We are asked to believe a lot of things, but how do we know what’s true?
Last week, I asked a young man, “How do you know what’s true?”
“Uh, I just know,” he said.
I realized he needed some context. With rumors of Jason Garrett being let go as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, I asked, “If you hear something about the Dallas Cowboys, how do you know it’s true?”
“Well, if it’s someone who loves the Cowboys, I wouldn’t ask them, and if it’s someone who hates the Cowboys, I wouldn’t ask them,” he said. The one who loves the Cowboys would “candy coat” things, while the other would trash the Cowboys organization, he said.
He understood both people would be biased to the point of unreliability. He said to get at the truth, he would have to do some research.
I asked him how he knew to do that, to discern bias and do research. He said he just knew.
Trying to find the truth
We’ve endured many months of truth claims advanced by opposing sides. We’ve been assured each side was telling the truth. None of us have been in a place to know with absolute certainty if either side was telling the truth. Even so, we’ve most likely made up our minds about what is true and what is not.
I’m referring to the ongoing impeachment process. This process is much more important than who will be the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, which now has been decided. The rumors about Jason Garrett were true.
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If a young man—a teenager—has the wherewithal to know he can’t fully trust someone who loves the Cowboys or someone who hates the Cowboys to tell him the unvarnished truth, surely adults weighing matters of national and international consequence know they need to do some research to get at the unadulterated truth.
But when it comes to truth, there are the facts, there are the interpretations of the facts, and there’s the truth about us. Facts are hard to dispute. Interpretations of facts are debatable. What is true about us, well, that’s the whole truth we’d just as soon avoid. That’s the truth we don’t need research to know because we’ve been running from it since Adam and Eve.
Truth is more than skin-deep
Here’s an example of a truth about us.
I wasn’t incredulous when I heard about it because I was listening to a credible source of information at the time. I wasn’t sure, however, if sober curious is as big a deal as the reporter was making it out to be. So, I looked it up.
As it turns out, I’m late to the party. Sober curious has been a thing for a while. There are books, t-shirts, sober curious parties and bars, sober curious breweries and distilleries and more. It’s not just a thing. It’s been called a movement, a lifestyle being embraced by Millenials.
How much alcohol Americans consume is a fact we can determine with reasonable certainty. Why they consume it is an interpretation of the facts relying on self-reports and inferences (an important word from the impeachment proceedings).
But the fact that something like “sober curious” exists and that it’s trending reveals sad truths about us.
So many Americans drink so much so often that they have little to no experience with sobriety. How in the world have we become so used to drinking that we are curious about sobriety?
A reason people drink is to de-stress or escape. We are a nation of people who run from the truth about ourselves.
I don’t have the luxury of being curious about sobriety. For me, sobriety is not a curiosity but a necessity.
The fact is I don’t drink alcohol. The reason I don’t drink alcohol is because if I do, everyone around me will hurt. The whole truth is I don’t drink alcohol because I’m an alcoholic. I learned that about myself years ago.
There is the truth contained in facts and the interpretations of the facts, and then there’s the whole truth.
Just as I had to get past the facts and reasons for my relationship to alcohol, all of us need to go beyond the surface truth contained in facts and interpretations to the deeper and whole truth about ourselves.
Facing the truth about ourselves
It’s important that we get at the unvarnished, unadulterated facts about consequential things. It matters that we arrive at reasonable interpretations of those facts, which requires honest research.
And honest research requires us to be aware of our biases—helpful shorthands that have morphed into self-important preconceptions—and to be willing to look outside their protective shell.
Arriving at bare facts and determining reasonable explanations are in service of what is more important, facing the truth about ourselves.
Current events are full of distractions from the work of dealing with the truth about ourselves. We can get so lost in the facts of these events and their interpretations that we forfeit our souls.
To get at the whole truth, we may need to do a little research on ourselves. We may need to answer uncomfortable questions like:
• Why aren’t some Christians more vocal about the bad behavior of those on their side?
• Why are some Christians so willing to share biased information, spreading it like a flu-laden sneeze all over social media?
As for the truth about the world around us, we don’t have the time, the experience or the responsibility to research everything. We have to trust others to do some of that for us.
There’s a truth about ourselves in that statement that points to an even deeper truth: We are limited, finite. We are not God; therefore, we ought to live in humility toward the truth.
Eric Black is the executive director, publisher and editor of the Baptist Standard. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @EricBlackBSP. The views expressed are those solely of the author.