In the west, we condone a liberal tolerance of all points of view – asserting there is no such thing as “ultimate truth.” This itself is a truth claim but is a valid truth claim because it supports freedom of thought. So we believe in individual freedom.
We don’t believe in any over arching system of ethics or system of truth, until another culture contravenes our ideas of what is right and wrong. Case in point, what greater evil than the censorship of freedom of speech? right ?
In western nations, we believe in the power of forgiveness but not in oppressive views or regulations about sexuality. Other cultures believe in conservative sexual values, but not necessarily in our liberal notions of forgiveness. Not an honour-shame society for example.
What is right and what is wrong ? Our bias tells us our ways are right and others are wrong. Other’s truth claims lead to violence and hate. Our truth claims are valid because they endorse freedom and life.
In western nations, we hold dearly to notions of liberal individualism, yet imposing such notions on developing communities, essentially divorcing the individual as an entity from their community, wreaks havoc both for the individual and for the community in question. So well meaning help, from the vantage point of what we value highly can actually be a violence to a community.
This begs the question of whether there is an ultimate narrative to aspire to understanding – an ultimate hero-journey, an ultimate discovery of “what is” that will guide our way? Or do we simply impose order and narrative onto life? This quote caught my eye recently in the Huffington Post.
In 2009, Julianne Moore’s mother, Anne Smith, died suddenly of septic shock. She was 68, and Moore was devastated. After that, she stopped believing in God. “I learned when my mother died five years ago that there is no ‘there’ there,” Moore, 54, told the Hollywood Reporter.
“Structure, it’s all imposed. We impose order and narrative on everything in order to understand it. Otherwise, there’s nothing but chaos.”
Do we impose a narrative on life – or is there a narrative there to discover ? Ultimately, what is truth?
Interestingly, Pilate asked the same question of Christ. John 18 recounts:
37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
38“What is truth?” retorted Pilate.
With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. 39 But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”
40 They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!”
In John’s account, Jesus makes the startling claim to not “speak the truth” but the “be the truth” that all truth-tellers speak of.
In our understanding, the teachings of Christ are good and moral. He taught to forgive, to show mercy, to love our enemies. He gave up his life for these values. He was an iconoclast, a prophet not unlike Ghandi or Siddharta.
His audactious claims tell us a few things:
- He did not ever wish to be a good teacher pointing to the truth. He cannot be equated among good teachers for this claim.
- In the words of C S Lewis, “He is either a lunatic, a liar or …………….”
So, what do we do with his claim to BE the truth? If he claimed to embody the truth, this truth must be something like freedom or life, the only things that are of ultimate value and not relative worth.
Science makes truth claims, but science is a provable system of empirical tests. Science claims don’t seek to control us, but rather support our understanding of the reality we live in. Moreover, the claims of science are ultimately disprovable, and the next test or proof can totally shift our understanding of reality to a new and deeper truth claim.
C S Lewis explained his belief in God:
I believe Christianity just as I believe the sun rises, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
So Christ claimed to be the light by which we would see the world and reality.
In narrative terms, Christ claimed to be the ultimate narrative to aspire to, the ultimate meaning in the universe. He stated that we do not simply “impose order and narrative” onto everything, but his IS the grand narrative.