of U.S. voters via propaganda from parties within the U.S. as well as ongoing interference from other countries.
It seems to me that all of these issues ultimately come back to the overarching issue of truth. What does truth mean? How do we discover it? How do we safeguard it?
In the Bible, truth means that which is real, not imaginary, that which is dependable, not fickle, that which is upright, not dishonest. Truth is not merely what one wishes it to be, such as “alternative facts.” Truth is reality, what actually is.
According to the Christian faith, God has an abiding interest in truth. When truth is abandoned, especially by persons elected to represent the people and to promote the common good, God sometimes speaks through ancient and modern-day prophets. God’s voice begins with lament, moves to anger, then judgment, and finally grace and renewal. All the steps are there for a reason — to get our attention and move us toward change and improvement. So, facing the truth may be painful and it may “depress” us, at least temporarily. That’s OK, because grace and renewal are coming.
So how does truth speak to the moral soup of our time?
Regarding the impeachment inquiry of President Trump, it’s vital we remember what’s at stake: democracy, not only for ourselves but for future generations. Despite Mr. Trump’s attempts to change the subject in horrible ways (see the abandonment of the Kurds), legal experts across the political spectrum say evidence of his impeachable wrongdoing is overwhelming. It was illegal of the president to ask the president of Ukraine to get dirt on Mr. Trump’s political rival — period. Further, innocent people don’t try to stop witnesses from testifying, as the president has done. Sadly, the Ukraine phone call appears to be merely the tip of the iceberg with violations of the emoluments clause and other illegal activities also evident. As the impeachment inquiry continues, it’s essential that Americans keep in mind this is not about mere partisan politics. This is about immoral and illegal behavior. No one is above the law in our country and the truth must be pursued.
When it comes to truth and security of the upcoming 2020 elections, the news is mixed. On the one hand, Guilford County will be using paper ballots that should provide more voter confidence and ease of audit. On the other hand, the U.S. Senate has finally approved $250 million in funding to make our elections more secure, but it may be too little and too late. We shall see.
And what about truth and the problem of propaganda from parties in the U.S. as well as from other countries? The Netflix movie “The Great Hack” gives us a glance at how our personal data is being harvested and used to influence us, and how it was used especially in the 2016 elections with what is called “weapons-grade communication.” As Brittany Kaiser of the now infamous intelligence company Cambridge Analytica says, “Data is the most valuable asset on Earth.” And our data is being used to manipulate us.
What is truth?
Here are modest suggestions moving forward.
Begin by taking a deep breath. The RAND Corp. book “Truth Decay” points out our country has faced problems of the blurring of opinion and fact, cognitive bias, distrust of the media, etc., before. Lessons from the past can and will be applied to the present.
An old friend from high school, Dr. Kim Smith, professor at N.C. A&T, is one person (there are others) teaching how to be media-savvy as we seek to discern truth. This discernment skill will become increasingly important in the years ahead and should be taught in our faith communities as well.
In our daily lives we might cultivate the habit of asking questions about the great issues we face, being willing to have our views challenged and to question the views of others in respectful, face-to-face conversation. We would do well to look at news sources across a wide range of views and to be suspicious of networks that appear to have lost their ability to hold elected representatives accountable.
What is truth?
Let’s find out. And let’s hold onto it for dear life.