ReVision

Truth as Process

Pastors have led us into this morass of small-mindedness and irrelevance.

By now I suspect many of us have become used to the idea of truth as a process rather than a settled destination.

That's too bad.

This is the view of truth which, increasingly, is being employed at key places of decision-making in our society. Schools, the media, and the various branches of government are all largely influenced in their thinking by the idea that absolute truth does not exist and that we have to discover whatever we're going to accept as true-for-us through a process of communication and conversation among the keepers and generators of information.

Eric Alterman provides an excellent overview of this situation in his posting, "The Professors,The Press, The Think Tanks - And Their Problems," at Academe Online (http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/pubsres/academe/2011/MJ/Feat/alte.htm). According to Dr. Alterman, "Whether in journalism, academia, or the policy world in between, most participants in public discussion pretend to a Lippmannlike devotion to facts but reach conclusions through Dewey's culture of communication and conversation."

He is referring to a famous running debate of the last century between journalist Walter Lippmann and academic John Dewey. Dr. Alterman has worked - and still works - in all three of these arenas - media, academia, and think tanks - and he is persuaded that Dewey's "truth-as-process" perspective has become the functional definition of truth in our day.

None of these realms can claim to have the last word on truth, and so they maintain a kind of dance-with-dialog over questions of morality and public policy until, at some point, they become tired of the dance and agree to some conclusion. But that conclusion is only tentative and can easily be undone or overridden after some additional dancing in the future.

Add to this setting the presence of online "information" sources, and Dr. Alterman is concerned that public discourse is being exposed "to additional infusions of ideologically motivated misinformation."

But if truth is merely a process, and anyone can join the dance, isn't this as it should be?

The striking thing about Dr. Alterman's concise and helpful essay is that there no longer seems to be place, when the quest for truth is on the line, for the Church and its representatives in the "public discourse" of our society.

I wonder if that troubles you?

Dr. Alterman is simply taking us inside what Richard John Neuhaus described as the "naked public square" to show us that the contenders for "truth" can't really ever arrive at anything like "truth," even though they may refer to their conclusions as such. Where "elites cannot be bothered to provide accurate information or refuse to do so in the service of their own political, ideological, or economic interests" we can't expect our public officials to make laws and enforce policies on anything other than the latest fashion of misinformation.

It used to be that society looked to the Church for help in discerning the truth of things. But Christians have long since excused themselves from serious study of the Word of God as well as careful husbanding of our received traditions - the theological and historical sources of insight and understanding on all matters of faith and life. Consequently, we're no longer qualified to discuss the great questions of public policy. We're too busy wallowing in whatever personal truth supplies our own experience of the faith with the requisite meaning or significance.

Pastors have led us into this morass of small-mindedness and irrelevance. Pastors will have to lead us out. Pray for your pastor.

Additional related texts: 1 Corinthians 2.12-16; 2 Corinthians 10.3-5; 1 Peter 1.25

A conversation starter: Ask your pastor, "Pastor, don't you think our church should be more involved in the great moral, cultural, and social debates of the day? How can we take a more responsible role in these?"

T. M. Moore

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore