We live in an era that boasts of its vehement resistance to propositional truth. Truth is said to be a “relationship” or a “personal encounter.” Existential philosophy has placed so much stress on the personal and relational character of faith that an allergy has developed against propositional or objective truth.
Richard Rorty said, “truth is what my peers will let me get away with saying.”2 Deborah Lipstadt of Emory University said, “We’re in a day and age in which I can make any claim I want.”3 Fifty years ago Adolf Hitler was also complaining about the world he himself had created when he said, “Everyone has deceived me! No one has told me the truth.”4
We have all read the statistics of the attitude of Americans toward telling the truth. It seems we have lost the concept of truth. Truth is now the confirmation of my statement about the way I see things. I didn’t say the confirmation about the way I see things, but the confirmation of my statement about the way I see things. My statement may have little similarity to the actual facts but if I say it is true for me, then it is true as far as I am concerned. And if I happen to add “I believe” to my statement, it carries even greater weight and can be even further from the actual facts. For example, in my home state of Ohio, a group of Mormon youth recreated the early Mormon journey through Ohio. One said, “I realized for our pioneers to go through something like that, they had to believe in the church very strongly. I believe this church is true.”5 Ironically, the same paper carried a story on Jainism (a growing religion from India) in which the writer said, “Jains believe there is no absolute truth for humanity. Rather, there are several individual truths that vary from person to person.”6
The Eastern Pantheistic religions are finding fertile soil in present American culture. The further we drift from the God of absolutes to a consumer mentality in religion of “the one that is right for me,” the more strange the concept of truth will appear to our generation. While covering a politician’s speech, Joseph Sobran noted that reporters wrote, “impressively smooth performance,” “effective performance,” “bravura performance.” Then Sobran wrote, “The only question was whether he had won over the half-attentive mass audience, not whether he had actually told the truth.”7 It would be an easy thing to refute if we still lived in the old days when, as Pascal said, “It is false piety to preserve peace at the expense of truth.”8 In those days everything that was past was considered history and fact. It may have taken research but the truth stood as a matter of record! The future was the only unknown. Today it is the opposite. What is past cannot be known and history is only someone’s personal interpretation of the events. History (as well as the future) is whatever I say it is or believe it to be.
So in an Orwellian sort of way, when a speaker is accused of not telling the truth, it is not he who is blamed, it is the accuser who has displayed such bigotry in assuming he can know the truth! Robert Nisbet wrote, “The ideologies which gained entry into the academy in the sixties claimed that the fundamental intellectual principles of Western culture were illegitimate and must be overthrown. With that destroyed, terms like truth, good, evil, and soul could be discarded.”9 G.K. Chesterton noticed this years ago in the English school system, “No English school-boy is ever taught to tell the truth, for the very simple reason that he is never taught to desire the truth. From the very first he is taught to be totally careless about whether a fact is a fact; he is taught to care only whether the fact can be used on his ‘side’ when he is engaged in ‘playing the game.'”10
We would be naive at best to think such attitudes do not creep into Christianity as well. It does on the most intimate personal level and on the public level. God said simply, “Thou shalt not lie.” I wonder if we were given the chance to write down the ten most important concepts for society today if we would have even thought of that one! Maybe that is because we are not taught to desire fellowship with God and “they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”
So where are we if truth doesn’t matter? John MacArthur says, “Too many Christians are content to gaze nonchalantly at the surface of scriptural truth without plunging any deeper. They often justify their shallow indifference as a refusal to be legalistic.”11 That is, we are in a state of apathy. Noel Smith once wrote, “When we get tired of aiming for such a standard, we are going back and gear up the mule.”12 Smith knew the stakes were too high to quit. As that great Anabaptist, Balthasar Hubmaier always signed, “Truth is Immortal.”
Notes: 1. R.C. Sproul, Faith Alone (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995) 77. 2. Rorty quoted by William L. Craig, Reasonable Faith (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994) 173. 3. Lipstadt, Denying The Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory quoted by John Leo, USN&WR,2/28/94. 4. Erwin Lutzer, Hitler’s Cross (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995) 170. 5. “Footsteps of Faith,” Dayton Daily News, nd, 1996. 6. Ibid. 7. Joseph Sobran, “He is not called Slick Willie for nothing” Universal Press Syndicate 3/29/94. 8. Blaise Pascal, Pensees (New York: Penguin Books, 1966) 325. 9. Robert Nisbet quoted by Cal Thomas, The Things That Matter Most (New York: Harper Collins, 1994) 6. 10. G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong With The World (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1994) 162. 11. John MacArthur, Reckless Faith (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994) 40. 12. Noel Smith quoted by Norma Gillming, The Best of Noel Smith (Springfield: BBC, 1985) 4.