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What is Truth?

Some of my favourite lines from the iconic 1960's New York band The Velvet Underground are:

“…you know that women never really faint and that villains always blink their eyes that children are the only ones who blush, and that life is just to die.”

It seems that human beings sway between naivety and cynicism. The problem of course is that it can be difficult to tell the difference between naivety and hope, or between being cynical and being realistic.

I have recently read The Hitler Conspiracies by Richard J. Evans, in which he explores five often repeated theories from the Nazi era, including the idea that Adolf Hitler did not shoot himself in his underground bunker in Berlin but escaped to Dublin dressed as a woman. Evans writes:

“This is a book about fantasies and fictions, fabrications and falsifications. The conscious exploitation of myths and lies for a political purpose is not merely the creation of the twenty-first century.”

Why do conspiracy theories gain traction?

  1. They often contain a grain of truth.

  2. They play on people’s uninformed fears and prejudices.

  3. Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.

On the latter point, I was surprised to read the news last week that a French bulldog called Wilbur Beast had (allegedly) been elected mayor of the Kentucky town of Rabbit Hash. Far from being a unique event, the town has been represented by a canine mayor since the 1990’s, when the town had had enough of human mayors.

Talking about prejudice and fear reminds me of the scene in the film Beauty and the Beast in which Gaston speaks to the mob concerning the beast coming to the town to steal their children — this, despite the fact that no one had seen the beast who never left the grounds of his chateau.

“The beast will make off with your children! He’ll come after them in the night.”Then, invoking spiritual aid for the cause, he adds:

“Say a prayer, then we’re there, at the drawbridge of a castle, and there’s something truly terrible inside. It’s a beast! He’s got fangs, razor sharp ones! Massive paws, killer claws for the feast! Hear him roar, see him foam, but we’re not coming home ‘till he’s dead! Good and dead! Kill the beast!”

Of course, there is also the grain of truth. People who are wrong are seldom completely wrong. That is the problem that requires us to sometimes suspend judgement and give people the benefit of the doubt.

Christians should be careful in how they communicate information. It is not an exaggeration to claim that the whole Christian enterprise is founded upon truth. Jesus said that it is the truth that sets us free; Paul says that the church is the pillar and ground of the truth.

How might we help to promote what is true?

  1. Don’t believe it if it is untrue.

  2. Do not pass it on if you are unsure of the reliability of its source.

  3. Use words as tools of transformation, not as weapons of mass destruction.

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