Who Has Truth?

Truth: who has it?  Anyone with a basic philosophical awareness realizes that this question is not a simple one.  How is “truth” to be defined?  In what sense can a person (or group) have it?  In my less guarded moments, I’m tempted to answer, “I have it, just ask me,” but that is, of course, ridiculous.  I am a finite person whose grasp on truth (however defined) is tenuous at best.  Just ask my wife.

Now, I know that this blog doesn’t really major in current events, but if I could, I’d like to reflect again on the current uproar in Egypt.  Unless you have been living under a rock, you have probably been reading about the economic and political turmoil in Egypt, about the recent church bombings there, about the call for President Mubarak to step down, etc.  With all that ringing in my ears, a friend pointed me to a remarkable picture of a group of Christians protecting Muslims while they prayed during the protests.

This is a beautiful example of people reaching across religious and social boundaries to help others.  It is especially poignant given the often violent disagreements between these two groups in a variety of other contexts.  It is important to note that the Christians did not demand a mass conversion or renunciation of Islam before protecting their fellow protesters and that, when the protests are all said and done, there remain real theological, ethical, political, social, etc. differences between these two groups. However, what actions such as this do is open the opportunity for dialogue.

Inter-religious dialogue is fraught with difficulty. (Actually, dialogue between any two people who disagree strongly about any subject is difficult, but religion is on the agenda today.) If one believes in a single God who is the creator and ruler of all that is and who is to be worshiped in a particular way (however that may be defined), it isn’t really a viable option to “agree to disagree” and leave it at that. To attempt such a solution is to ignore the totalizing claim of such theological convictions. While the conversation may end amicably with each party still disagreeing, the dialogue cannot be over.  The question remains, who has the truth?

One of the beautiful aspects of Christianity, at least in my mind, is that while it does claim a monopoly on Truth (note the capital “T”), it never claims one for truth (with the little “t”). That is, the presence of God with us in the person of Jesus, who died, was raised and was glorified and who is the mediator between God and his people through a new covenant (to put it in one sentence) is Christianity’s totalizing claim for “T”ruth. But, this same God also created the world and all who live in it. All humanity is made in his image and thus shares some portion of his likeness.

It is a striking feature, long noted by biblical scholars, that both the Old Testament and the New Testament “borrow” things from sources outside their religious tradition. There is a good case to be made that a large chunk of proverbs (in the book of the same title) was drawn from Egyptian wisdom literature. In the New Testament, there are striking affinities between the thought of Paul and his Stoic contemporaries. Indeed, in the book of Acts he is portrayed as citing a Greek poet (Acts 17:28). Heck, even Jesus, who is himself the way, Truth and life borrowed images and language from his environment. (Incidentally, he was also well known for having conversations with those who were from the other side of the tracks.) Some of this, to be sure, can be chalked up to the fact that all people absorb elements from their environment to varying extents. But, while Christianity claims the ultimate truth about God, it never argues that others from other religious (or philosophical, or political, or sports) groups can’t say true things.  Of course, determining whether or not the thing said is true is a problem in itself…more the matter for a philosophical treatise than a blog entry. Nevertheless, God’s universal love for his creation provides this space for dialogue between disagreeing parties. One can genuinely learn from the “other” in dialogue and dialogue provides space for loving action. Love begets dialogue, which begets love et cetera.

Ben Edsall

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2 responses to “Who Has Truth?

  1. Well, you were right, I was bored, and so wandered to Wondering as you suggested. Thank you for the reflection, Ben. I chuckled at “to put it in one sentence.” Nice. Chuckle aside, “T”ruth as the person and acts of Christ is good news for our shared life of agreed and disagreed “t”ruths. My heart has ached for Egypt and been inspired by a few of her stories through this crisis. And my heart is comforted and freed more with this witness of the felt and active love that grounds and extends across these “Tts.” Love does surpass knowledge (even while, especially while, knowledge is worthily sought). Thank you again for your nuanced and wise voice. You haven’t needed a philisophical treatise…:).

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