Who Tells the Truth These Days Anyway?
A topic that has been on my mind consistently over the past several months is the definition of truth, specifically how it pertains to society as as it exists today and how it seems to be understood in today’s culture.
I think of things like Bill Maher’s so-called documentary “Religulous”, where he traveled around to various religious sites and questioned unsuspecting tourists on the tenets of their religion. Most often addressing Christians, Maher played on each person’s lack of knowledge and “corrected” the people by telling them the “realities” behind their obviously made up religion, thereby “proving” the centuries-old Christian denominations were patently false.
Only one thing was wrong with this method: Almost all of Maher’s “facts” were, in one way or another, made up, misguided, or simply unsupported claims. Watch this video for a more in-depth explanation.
Why, then, are commentaries like those by Maher and others in contemporary society so compelling to the unsuspecting viewer/reader/listener?
The answer lies in the path we take to truth. People see someone like (insert pop culture icon here) speak, hanging on their every word, but how often do those people go elsewhere to substantiate or disprove those claims before processing them and spreading them to others? I’m not saying at all that pop culture icons are completely full of it—many very often speak truths and have done great things through their fame—and I’ll be the first to admit that a compelling speech by a person I admire deeply makes me want to shout it from the rooftops before doing some background research myself.
But it’s concerning how often a popular, albeit misguided and deeply untruthful, topic is latched onto by one person after another, then repeated often enough that it eventually passes as truth.
Maybe it’s just easier to do in our fast-moving world, where 140-character tweets and 6-second Vines reign supreme. It’s far easier to listen to a speech from President Obama and be drawn in by his skill as an orator than it is to critically think about what he’s saying, how often he’s said those same words, and how truthful those words are in actuality. It’s substantially more convenient to read articles carrying sensational headlines from the Huffington Post one after the other than it is to stop after the first one and get a well-rounded grasp of the topic.
German theologian Thomas a’ Kempis wrote in his book “The Imitation of Christ” that “our opinions and feelings often deceive us and narrow our view.” Little snippets that are repeated over and over again have an effect on our minds, whether we like them or not. Hear something in a specific tone and setting often enough, and a person is bound to give in to the pressure and believe it without any substantiation, sometimes for fear of retribution for speaking to the contrary, other times because we would cause ourselves discomfort if we swam upstream, oftentimes without even realizing we’re doing it.
Sensationalism seems to have replaced accountability in our society. No longer do people care to learn the truth, for the truth is so often uncomfortable to hear, to feel, or to believe.
As Pope Pius XII once said, “So it happens that men in such matters easily persuade themselves that what they would not like to be true is false or at least doubtful.”
How to find the truth? I thought of a few simple steps to take:
1. Think for yourself. I don’t mean the “everyone defines their own truth” kind of thinking for yourself, because that’s silly. Instead, don’t take everything you read at face value. CHALLENGE things and make them accountable through your own God-given brain and ability to think and research critically.
2. Consider the background and credibility of the source in question and compare it to the source of the subject itself when inquiring the subject’s legitimacy. For example, in a story from CNN on the the rate at which policemen eat donuts on a national scale, should you take CNN at face value, or should you ask a policeman who eats donuts before believing the story?
3. Delve deeper into the origins and history of things, then use it to further your understanding of how that thing operates. Pass over regular outlets of media and search through library archives and history books, then look beyond even those and find the sources used to write them. Chances are, the farther you go in understanding the origin of one thing, the more things you’ll end up learning about in the end.
Bottom line: Never stop learning.
It may be way easier to plop on the couch and watch season after season of Breaking Bad on Netflix (guilty), but we have brains that can think and reason FOR a reason. Sure learning the truth may be difficult, time-consuming, uncomfortable, challenging, even world-changing, but I’m a firm believer that, like Teddy Roosevelt said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”