I have always been interested in finding the truth. That is until I thought I had it. When I thought I had discovered the truth, I stopped looking. Instead of continuing my search I simply entrenched myself in the position that I considered to be true and armed myself to defend it. What I was ignorant of was the fact that the “truth” that I discovered was something that I discovered early in my life when I was not as clever as I thought I was. So I found myself treading water around the same gem of truth for many years. I even grew arrogant about this position believing it to be so solid that it was foolish to think otherwise. But in a rare twist of events, especially rare for someone who believes in my “truth,” I began to question the validity of that truth. It took a long time, but eventually I came to realise that the truth I had camped around, and built my life around was vacuous. It looked good from a certain angle, and as long as I kept viewing from that angle it seemed to be a tower of indestructibility. But as soon as I shifted my position just a little to the side the image changed, and began to fade. I had been looking at an illusion and not the truth at all. So I picked up my torch and once again began searching for the truth.
Before going any further allow me to define what I mean by truth. In some circles truth is thought about as a lofty supernatural ideal, something which comes from outside of our reality and imposes its will upon our world. But that’s not the definition I’m using. I will define truth as simply what is real. I don’t think that truth is relative, there is absolute truth at the core of most things in our universe. The truth is the natural reality that arises as a result of the normal functions of our universe. 2 + 2 = 4 because it does. You might want to argue about where the laws of mathematics come from, I put them down to simply natural phenomena, but regardless the laws of mathematics are in play, and they are always in play. Perhaps in a different dimension the rules would be different, but in our dimension those are the rules. We may have variability in being able to determine the truth, but the truth is always the truth. There is either a god or there is not, it does not depend upon our opinions. Our ability to successfully find the truth is dependent upon our methods of enquiry. At the peak are the pure sciences which are empirical and can be tested observationally. These yield facts, and facts are truth. From this peak a scale runs right down to the other end where beliefs with no evidence exist.
Truth is important, perhaps the most important thing of all. But the truth is not always what we want it to be. The litmus test is whether or not we will accept the truth regardless of whether we like it. Christians and other religious folk believe that they have the truth. And the danger of this is that when you think you have the truth, you no longer search for the truth. There is a lazy gene that is inherent within most people and this gene causes us to camp around a position, or belief, because it is easier than the alternative. Constantly searching requires energy, both physical and mental. It is far easier to simply accept something and discontinue the search. If the “truth” that we believe we have found has a candy coating on top then it is all the more easy to camp around. This is why I have heard Christians say many times “a world without God sounds horrible, why would I want to believe that.” This apparently innocent comment is anything but. It reveals the bias – the X files mindset of “I want to believe.” And certainly, the belief that life is just a passing fancy and that once we die we are gone, is not as attractive as a wonderland where we will get to live forever and always be happy. For this article I will ignore the fact that there is a much darker side to that story as well. But it is right here that the problem starts. This revelation reveals an actual truth about the religious mindset: desire supersedes truth. Religious people allow their desires to overwhelm facts and therefore truth. The idea that we are going to die and that we live in a world where we determine right from wrong ourselves is unacceptable to the religious person. They would rather believe that there is some all-powerful overseer who takes care of them, punishes the wicked and rewards the faithful. Because the truth is unpalatable for them they instead choose to “believe” in their fantasy Utopia.
What is truth? This is a famous line from the New Testament attributed to Pontius Pilate. It has been used many times by Christians to try and make a point. The irony is however that very few Christians even care about the truth. Not the real truth anyway. Martin Luther once said “Whoever wants to be a Christian should tear the eyes out of his reason,” and “Reason should be destroyed in all Christians.” In Christianity the definition of truth is quite different from elsewhere. If you get into a deep involved conversation about truth with a Christian you may discover the big reveal. In the Christian mindset Jesus is the truth. This little gem of wisdom is the clever little Sophist mechanic that allows Christians to think that they are following the truth when they are actually doing anything but. This concept is one of the most insidious devices in Christianity. It allows the believer to engage in argument under the illusion that they are open to exploring the various possibilities. However, because they regard Jesus as being the truth and the Bible as Jesus’ divine word, their beliefs are set. They are only prepared to accept arguments which are also based upon the premise that Jesus is the truth and that the Bible is his word. If you should say something which contradicts the Bible, or their concept of Jesus then it is immediately dismissed as being untrue. Now obviously one cannot put all Christians in the same camp, they are just people after all with a variety of different opinions. However, so entrenched is this concept within the Christian mindset that it supersedes the normal logic that a person might exercise. There is a scale to this and some believers, although very few, might find themselves at the end of the scale where they actually are in a place to be objective. As I see it this requires a person to be on the extreme fringes of the religion or to have received some kind of traumatic shock which acts as a catalyst to this kind of openness.
