Friday, April 30, 2021

What is Truth?


“The truth." Dumbledore sighed. "It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.”

-          J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

In response to my question, "What’s Your Alternative?” when considering a culture or tradition better suited for liberty than the Christian, and a value higher than what I suggest must be the highest value, the value of love, I received the following as one reply: “the truth.”  The truth valued higher than love.  It’s an interesting thought, one perhaps worth exploring.

Aren’t there times and situations when we know it is better to not tell the truth, or to not speak truthfully?  If the truth inflicts tremendous harm on someone without any gain to the person, is this at least something worth considering?

The truth is rarely pure and never simple.

-          Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

Why would the truth be higher than love?  In other words, why value truth?  I can think of one reason: to achieve justice.  So, the “why” of truth is justice.  It’s one possibility.  Does this make justice the thing we should most highly value?  For this, we would need a standard.  I guess one standard could be something along the lines of the non-aggression principle and property rights, but that just leads me back to the question from Ira that started this entire discussion. 

In any case, if justice is the highest virtue, this leaves no room for mercy.  What of mercy?  Can a society be just without mercy?  I don’t know, maybe. 

Mercy without justice is the mother of dissolution; justice without mercy is cruelty. 

-          Thomas Aquinas

Why have mercy?  I guess otherwise it would be a cold society.  Three strikes you’re out, no extenuating circumstances.  But, at least according to Thomas, neither justice nor mercy can be highest, as each one is destructive without the other.  What is above them both?  Why must justice and mercy walk hand-in-hand?

I am finding that the last answer to the last “why” is love.  I certainly wasn’t the first person to figure this out.  And it wasn’t the Greeks or Romans who did, either….

A Texas Libertarian offered a comment worth exploring:

There is a simple test to conclude whether Christianity or the actions of the individual or group of supposed Christians are bad.

(1) Are the tenets of the Christian Church good?

(2) Are the bad actions of the individual or group in question in line with Christian tenets?

If (1) is yes and (2) is no, then it should be clear that it is the individual and not the religion who's to blame.

I was thinking about this in terms of the Greek / Roman morality prior to Christianity, which I explored here.  In that society, it was ethical to murder slaves for any or no reason, have sex with slaves with or without consent, treat women like chattel, murder babies for any or no reason – and certainly if they were female.  Contrast this with the Christian society that replaced it – where each of these “goods” of the Greco-Roman ethic were overturned quickly.

I will grant that in either society, no man perfectly lives his ethic.  Some Roman men did not murder their newborn daughters, and no Christian was the next Jesus Christ.

But which ethic is the one worth aiming at?  Which one, if aimed at, provided a better chance of a society where all were treated with respect, where property and life were upheld, where peace had a better chance of taking hold?  To ask these questions is to answer these.  The competition is so one-sided as to not be fair.


What is truth?  Try love.  Love is truth.  It works well for liberty, also. 


  1. "Try love. Love is truth."

    I think I know what you mean but that is uncharacteristically overtly simplistic. Love requires an object, preferably others directed and the effect/expression of that love will not necessarily be seen as such by others. Tough love refrain comes to mind.

    "For the love of money is the root of all evil."

    For an evil person, his love of money is a truthful expression.

    1. When considering the proper definition of the word "love", it becomes clear that it is impossible to love money.

    2. Jaime, I knew when I wrote it, that it was incomplete. Partly I meant to keep this post short; mostly, I think, because I glimpsed my meaning but have not grasped it.

      Perhaps the following opens a small window to my meaning:

      Truth: the property (as of a statement) of being in accord with fact or reality; fidelity to an original or to a standard; sincerity in action, character, and utterance

  2. Truth = Reality - good, bad or indifferent! The problem is it requires discernment - Hebrews 5:11-14.
    Another problem - it requires logical, critical thinking: "Logic is the systematic study and practice of discerning and speaking the truth!" - from Joel MucDurmon's book - Biblical Logic.
    For us mortals, seeking truth is a process, never an end state - thus the necessity of proving all things.
    These are just some snippets from or relating to the Bible.
    So where do we begin?
    “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6)?
    How about right in the beginning?
    James wrote that if you seek wisdom - ask for it!
    If I had to summarize it by DaCrush method, talking with my teen age and young adult grandkids, I would ask: Does God exist and does it matter?
    Shall we begin?

  3. My understanding of Anglo-Saxon values is that they were very close to Roman and Greek. There was no mercy, or at least it was thought of as weakness. I suspect that was the whole pagan world.

    Love is truly it. The hard part is defining love correctly. Love encompasses mercy and justice. It encompasses truth a lieing to protect others in certain circumstances.

