A society without truth

John 18:38. “What is truth?”

That verse is one of the defining moments in Scripture to the secular world. Jesus has been hauled before Pilate, the pagan Roman governor in Jerusalem. Pilate demands to know if Jesus claims to be “King of the Jews.”

“You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world,” Jesus answers, “to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” (Jn 18:37).

Pilate answers with a perceptible rhetorical shrug, “What is truth?”

Truth stands before the modern mind, and secular thought dismisses it.

Which brings us to today. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was accused by Christine Blasey Ford of a brutal sexual attack years back. He emphatically denies it. Here’s the truth we know: One of them is a liar.

No one wants to say that. We hear instead that Ford is confused. While she professes certainty that Kavanaugh attacked her, she is traumatized by what happened and misremembers. On the other hand, Kavanaugh may have done it, but maybe he was just too drunk at the time to remember — a moral blackout. 

So nobody is lying because both are rationalizing a faux-truth in their own way.

And that’s what happens when society fails to understand that truth exists. It is real. It is knowable. And all we do now is make excuses for our failures in not recognizing it. Because we’ve denied its existence for so long, echoing Pilate.

Either Ford is lying in her alleged certainty, or Kavanaugh is lying in his emphatic denial, even if they talk themselves out of the obvious. 

The truth isn’t Democratic. The truth isn’t Republican. The truth doesn’t support the nomination. Truth doesn’t oppose the nomination. Truth depends on nothing but itself. 

The great debate between supporters of Judge Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford is the ultimate failure of contemporary thought to embrace the reality of truth. Both sides keep circling around truth because they don’t really understand it.     

The faith is absolute about truth. And lying. Lying is always, absolutely wrong. You cannot lie in your ordinary day-to-day; you cannot lie in the extraordinary. You cannot tell a lie to save your life; you cannot tell a lie to save another’s life. 

Truth is God’s truth. Once truth is denied, God is denied.

Moralists have wrestled with this over the centuries, trying to figure out how to live in a flawed world without lying. The most common teaching is what was called “truth with reservation.” Simply put, it does not mean lying is acceptable. But it is wording things and keeping certain things quiet — reserved — so as to lead the hearer to an interpretation contrary to the actual truth.

The example given is if an innocent friend is hiding in my house and people come to arrest him. They ask if he is in and I respond that he is not at home. I mean his home, not my home. But I don’t specify. I’m not lying. They make a flawed interpretation. It’s not my fault. Not my lie.

But even these reservations were not fondly embraced. They were often described as “jesuitical” after the religious order that allegedly taught them. The pejorative meant a sly word game intended to deceive. Or lying.

Pope Saint John Paul II reflected as a bishop on an Eastern European society in the 1950s where governments consistently lied. They lied even when the truth was harmless. 

The result? Nobody believed the government. But nobody believed anything. Lying became a way of life. And it killed the soul.  

We have a society, a culture, that cannot understand truth. No matter anyone’s politics, that will kill the soul.  

What is truth? It is standing before Pilate.

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Indiana.