So, this whole series on fundamentalism started with a conversation I had with a Very Concerned Relative over the meaning and importance of truth. To recap:
“But the Bible DOES tell us what will happen in the end times. How can you not care? It says right here,” she flips frantically to John 4:23, “that Jehovah wants worshipers who will worship in spirit and in truth, IN TRUTH, so how can you not be concerned with the truths of the Bible?!”
To my Very Concerned Relative, the “truths” that would be most important to Jehovah God were about understanding doctrine correctly, having the correct answers to theological questions, or even about having the right translation of scripture correctly memorized. To her, truth is an exercise in intellectual prowess, and dwells within very narrow parameters – every question has an answer, and every answer is either right or wrong.
Obviously, I disagree with her. But if “truth” in the spiritual sense isn’t about intellectual prowess, what is it about?
I would like to make the case that in spirituality, truth is about relationship.
That’s an obscure statement, so let me expand. Since I dwell in the Christian tradition, I will use mostly Bible verses to illustrate, although I’ll include secular references where I’m aware of them.
Truth = Absence of Deception:
Shortly after the initial conversation with my Very Concerned Relative, I did a concordance search for “truth” in the Bible. Do you know where the word “truth” makes its first appearance? In Genesis 42:16:
Send one of your number to get your brother; the rest of you will be kept in prison, so that your words may be tested to see if you are telling the truth.
Are you telling me the truth? Or are you lying? Thus asked my mother one fateful day when I had been torturing my baby sister out of sight, and then glibly pretended I had no idea why she might be crying. It is my earliest memory of the idea of justice, my first remembered prick of conscience, and my first awareness that it is wrong to use words to paint a picture that doesn’t match up with reality. At its most basic, truth-telling is about absence of deceit, manipulation, and spin. And truth-telling is harder than it sounds, especially in a culture like ours that is dedicated to success. Ask anyone in a 12-step group. A rigorous adherence to reality requires a willingness (a courage) to face life and self in all their horrifying imperfections and terrifying glory. I am a human being. I love fiercely. I make mistakes. I am beautifully and wonderfully made. I make promises I can’t keep. I have capacity for great joy. I can be resentful. I am occasionally a good listener. I have, on occasion, been mean to small children. I try to inspire people. I waste more than I should. I work really hard. I benefit from white privilege. My life has importance and dignity. I participate in corrupt consumer systems. Etc., etc., etc. Justice, fairness, and authentic relationship cannot happen without this most basic loyalty to the truth.
Truth = Transparency
Closely related – transparency, or the commitment not to lie by omission. The willingness to bring things into the open. The willingness not to hide. In the Garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve have sinned, the first thing they do is hide. They withhold themselves, withdraw intimacy, mask the truth of their nakedness with the trees and bushes. Just to be clear, I’m not advocating total openness with every stranger; not all people are safe, and there are perfectly appropriate boundaries to be drawn between new acquaintances. People earn the right to see your truth. But Adam and Eve had already been dwelling perfectly naked, in perfect safety, with God. Their hiding was a soft kind of lie, a pretending at invisibility, aimed at what they perceived to be their advantage – not getting caught, not getting in trouble, not being seen. It was a form of manipulation. How often do we withhold ourselves from others out of anger, shame, resentment, fear, or spite? It helps us feel powerful, it helps us perceive an advantage to ourselves (to keep us safe, to make us loved, to keep us in control, etc.). Such forms of lying and manipulation are a part of codependency. There are good reasons why Steps 4 and 5 in Codependents Anonymous read “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves; admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs.” Honesty with self and others is essential for healthy relational functioning.
Transparency is an important standard of truth in organizations and institutions as well. The prophet Hosea says:
“Ephraim has surrounded me with lies, Israel with deceit….Ephraim feeds on the wind; he pursues the east wind all day and multiplies lies and violence. He makes a treaty with Assyria and sends olive oil to Egypt.” – Hosea 11:12, 12:1
Have you ever been in a work situation where you knew you weren’t being told everything? How did that work out for you? How about in politics? What if you actually knew who was paying your Congressman, and how much? Or your church? (I know many churches keep open books. Many do not.) Can you imagine a world in which WikiLeaks wasn’t considered a threat? Where whistleblowers were celebrated or even unnecessary because everything was already in the open? Can you imagine what kinds of atrocities might be prevented if institutional actions were always public and accountable? What would happen if governments and corporations couldn’t make two-faced deals behind closed doors in order to maneuver for leverage and advantage? Truth is a prerequisite for equality.
I think I’m going to split this and put the rest in a second blog post or it’s going to be way too long. So – coming up: authenticity, vulnerability, wholeness and integrity. (Not necessarily in that order).