Truth is a scarce commodity

2014-06-03 00:00

“AS scarce as truth is, the supply has always been in excess of the demand.”

These words of 19th-century United States comedian Josh Billings are as true now as they were in his era. We tend to believe the truth we are most comfortable with. As children of our postmodern times, we must admit with Guilty Pleasures author Laurell Hamilton that most people prefer a likely, convenient lie to an unlikely, inconvenient truth.

What is truth? Are we able to know the truth? Nowadays, many answer this question with a resounding “No”, believing that truth is subjective. We believe everything is relative, including truth, and that neither science nor religion can lead us to what is objectively and always true.

With absolute truth relegated to the realms of the impossible, our desire to know more and ask questions beyond the obvious have all but disappeared. Suspicion and rejection are the fate of those who do, as expediency has become the pallbearer of truth. Yet the internal inconsistency of a claim that absolute truth does not exist is lost on us. If the claim is true, we cannot trust it.

Before the mushrooming of postmodern thinking in the sixties, the assumption was that in the marketplace of disputed ideas, the truth will come out. Under this modernist paradigm, truth was, ultimately, desirable and attainable. The devastation of two world wars and the Cold War put paid to that optimism. Secularisation set in, with atheism attempting to remove God from our collective conscience.

The resulting truth-sceptic mind-set confounds a world that desperately tries to find new certainties where the old, faith-based ones have all but disappeared. We discovered that our earthly pleasures and occupations do not fill that God-shaped hole we have been created with to connect with our maker.

And so, spiritual beings that we are, we are turning to new and exciting, mystical ways of spirituality. Christianity now has to deal with extra-biblical infusions into its teachings and worship. Rejecting the pre-eminence of the Bible, many believers have joined non-Christians as doubting Thomases. Theological scholars are now questioning the very heart and soul of the gospel. They worship pulpit entertainers and look for safety in numbers where there is none. The strongest lungs and the most voices are false measures of truth, British philosopher Benjamin Whichcote fittingly wrote four centuries ago.

Are the biblical miracles really true? These scholars wonder. And did God really say that homosexuality was wrong or does his perfect love cover even that perpetuated sin? Are the parts of the Bible describing God’s wrath really God’s word or the words of mere mortals? God is not supposed to kill, is he?

It’s a dangerous approach. Where do you stop lifting verses out of context, allegorising texts and projecting your own subjective judgments on a holy book?

Expediency and worldly popularity are guiding principles for these often well-meaning scholars. Yet some of them are simply bad company in terms of doctrine. Somebody like self-confessed “reborn Christian” Professor Keith Ward, star player of Martin Prozesky’s anti-fundamentalist dream team, does not believe in the virgin birth of Jesus. He denies the divinity of Christ, as well as other cornerstones of the Christian faith like Jesus’s physical resurrection, hell and original sin. These are hardly the hallmarks of a Christian, let alone a reborn one. His clarion call against fundamentalism sounds, therefore, very hollow indeed.

Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they have become fashions. In their search for relevance, these liberal scholars try to put God in their own postmodern and spiritually comfortable, world-embracing boxes. And if he doesn’t fit they say that he is wrong, not they.

The Christian message is a simple one and can be understood by everyone who wants to understand it. No theological eminence is required, and the layperson’s steadfast faith and sincere seeking of the truth is by no means inferior to the knowledge of the seminar graduate. On the contrary, I would say. Scholars tread on very thin ice when they interpret in a figurative way Biblical texts that have proven their veracity when understood literally for almost two millennia. Have we suddenly discovered that the previous 80 generations of Christians had it all wrong and misread and misinterpreted the Bible?

Truth may be a scarce commodity, but this does not mean we should not seek it, even against our postmodern instincts. Let God be true and every man a liar.

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