Sunday, February 26, 2006

God or Not: Truth

Truth is a big issue. Does it exist? Do we have access to it? Can we ever know the truth in this life? Big questions, big impact on everything we do - politics, religion, society, education all revolve around imparting a chosen version of "the truth" and we define ourselves by our adherence to or deviation from the given interpretation. Most people have no idea that what they receive in church, school, family or on TV even IS a version - they haven't stepped far enough away from their indoctrination to see it for what it is. What if everything you "know" is wrong?

Within a culture we reach a "consensus reality." We choose a color and agree that we will call it pink or blue; someone once chose to call a tree "tree" and a rose "rose" when they could just as easily called them "chair" and "spoon" and that would have been correct, too, as long as all who speak our particular language agreed that this should be so. It is only correct by agreement. It is not "truth" in that there is no objective fact to be discerned by all who would observe the matter no matter what their background might be. We typically think we know much more truth than we do.

Without independent research into alternate materials, a person raised to believe that the Bible is the literal word of "God" will consider it "truth" because someone told them this is the case, and they have had no opportunity or motivation to question that. They may not know that Popes and KIngs have deleted whole books, rewritten whole sections, and changed key words to support various political or economic goals. Likewise, if you never crack a history book not assigned in school, you might think George Washington chopped down a cherry tree and could not lie about it, or that the world has always been ruled by men, though neither is objectively true. The story about Washington is a myth that can be traced to a particular writer; the myth of pervasive and perpetual patriarchal social order has been proven to be incorrect, but political and religious forces continue to obscure and destroy records that prove this to be false, ostracising good archeologist and anthropoligists for their "heretical" views.

Is science "true"? Not always. If science is honest enough to observe and report phenomena without agenda, then it may be. If science has an interest in retaining a grant, proving a point that benefits a particular sponsor, company or political group, then their conclusions may be tainted by that goal. "Truth" is often inconvenient or apolitical. It may not be profitable. If it has been filtered through the Bush Administration, it may be bold faced lies.

I don't know if there is "truth" but I feel as if there must be. That is an opinion, not "truth," and it may be mistaken. If I take my opinions as truth because they seem true to me, that might cause me to enforce my "truth" with laws or sanctions that affect or restrict the behavior of others. If many others agree, we may make a law, but that will be law and not "truth." It is only an agreement by those of us who choose to live under an agreed condition. We cannot "know" whether this is "right" or "wrong," we can only know whether we agree or disagree and perhaps, if we are very self-aware, why we do so. What if you do not agree with us?

What if the law we have agreed upon is in conflict with your own desires? That doesn't make you "wrong." The fact that there are more of us in agreement than you, as the sole dissenter, does not make us "right," it only makes us a majority which can be just as wrong in a group as an individual might be alone. If my truth differs from your truth, how do we conduct our lives in a harmonious way when we have conflicting views? First, we have to agree that harmonious cohabitation is desirable. Some prefer separatism to compromise. Neither is "right" or "wrong" but they will yield different results that we should take into account as we choose. Our agreement is limited only by our imagination, our desire to cooperate and our tolerance for various deviations from our preferences.

A Medicine Man once told me that we each must find our unshakable truth, and that once we had a truth that no one and nothing could move us from, we would be at peace. I don't know if that is "true" or if it is "opinion." I may choose to act as if it is true, but what if I insist that you must accept it as true, too? Wouldn't it be easier if, as George W. Bush is fond of saying, we lived in a dictatorship where he could make the rules? I think we can agree it would be easier for him, but I don't think it would be easier for me. You might disagree. Things are always much easier if we have a divine scripture to follow or the divine right of kings to tell us who is in charge. Nobody said life was going to be easy. If we acknowledge that we are choosing our behavior, we also have to take responsibility for those behaviors. There's no devil to blame for our choices but us.

When the founders of America sought to create a new form of government, they searched for a truth to replace the divine right of the king. They could have chosen the Bible as their source of authority, but they deliberately did not. They did not want to put priests in a ruling class, and they did not want rulers dictating the terms of religious belief or practice. They settled upon an authority they felt was inherent to all human beings:
“We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”

No speculation about the nature of a creator, merely that we exist; that we have a right to live, to be free, to do as we choose. Is this "truth" or opinion? They intended to act as if it were truth, for everyone, everywhere. They faced religious, political and ecomomic opposition that made compromise necessary at that time, but they fully expected future, wiser generations to embrace the totality of their "truth" and build upon their work to create a free and fair society. How we doin' so far?

It is fact that there are groups in the country and in the world that do not accept these 'self-evident truths.' These groups will often point to religious scripture to justify their opinions. It is a fact that they must be selective in which scripture they choose to support their positions, for all known religious scripture is full of contradictions and assertions that would not be accepted in modern cultures. It is a fact that many of them don't know this, because it is a fact that most of them have not read the scriptures that they seek to enforce. It is a fact that people are dying right now, who would not die otherwise, but for the violence of people who would enforce their chosen scripture. It is fact that obsessive focus on religious scripture is harming people in many horrible ways.

My personal truth is that when we are born we have a right to live. It says that no one has the authority to take my life for any reason, and that no law or scripture can change that; That my rights end where yours begin and vice versa; That I can love any adult who loves me back and that sex is a positive force in the world; That children are precious and must be protected from war, hunger, poverty, and ritual mutilation of any form; That every person has a right to learn to read and to vote for their government; That every legal vote must be counted; That every person must be allowed to pray freely, as they choose, without limit, coersion or intimidation; That religion and government must be separate for the protection of both; That corporations are not people and treating them as such diminishes us as human beings and allows for excesses and abuses of power and money; That because we are all equal, hatred is wrong. That what goes around, comes around, so kindness and compassion are our last best hope.

Are those truth, or opinion? Probably opinion, but let me offer this test. What would happen if we acted as if they were true? Acting as if monotheist religious scripture is true gets people tortured and killed. If there is one great truth that we can all agree on, it is that killing is wrong, and that people should live in peace. I choose my truths because I believe they are the path to peace. If you believe I am wrong, cite your source, chapter and verse, and tell me why you think it is right. Tell me why you choose killing, why you choose war, torture, slavery, oppression and letting children starve in a world where we produce enough food for everyone. If you support that "God" or this government, you are supporting all of those things, and that is the TRUTH.



At 7:57 AM, Blogger Xyba said...

"My personal truth is that when we are born we have a right to live."

why don't we have a right to live before we are born?


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