  4. "...God is love." -- 1 John 4:8

    "...I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." -- John 14:6

    If God is love and if Jesus is God (as Christians believe), then this means that Jesus is love. If this is true, then it follows that love is the way, the truth, and the life. If this is true, then the logical conclusion is that no one can come to the Father, except through love. No one can enter into the presence of God unless they love.

    There is no need in Christianity (or any other religion) for all the meaningless "stuff" which people use to try to fill the empty spaces in their lives. There is only one need--love.

    " the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, and your neighbor as you do yourself." -- Matthew 22:37-39

    This immediately negates the question which so many people use as an argument against Christianity. "How can God justify condemning someone to Hell for eternity if they have never heard of Jesus and been able to ask Him to forgive their sins?" The obvious rebuttal is, "Have these people ever experienced and known love?" If they have, then they have 'heard' the Gospel and there is no excuse for them if they did not respond positively to it.

    "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” -- John 13:35

    Religion is a life based on multiple rules in the vain attempt to correct wrongful behavior. Love is a life based on only one rule, " one another." (1 John 4:11)

    Adherence to religion is hard. Love is easy.

    "My yoke is easy, my burden is light." -- Jesus the Christ, Matthew 11:30

  5. There are several parables that do not come across as very loving - usually tenants being kilked, driven out, etc.

    We all can agree that whatever the manifestation of what love is, it is more than just a feeling. And, that mercy is tricky. When dies mercy crosses into injustice to an innocent victim?

    What does the Lord requires of of you, oh, man?
    On which commandments dies The Law and the Prophets rests?

    We indeed must walk under the shadow of death by faith.

    Mathew 18 concludes

    32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

    35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

    1. Yes. Love isn't just kindness, or super-kindness. Love isn't just liking someone a lot. Love is doing. The doing requires truth, justice, mercy...all wrapped into the doing of love.

      Love is wanting the best for another. Sometimes the journey to "the best" comes with some difficulty, even pain.

    2. Well said, Bionic. Peg in Oregon

    3. "When does mercy cross into injustice to an innocent victim?"

      Great question. I think it must be the victim or the representative of the victim (in case victim is dead or incapacitated) who must be the one to choose mercy or justice.

      For instance, in a libertarian legal market, crimes would no longer be committed against society or the state but specific individuals. A man shoots another innocent man by accident. The 'shootee' forgives the shooter in court thereby choosing mercy.

      Another question that comes to my mind is this: when does mercy become irresponsibility to future victims? A man has a demonstrated pattern of raping women (many women accuse him, but none can convict). A woman then takes him to court with all evidence necessary to lock him up or kick him out of society or whatever the punishment is determined to be, and she at the last moment decides to show him mercy. Is she then responsible for his next rape victim(s)?

      This second question falls in the same category as conservative Christians 'turning the other cheek' so to speak as liberals keep pushing the politics and the culture of the united states further towards totalitarianism and Satanism (materialism, egalitarianism, libertinism, etc.). At what point are we responsible for not stopping them?

    4. Yep. And thanks for taking the time to react to what wrote.

      The only person that had the authority to forgive the murderer is the victim. No other human has that authority.

      "when does mercy become irresponsibility to future victims?" and "turning the other cheek ... At what point are we responsible for not stopping them."

      You know how often I try to explain that sort of analysis to people, including my wife, and all I get is "do not judge" or that I am judging?

      Meanwhile in Houston and other places, arrestees with multiple prior felony convictions are allowed PR (personal recognizance) bonds and go out and commit murder. Where is the judge's responsibility, how do they sleep at night!

  6. Truth is strictly God's domain. However, God, in his customary love for mankind, wanted man to be able to experience both His love and His truth. All would have been dubious if we had to rely on any "personal" experience of either, since the ego is never to be trusted in any fallen soul (not even a "saved" one. - This is also the primary problem with modernity, IMO - it emphasizes that whatever is nearest to ME - even by the standard of time - is best.). So, this is why God gave us his Church, to act a sort of proxy for coming into His truth and His love. (As an added bonus, in order to submit to the authority of the Church, one must humble oneself, thus engaging the one attribute of God that allows all the other attributes in.) The Church, also being of necessity then, relational, mirrors and incorporates the model of the Holy Relationship of the Holy Trinity. This promotes, but does not ensure (since that relationship does include man, in this case), the most capable manifestation of both love and truth available to man. "....and the gates of Hades will not overcome it" (Matthew 16:18)

  7. there are 3 forms of 'truth'.

    absolute truth: self existing and self evident, requiring no belief or even knowledge by anyone to do so. nature is incapable of falsehood and is completely devoid of artifice

    objective truth: exists, yet does not self exist and is alterable. artifice your home is an example of an objective truth.

    subjective truth: true only within a set circumstances. luke blowing up the death star is a relative truth. there is no reality in it because it's completely fictional.

    love too, comes in different forms and is hierarchical in expression, so to speak.

    i take with issue with the assertion that the ancients, be they roman/greco or otherwise, did not love their mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, aunties and grannies. certainly , the ancients loved their children as a rule though there were exceptions, then as now.

    man's nature is the same today as it was in the most remote antiquity and has not changed. what was true then, is true now.

