Truth really has fallen on hard times. It’s partly her own fault for having settled right in the heart of the city, the middle of all our gang warfare. Her sister Wisdom, an introvert if there ever was one, had the foresight to build her house in a quiet part of town where you can have a real conversation over dinner. But Truth, for better or worse, had to be in the thick of things. And every time another horde comes through, burning and pillaging, they throw her out, then patch up the remains of what was once a handsome mansion, and install their own candidate in her place, all tarted out to look like the real mistress of the house.
There are the Positivists, for example, with their motto of “Anything I can’t see for myself doesn’t exist.” And there are the Fundamentalists whose motto seems to be “Anything we didn’t know a hundred years ago can’t possibly be so.” Assertion, said by some to be Truth’s distant cousin, has served both groups by turns. Truth may be homeless at the moment, but at least she doesn’t have to go through Assertion’s misery—essentially a complete personality transplant depending on which mob has control of her dining room this afternoon. It must be wrenching to go from “knowing” skeptic to “devout” believer and back in the twinkling of an eye.
More recently the post-modern crowd has gotten into the fray and installed a very good robotic simulacrum of Truth in the front hall that tells all callers, “There is no Truth.” This enables them, in effect, to claim Truth for themselves while denying her existence at the same time. A nice trick as long as you can compartmentalize effectively enough.
It’s not just the philosophers and theologians, of course. Other mobs have been getting into the fray. Righteous Regulation is one. Having taken on the responsibility of saving us from global warming and all other ills, they tried to enlist Truth as their hit-person. Failing that, they enlisted a person of the same general size and shape, named Single-Mindedness. But she managed to disappear and they finally employed a former member of an East Bloc secret police force to don her outfit and act in her place. He doesn’t look the part but he’s very effective when he says to some hapless farmer or coal miner, “The climate adjusted future has no room for the likes of you!” The Righteous Regulation gang, meanwhile, has taken to wearing earplugs so as not to hear the cries of outrage.
And, of course, Righteous Regulation’s archenemies, members of the Populism Gang, have seized the obvious opportunity to lead an assault and install their imitation Truth, a largish man in what appears to be a wig, in the house. He seems to have taken on a name beginning with T, but is rumored to be the same persona as the ancient goddess the Greeks called “Demagogia.” It must be uncomfortable for him/her, since by now there’s very little left of the structure. But who cares?. Nobody is paying much attention to Truth now anyway and no one cares whether s/he looks much like the original or not.
It does all seem pretty hopeless. But I find myself thinking often of a quite different take on Truth found in a puzzling line from George Herbert’s poem “The Call”:
Come my Way, my Truth, my Life. . . .
such a Truth as ends all strife. . . .
It’s been a long time since Truth had the power to end any strife, much less all. What did Herbert’s Truth have that our Truths don’t?
She has, above all, an intimate link to Love, as the rest of the poem goes on to show. No wonder she’s disappeared from our gang-dominated environment! The Positivists’ Truth exists only to justify sneering at members of other gangs. The Fundamentalists’ Truth is there solely to pass judgement on dirty mis-believing outsiders. Righteous Regulation only wants clear, certain, and inalterable rules—and freedom from having to deal with the troubles they cause. Populism only wants some sense of being in full control again (as if it had ever been).
The only Truth that has a chance of returning to her house and taking up residence again, of shoring up the walls, refurbishing the dining room, and inviting people in for dinner will be a Truth that honors not only the seen but the unseen, not only faith but science, not only science but the people. Then perhaps we’ll be able to agree with one another that Truth still exists, even though our grasp of her meaning will still, as always, be far from perfect.
The only Truth that can match this description will have to be the Truth also known as Love.