Saturday, April 2, 2011

Terry Jones and Jesting Pilate*

Certainly, it is heaven upon earth, to have a man's mind move in charity, rest in providence, and turn upon the poles of truth.
                                                               -  Sir Frances Bacon, Essays, ("Of Truth")

Paul Theroux, in a New York Times article recounting past travels to dangerous spots, tells of traveling in Northern Ireland in the 1980s during the times of indiscriminate IRA bombings: “I’m a Muslim!” a man cries out in a Belfast street in a dark joke that was going around at the time. And his attackers demand to know, “Are you a Catholic Muslim or a Protestant Muslim?”

It is a universal compulsion to shoehorn the truth into our own limitations, just one of the multifarious blindnesses coincident with being human. Within a miserably few, stark dichotomies - the small mental constructions that pass as currency for "the real world" - the Truth must surely fall. Are you a Catholic Muslim or a Protestant Muslim? It's a timely joke once again, when more than a score have now died because some good Christian in Florida with a convict's moustache and the intellect of a hamster burned a Koran and videotaped the sacrament. Are you an American, or a Muslim?

There's nothing to be said about the deed that isn't already obvious, nor about the right reverend's moral culpability in any of it.  What carries that debate (in a country that believes in its own "exceptionalism" and in the individual rights of each of its inhabitants to the exclusion of their responsibility to anyone else) is the overriding legality of any act that can be construed as "free speech." 

Stating the facts is saying something that is true - not the whole truth but a miniscule part of it. Sometimes the facts stare us in the face and then, it seems, the truth is easily known. But knowing the facts is simply knowing how to make a scant few true statements about the world.

It is also a part of the human condition that being able to make some true statements makes us think that we can also know "the Truth." As though, if there's a true statement you can make about something, there must be a True Statement you could make about Everything. Knowing "the Truth" is, on this view, a different sort of thing than knowing true love, or finding true north, or making a wheel true, or being true to your word, or proving a true friend, or any number of other perfectly ordinary meanings. No, "knowing the Truth" must contrast with "believing Falsehood" (although in how many of the examples I just cited is 'false' the correct antonym for 'true' in the phrase? If I don't get the wheel 'true,' am I left with a 'false' wheel?)

The truth, in contrast to particular true statements, is never that easy, even though there are too many like Pastor Jones, convinced that they know the truth and ready to take a pretty free hand with it. If there were some independent measure, apart from our common humanity, our shared experience, our powers of observation, induction, ratiocination, sentiment, comfort, security, sanity and survival, to gauge what is true, then we might plausibly speak of "the Truth," find it to be a self-evident corpus, instruct others in it to their benefit and improvement, and make peace on earth. 

But truth is never plain, is never revealed, scarcely ever reveals itself. It eludes our searching and changes when we grasp it. If something seems a certainty to me today, ask me tomorrow and I will likely give a different opinion. If beliefs I cannot espouse give others comfort and intellectual satisfaction, then what can I say except, "That's more than I know"? Truth is what I judge works for me to answer my puzzles as best they can be answered. If you see things differently and find the same resolution in a different web of beliefs, then what more do I know than do you? I certainly believe my own point of view and may argue it, but in the end when words no longer avail, I can only concede that your truth is your own and welcome to it.

None of this is to say that truths cannot be tested and proven workable. But "the Truth" by which we must all live or die is delusional, and there are no proofs against delusion. More than that, it is dangerous since it permits us to invent new sacraments of hatred. What single Truth can anyone ever know with the degree of certainty that could justify the death of innocents?  

* "What is Truth? said jesting Pilate; and would not stay for an answer." 
                                              -  Sir Frances Bacon, Essays, ("Of Truth")

For a contrary opinion, see

1 comment:

  1. صبابين قهوة بالرياض يقوموا بتقديم أعلى مستوى من الخدمة الراقية في الأفراح والمناسبات بكل أشكالها ولا قدر الله العزاء فمنذ اليوم لا تتعب نفسك وترهقها بالاعتناء بالضيوف فضيوفك الكرام هم ضيوفنا وسوف نحرص على راحتهم جيدا من حيث الضيافة التي لا مثيل لها وأيضا تذوق طعم رائع من القهوة العربية ، من المعروف أن العزائم والأفراح تحتاج إلى توع خاص من الإعدادات وهنا في صبابين قهوة بالرياض نعمل على تقديم حسن ضيافة في حفلات التخرج والختان وجلسات الشعر فإذا أردت التميز أمام الضيوف تواصل معنا على أرقام الهاتف .
    مباشرين قهوة بالرياض
    قهوجيين بالرياض
    مباشرين قهوة بجدة
    صبابين قهوة بالرياض
    صباب قهوة
    صبابين قهوة بجدة