Friday, February 26, 2010

Witnesses of Truth

“Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?” is a question that those who give testimony in court must affirm with an oath. But what does such an oath mean now that there are more and more people who think that there is no Truth, just various subjective or relative truths?
As I have written in previous postings (Oct. 22 and Oct. 26), I firmly believe there is absolute Truth. But I have previously, and do again here, reject the charge that I am an absolutist. And I readily acknowledge that there have been massive errors made by those who thought their apprehension of Truth gave them the license to force that view on others.
Thus, I think there is significant wisdom in the statement, “Believe those who seek the truth; doubt those who find it” (André Gide, 1869-1951, French author and winner of the Nobel Prize in literature in 1947).
 I also was impressed with the prayer that was used recently in a chapel service at William Jewell College:
From the cowardice that dares not face new truth,
From the laziness that is contented with half truth,
From the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth,
Good Lord, deliver me.
(These words, said to be a “prayer from Kenya,” are found in George Appleton, ed., The Oxford Book of Prayer, 1985, p. 115.)
Further, I like this prayer by Pope John XXIII (April 11, 1963; emphasis added).
May God banish from our hearts whatever might endanger peace.
May God transform us into witnesses of truth, justice, and love.
May God enkindle our wills so that we may overcome the barriers that divide, cherish the bonds of mutual charity, understand others, and pardon those who have done us wrong.
May all peoples of the earth become as brothers and sisters, and may the most longed-for peace blossom forth and reign among us always.
I like Pope John’s prayer, partly because it illustrates how being a witness of Truth does not make one a warrior or an arrogant bigot, although, certainly, there have been warriors and bigots who were so perhaps because they believed in absolute Truth.
If we take seriously the claim that Jesus is “the truth” (John 14:6), as I do, we must also take with equal seriousness Jesus' command that his followers practice love for one another. In that same chapter, Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (v. 15), and then in the next chapter he says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (15:12).
Being a witness of Truth means seeking to practice love and to work for justice for all people. Ideas of truth which have led to warfare, injustice, intolerance, imperialism, exploitation, and the like are not the Truth as revealed by Jesus, the Prince of peace and the Lord of love.


  1. The first response to this posting came in before 10:30 this morning. It was brief, and good:

    "Amen to those prayers!"

  2. Very uplifting and thought-provoking...a wonderful way to begin my morning in Japan!

  3. I do not believe that Truth and peace are mutually coexistent. Truth is what it is, peace is an outcome. By nature, "the LORD is a warrior, the LORD is his name" - he will defend Truth.
    St. Clement of Alexandria made the best philosophical appeal to peace I have seen - a lengthy comparative of the costs of waging peace and war.

    The "Love one another", seems to be directed at Christ followers. However, he also said "Love your enemies".

  4. A painful gap separates Truth from Witness. A mundane example of this has roiled our justice system, as advances in DNA and other forensic tools have resulted in the overturning of numerous death penalty convictions. The weak link that failed in many of the overturned cases was eye-witness testimony.

    An eye witness can report what was seen, but frequently fails to correctly identify WHO was seen. We can have a mountain-top experience, and call it Jesus, but what value is that witness in a discussion with a non-Christian? Indeed, we can be quite skeptical of Catholic miracles, and Pentecostal tongues. I personally have equal disinclinations for Rev. Criswell's original autographs and Joseph Smith, Jr.'s prophecies. What exactly is our witness of the Truth?

    The DNA tests that overturn court decisions are not the result of a failure to believe in absolute truth. They are a result of a profound doubt of the abilities of witnesses. Hopefully this sad process will result in better protocols in handling eye-witness testimony in the future. So what can we learn on a religious level? Perhaps we need to learn something from the Hindus, where gods are manifestations, and faith leads down multiple paths. And perhaps we need to learn something from the sciences and the humanities, where we can begin to understand how various religions, our own included, succeed and fail. Not that this is a new process, prophets and philosophers have been doing this for thousands of years, all around the world. Do we have enough faith to put Christianity under the microscope as well?