Fundamentally, if a person believes that Jesus is the truth then it doesn’t matter what evidence you present to them they don’t necessarily have to accept it as truth. If it should contradict their concept of who Jesus is or what he has said (in the Bible) then they will reject the facts as being untrue, despite all of the evidence. Because at the bottom line they believe Jesus, and therefore the Bible, is the truth. Not just one source of truth, but the only source of truth. So it doesn’t matter what you say to a person with this belief. You could present the best evidence possible and they will simply ignore it and say “I just believe the Bible.” For most people this is a ridiculous proposition, and also a frustrating one to deal with. Most of us use a variety of different sources in order to determine truth. In fact we usually want multiple sources to verify something before we accept it as truth. So this presupposition or way of thinking is extraordinarily difficult to deal with. This has been my experience dealing with Christians. I will present solid evidence that is backed by science and research. Christians will usually skirt around the edges of this evidence picking away at minor details while not really engaging with the guts of the argument. They might cite some outdated or fringe argument from a Christian “scholar,” most of which are not supported by any evidence at all. But they will stand behind that argument often claiming that it has as much validity as my actual argument. In this sense religious people seem contented to be at an impasse as such a position allows them to continue on believing what they want to believe. Additionally, Christians are used to juggling cognitive dissonance: “the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time,” and are therefore used to the idea of simply putting things that they find difficult to deal with on the shelf. If you should ultimately crush their roadblock argument they will retreat back into the “I just believe the Bible” position. When you have reached this position you realise that they have no further defences to throw your way but with gritted teeth they absolutely refuse to accept the truth. They are going to believe what they want to believe because at the end of the day Jesus is the truth. You may wonder why I even bother engaging with people who think like this. I sometimes wonder the same thing myself. But then I remember my journey, and I recognise that despite the fact that they may be few, some people are in a position where they are prepared to actually listen to evidence.
How do we search for truth?
A real search for truth begins with a true desire to find the truth wherever it may lead and whatever the consequences may be. If you start the journey by saying “I’m going to prove X” then you are not really searching for the truth. A real search for truth starts by saying “I’m going to get to the bottom of this, and to hell with the consequences.” Objectivity requires not caring about the end result, but just being concerned with finding it. If I were to discover that God (whichever one it happened to be) was real after all, I would accept that. I am concerned with the content of the truth not its ability to confirm presuppositions. But a religious person who has a presupposition like Jesus is the truth, or the Bible is always right, cannot possibly be objective. Their presuppositions are everything, and will define what evidence they see and how they interpret it.
So how do you find the truth if you are a believer?
While extraordinarily difficult it is still possible to find the truth if you are currently a believer. But the first thing that you have to do is break the rules. The rules of Christianity, and no doubt other religious beliefs as well, say that you may not question beyond a certain point. I heard a sermon where the preacher said “it is okay to ask questions as long as you don’t question God’s goodness.” A comment which still makes me cringe to this day. If you want to discover the truth, break this rule! You must be prepared to question God’s goodness, you must be prepared to question the legitimacy of the Bible, you must be prepared to question the very foundations of your faith. Only when you can honestly do this are you in a place to be objective. Most Christians don’t want to be in this place. I think that deep down most believers recognise the dangers of being in this place. I think that they realise just how tenuous their belief systems really are if they are truly placed under a microscope. It reminds me of something Immanuel Kant once said: “I had therefore to remove knowledge, in order to make room for belief.” To get to the place of recognising truth also requires humility. It requires an acceptance that you may have been wrong. This is extraordinarily difficult for many people to do, especially if they have believed for a long time. But I have faith, so to speak. Faith that it is possible for people to change, that it is possible for people to reposition themselves. But maybe not all people. Some people are just built to believe. Evidence is just an annoying gnat to these people, they want to believe. So the challenge is out there for you. Are you truly prepared to question your faith, your belief system and your God? Many are called but few are chosen. Whether you are or not it really makes no difference. The truth is out there like a big ball of I don’t give a damn. The truth doesn’t care whether or not we like it. The truth simply is. Our challenge is to have the courage to seek it out.