    God is not a sadist.

    1. "God is not a sadist."

      Well, it's a start....

    2. They loved but it was probably often not a consistent sort of love. Loving people only when it is convenient is not a fully fledged sort of love. Take for instance loving a son, but discarding a daughter at birth. The son is convenient; the daughter was not.

      As Bionic has been saying, true love is wanting what is best for another regardless of what that means for yourself. Giving your life for another is the purest expression of love, and of course it is the one exemplified by Jesus Christ, though He gave His life for all of us.

  8. Well done, Mosquito. As I recall, Pilate was impertinent enough to ask the same question of the Lord. Your well-executed piece brings to mind another quote; the one from T.S.Eliot about exploring (and returning to the place from whence those explorations began).

  9. Why did you not publish my comments?

  10. Suppose "virtues are the principles by which values are achieved and maintained" (Ayn Rand, if not also by others), but can be divided into categories according to the contexts in which they may be applied. Let's start broadly with the contexts "social, non-social, both social and non-social, and take an example of a non-social context to be living alone, stranded on an otherwise deserted island. For the non-social context, which of love, justice, mercy, forethought, prudence, honesty (in the sense of facing facts), and integrity apply? And in that context, doesn't rationality come before any of these? Now what about the other contexts?
    Or can it be claimed that in a non-social context there are no virtues, a claim I would refute? Can at least some social virtues be derivative virtues linked to virtues found in the non-social context?

    1. "...take an example of a non-social context to be living alone, stranded on an otherwise deserted island."

      It is not a scenario worth considering. This does not describe the human condition.

  11. I forgot to add a comment on Truth. Wouldn't it have two fundamental roles: to be both a value and a virtue, with context being more important in one case versus the other?
    For values, wouldn't one context be "for whom and for what?" (per Ayn) and for virtues (of people or of lions or of mice, what are the proper Standard of virtues, and would it apply in all contexts?. Are honesty and rationality, the main means of identifying and values , e.g., truths, and in determining virtues e.g. also truth, as well?

  12. I believe in separation of church and state as enunciated in the Constitution. The centuries of persecution, intolerance and slaughter during the Dark Ages when church and state were united surely was not according to Him who said, "My kingdom is not of this world." But Protesants were similarly oppressive, not yet comprehending the great principle of religious liberty. The idea that God had given the church the right to control the conscience was one of the most deeply rooted errors. In the New World, in the colonies, a kind of church state was formed, again the secular power in the hands of the church with its inevitable result, persecution.

    It was Roger Williams who saw what so few of his time had seen, that freedom was the right of all, whatever might be their creed. Williams "was the first person in modern Christendom to establish civil government on the doctrine of the liberty of conscience, the equality of opinions before the law."--Bancroft, pt. 1, ch. 15, par. 16. Williams little state, Rhode Island, an asylum of the oppressed, prospered until it principles of civil and religious liberty became the cornerstones of the American Republic. As the news spread through Europe, of a land where every man might enjoy the fruit of his own labor and obey the convictions of his own conscience, thousands flocked to the New World.

    I believe that as churches in our own time have departed from the simplicity of the gospel and lost the power and spirit of God, they are making a fatal error in believing that to remedy the decline in morality they are entitled to control the consciences of the people and take control of the state to their own ends and punish "heresy." I believe that would be, not only unconstitutional and national apostasy, it would be very dangerous because, for example, what the Vatican means by freedom is not what the Constitution means. "The Church...does not, and cannot accept, or in any degree, liberty in the Protestant sense of liberty." (Catholic World, April 1870). Pope Francis has labeled Chiristians who believe in the law of God as "a plague," that they are "fundamentalists," "they are sick," "they refuse to yield the law," they refuse to give up the Ten Commandments." Pope Francis has stated that "the death penalty" can be applied "for the common good,"on those papal leaders view as "infectious."

    Chris Hedges in his book on Christian Fascism warned: "A group of religious utopians . . . are slowly dismantling democratic institutions to establish a religious tyranny, the springboard to an American fascism,” “the movement stands poised manipulate fear and chaos ruthlessly and reshape America in ways that have not been seen since the nation's founding.”

    I honestly believe this is all heading not to the saving of our liberties but to something that will seem like the answer but instead will be a national apostasy, the last nail in the coffin of our liberties and the Constitution.

    1. I believe this comment is at the wrong post, but maybe I am wrong.

      In any case, I certainly have never advocated that the church take the reigns of state authority and power.