Sunday, April 9, 2017

What Is Truth?

Watching the news during the Trump era, especially the Supreme Court nominee fight, budget fights over healthcare, attacks around the world by religious groups and the personal issue of a divorce, I have had this nagging thought running through my head these past few days. It was, a question that was first asked over 2,000 years ago by Pontus Pilate to Christ after Jesus' rebuttal to Pilate's question in John 37: "Then you are a king?" "You say I am a king" answered Jesus. "For this reason I was born and have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to My voice." To that Pilate asks, "What is truth?"
     This haunting question has troubled Christians and not more than a few non-believers since Roman times. A million debates have swirled around this very question and some answers have led to more than a few wars.
    We do know however, these facts about truth:

  • Truth can be hard to hear. Bad news can also be true.
  • Telling the truth is not always accepted by the majority. Often, the minority can be right.
  • Telling a lie many times does not make it the truth. Witness Hitler. Tell a lie long and often enough it begins to sound like the truth.
     The first time truth got in the way of a people was soon after Jesus was crucified. Its ironic that as Easter and Passover are days away the world today is no more ready to hear what truth is than it did in the time of Jesus. Same fights, same arguments, and pretty much the same people. The Zealots of Christ's time wanted change now. They hated the Romans. It disrupted their way of life and like Americans in our time, Romans brought change and in their attempts to make the lives of the people they conquered better, in many ways, they made it worse. A scene in a movie the other night struck me. American soldiers couldn't understand why the wells they dug for Afghan women were always destroyed. It turned out in their rigid society that was the only acceptable way for them to socialize. They got to leave their compounds to get water.
      Change is hard ... and maybe harder for rigid backward societies. Change is a threat and must be resisted at all costs. However, that resistance in its own way makes us intolerant and blinds us to accepting others and their beliefs. The most moving religious comment I ever heard was from the Dali Lama. After speaking he was asked the question, "Should we all become Buddhists?" He looked at us a long while then finally responded, "NO! Follow your own traditions as they all lead to God." Not what anyone expected. The auditorium was dead silent!

     We all think that love conquers all. That love is a truth.  I am here to tell you it isn't. Yes, we all know people for whom their love lasts until their passing. However, we also know far more where the truth becomes a lie and we have changed and people divorce. There are many ways to examine and talk about the truth of love but, as I have recently experienced, there is also a time to discuss when that truth is gone and another truth takes its place.
      Since moving to Palm Springs, living in a heavily Gay community, I have experienced a very different kind of truth. We are taught many things growing up and for most of us they are relatively true. Yet at the same time we discover, as much as we don't want to, that the world is not black and white ... it is covered with shades of grey. Men can love men, women love women and people born as one sex truly believe they are the other. It is hard to accept because we were trained not to. I can remember relatives talking about the fags and queers, men that did disgusting things. As a child I knew that I didn't want to be "those" people, whoever they were. And yet, later in my life, I realized that I was. So what is the truth then? Didn't God make us all ... Gay and straight?

     America is as polarized today as it was in November 1860. God fearing people in the North and South knew they were right and that God was on their side. The South's justification for slavery was anathema to the North who was industrializing rapidly and didn't understand that the south had in its slave labor much the same drive for industry. The Northern banks held the debt of the South and they hated that. The South's industry was on the backs of living beings, not machines. It was actually an economic war. The bulk of American exports were cotton, fully 50%! In 1860 alone we shipped to England 1 billion pounds of cotton, the very item they needed for their own fabric mills and industrialization. So again, what is truth? A war against slavery or an economic war?
     I remember going to the Ellis Island where most immigrants came for decades to the United States. My father and his family was in this tide during the 20's. However, just before this time millions of Italians reached our shores, something over 20 million! Fearing a Catholic pope and millions of his believers laws were passed by Congress in 1925 that only allowed 250,000 a year to settle here. I remember Opa saying that he had to be sponsored by someone already here and he could not receive any government subsidies for 20 years. Posters and editorials in the island museum lined the walls from the 20's with calls and arguments that are exactly like those used against Latin Americans today. Even the language. Check for yourself. It should be noted though, they had to come by ship, not walk across the border.
     You listen to statements by the GAO, or other agencies that give out figures regarding expenditures, details of changes to the planet, changes in governments, missile firings, the list goes on and on and then listen to the Democratic or Republican take on these facts. You sit and wonder how can they both see the same facts, the same numbers and come up with two totally different responses? What is truth? I am convinced that they see the world through their own ideologies ... that is their truth. Yet, maybe to everyone else it isn't. It is becoming more apparent, they may be the representatives of their constituents but they are not listening.
     This was a republic founded on compromise. So far in the 21st Century that has been thrown out with the baby and its water.

     Will we ever know the truth about our neighbors? Is their truth different from ours? I would hazard a guess and say that yes, it is. One of the greatest weaknesses of the LBJ presidency was his complete misunderstanding of Viet Nam. He could never grasp the concept, the idea as Doris Kearns Goodwin so ably pointed out, was that LBJ thought everyone wanted to be an American. Since I was in Liberia, West Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer during those years, I knew for a fact that while many admired the many things we had, they didn't necessarily want to be Americans. That is true the world over. It is still a lesson our state department has yet to grasp. Truth is truth and yet it is not always your truth. 
     We helped such enemies as Germany and Japan become democracies yet upon closer inspection they are often quite different from our own. They were / are shaped by their own histories and traditions. America is literally a melting pot and vast numbers of immigrants have come here for over 400 years. We displaced those already here yet the very fact they were already here changed our lives as well. Foods, style of government (the Iroquois Nation had a Supreme Court long before England and maybe even Rome) that our forefathers studied and added to the Constitution ( Executive, legislative AND Judicial) as separate branches and checks against the other. Native Americans showed us how to live and how to adapt to a land vastly different from Europe and Africa. They helped the colonists create the nation we are today. So yes, our TRUTHS have changed and continue to change even today, and now it seems, every day.
      In ancient Greek, the word for truth was aletheia that means to un-hide or hide nothing. Yet, as we all know today, that is what we struggle for ... maybe more than ever. Because even a statement seems to have multiple meanings depending on who is making it and hearing it.

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis here is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! Be sure to check my re-opened ETSY store ...


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