at St Mary Abchurch, Abchurch Yard, London EC4N 7BA
on Thursday the 21st of September at 4 p.m.
We are grateful to the Public Square Group for contributing to this month's Word of the Month and Third Thursday event
Section 1: ‘There Is Nothing Stranger Than Truth’: Really?
By Dr. Joe Forde
We live in a time when, for an increasing number of people, views have become more important than news (hence the rise of Talk Radio and Talk T.V.). Whereas news often relies on factual underpinning, views often do not. Indeed, in a post-modern age, views are often disparaging of the need for facts as a basis for making claims to truth, preferring a more subjective, relativist approach to explanation and ascribed meaning. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, conspiracy theories abound on the Internet. These offer explanations for events that often bear little relation to the factual record (such as those expounded by anti-vaxxers) and play an increasingly significant role in national politics—particularly in the USA—(think of the ‘stolen election’ advocates). Television and radio presenters offer revisionist interpretations of history that often appear disconnected from the historical evidence. Climate change deniers offer explanations of global warming (assuming that they believe that it is occurring) that run counter to the growing body of scientific, factually based evidence that it is human induced. Is it any wonder that George Orwell’s writings on ‘Newspeak’ in his novel ‘1984’—that is, a purposefully ambiguous and confusing language with restricted grammar and limited vocabulary used by spin doctors ‘to diminish the range of thought’—has been adduced by some media analysists as being akin to the new way of presenting politics on hard right-wing T.V. stations in America such as Fox News?
Section 2: Theological and Philosophical Considerations
By Hugh Bryant
Jesus answered … For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’ (John 18:37-38, NRSV)
Αλήθεια (aletheia), Greek for ‘truth’, has a variety of connotations. According to the new Cambridge Greek Lexicon (Cambridge University Press, 2021), it means absence of concealment (of the facts). Philosophers, from Aristotle and Cicero to the present, have understood truth by reference to propositions, assertions, or axioms: that so-and-so is true or that so-and-so is false, and some philosophers (for instance A J Ayer and G E Moore) have said that the idea of truth is logically superfluous.
When, for example, one says that the proposition ‘Queen Anne is dead’ is true, all that one is saying is that Queen Anne is dead. Similarly, when one says that the proposition ‘Oxford is the capital of England’ is false, all that one is saying is that Oxford is not the capital of England. Thus, to say that a proposition is true is just to assert it, and to say that it is false is just to assert its contradictory. This indicates that the terms ‘true’ and ‘false’ connote nothing. (A.J. Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic, 2nd edition, 1946, 20th impression, 1964, London, Victor Gollancz Ltd, p. 88)
What is truth? What is it that makes a proposition true or false? Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ (John 14:6). What sort of proposition is ‘I am the truth’? If it is true in itself (a priori), no further proof is needed. However, it is not self-evident, so we are looking at a ‘synthetic’ proposition and there needs to be something which validates it, i.e. something which makes it true. William Barclay says,
Jesus tells us why he came into the world. He came to witness to the truth; he came to tell men the truth about God, the truth about themselves and the truth about life … the days of guessings and gropings and half-truths were gone. He came to tell them the truth. That is one of the great reasons why we must either accept or refuse Christ. There is no halfway house about the truth. A man either accepts it, or rejects it; and Christ is the truth. (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of John, Volume 2; Edinburgh, The Saint Andrew Press, 1975, p. 244)
The validating principle may be said to be that of faith, the faith of the believer. How can this be communicated to someone who does not have faith?
Section 3: Wonderings: Politics/political sociology/contribution of television to children’s political understanding
By Revd Dr. Carole Bourne
At the BBC, all stories need to be corroborated by two different sources. This formed part of my induction when I went to work at the BBC World Service back in 1969. How do we square this with the idea that truth is relative and the product of upbringing, faith and culture, and that narrative transcends news bulletins?
The ‘truth’ of the Christian Gospel is unpalatable. Christian truth should start with the warning, often issued at the beginning of television news items, that many listeners are likely find what follows upsetting! Here goes: All humanity is linked and equal. We all hold responsibility for the planet. No-one should consider part of the planet their own. Nineteenth century ideas of nation states are not something people can pick up (in the case of refugees) and put down (in the case of holiday destinations, property portfolios etc.) at will. God’s kingdom and our own worldly notions (based on class, race, and gender) will always be incompatible.
Truth tends to disappear in the face of threats to people’s economic wellbeing and security. So as an old-fashioned Marxist I would say that as our latter day era of finance capitalism rocks global society and values, truth will be ever harder to find.
Truth is the first casualty of war. ‘In a war truth is so precious that she has to be attended by a body of lies’ (Churchill)
Section 4: Wonderings
By Sally Barnes
The question of the immutability of Truth, that it is absolute and unchangeable, is a hard one to grapple with. We could possibly believe it if we believe that Truth exists as an entity in Creation around us (a kind of icloud); one we are growing towards through Time, our life’s experiences and greater knowledge which change our views and insights.
What was thought of as True in one century, such as our view of slavery, attitudes towards women, class, conception, different races, the welfare of animals, and scientific discoveries, cannot be said to be true of another, unless, that is, we cling onto facts devoid of the evidence with which we are presented.
We can also legitimately ask, how reliable is the evidence we are presented with, knowing that further knowledge and developments are likely to change when a new discovery alters that ‘truth’.
We could also question, ‘are there degrees of Truth?’ Those so often used to spare people’s feelings and hurts, when we shy away from facing what needs to be said but once said are out in the open and could do long term damage?
What are the elements that ‘Truth’ could be based on? Why do we feel it important to adhere to them—or do we? Jesus words of ‘Love one another’, the most powerful of Truths for many of us, are ones we work towards but find difficult in so many instances. We know if they were accepted as a practiced-truth, the world and its horrors would change. Are the qualities of Justice, Equity, Compassion, Sensitivity, Inclusion for all, essential underpinnings of Truth? Are they universally acceptable for all cultures, races, and genders, or would they be interpreted by groups of powerful self-interest to mean what they wanted them to mean and distorted as they are today? Pilate was quite right when he asked, ‘What is Truth?’
From the New Testament
From there [Jesus] set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ But she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.’ So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. (Mark 7:24–30, NRSV)
Towards the end of 2020 a group of us, mostly from the organisation ‘Modern Church’, expressed a deep concern about the breaking down of relationships at a number of different levels and also a sense of anger and frustration at the amount of injustice that nobody seemed to be addressing. We decided to write a manifesto which mentioned issues such as the breakdown of unity, nationally and globally, the strong economic challenges that lay ahead and the need to avoid placing the burden on the poorest sections of society, the need to work internationally to fight against climate change, greater integrity in politics and the media, and the provision of generous hospitality of welcome towards refugees and asylum seekers. The Public Square Group has held a number of zoom meetings, and has created subgroups to address these issues.
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