truth is _____

July 13, 2021
Just harvesting some musings on religion on FB, in response to a Karen Knickerbocker Pennington post "Fill in the blank, Truth is ____". It was mostly geared at fellow Christians I think.

My main answer was "Truth is only-guessable", asked to explicate I said:
well, frankly, for people who are blessed with faith, it's probably not a sentiment they will agree with 😃 but as a teen I looked at the huge variety of beliefs across the world about what The Truth is, and realized my own belief was suspiciously similar to that of those around me - I believed things as a sweet talking son of a preacher man (and woman!) that I wouldn't believe had I been the sweet taking son of an Imam, say, and vice versa. So, I guess I'm suspicious of any way of knowing the truth that relies on special revelation. To that extent the universal + egalitarian message of Salvationism has stuck with me... and also the idea that there must by definition be the most accurate view of The Truth - but no one should be certain they've reached it, hence the guessability aspect.

(FWIW, this is about The Truth, as in a set of principles and values we should hold, vs the more mundane truth which is a description of the world as it is. To which I hold to science, with its built-in doubt and refusal to forever embrace any particular belief as forever true - just the most likely until another theory comes along that seems to be more likely. But "you can't get ought from is", i.e. you can't necessarily get to what the material world ought to be even with a very accurate view of what the material world is, and so science is not the same as a moral faith. Philosophy gets closer, but the uncertainty remains. And as people are tempted to argue for one faith vs another by some shared universal principles, I find it more expedient to look to those shared universal principles which to my mind are a more likely guess about The Truth. But I live with the uncertainty in a way that people of faith don't.)

But also my view is different from folks who go "well, everyone can have their own Truth, then". Sometimes I jokingly say I have an unshakable belief in the Point of View from God's Throne- a view to which humans can only aspire to and never fully claim - and/but am much less certain if there is a divine posterior in that chair.

I believe that by definition there IS an absolute truth, but I also believe that we cannot be certain that our belief is the most accurate view of it.
To get a little less high falutin', the question I asked as a teen is "well why doesn't EVERYONE believe the same thing?" In a God with omnipotence, omniscience, and omnilove-ance (whatever the word is), why would he let some people be so deluded? If it's the work of the devil and/or human free will, but God knew all that was going down ahead of time, why did He still let it happen? The whole "theodicy" issue (oops, so much for not getting high-falutin' sounding)
But you know, God claims His ways could be above ours in a way we can't fathom (Isaiah 55:8-9) but we'd still be relying on this for our human sense of justice and instruction. And the problem I had as a teen might not be as much of a problem if you accept a kind of multiple paths interpretation - if you're more liberally John 14:2 (many mansions) and less strictly John 14:6 (no way to the Father except through Me)
So it is at risk at second guessing God... as a human, I can't say it's NOT Truth based justice to let so many millions of well meaning muslims, say, or hindus - be so deluded, but as a punk teen I had to say, it didn't seem *likely* that a singular yet universally applied truth would be given to one group but withheld from the others
And asked if I believe there are any absolute truths we can count on:
So one thing about me is, because of a near-pathology of "I can't risk be a bearer of false witness", I am weirdly squirrely even about basic facts sometimes. I might have just seen the keys on the table, and if a friend asks me "where are the keys?" I will say "I think they are on the table" - not that they are, because maybe I'm remembering wrong, or maybe something else moved them... but I CAN confidently say I THINK they are on the table
But even basic mathematical truths, say, are context-dependent. Up above I jokingly pointed out that 2 + 2 = 11 in Base 3. (I mean 2 + 2 is still 4, but sometimes math nerds like that might use a different symbol for it) or the angles of a triangle add up to 180, right? True - but ONLY if you're on a flat plane. For geometry on a sphere, the math is different, and even a fundamental truth like triangle angles = 180 is contingent, not universal in every circumstance.
So to the extent we are probably arguing about cosmic and religious truths - more deeply than any particular description of what was going, I drank the idea that it should be universally true for everyone. The number of people believing something else entirely really demands some kind of explanation. I mean even if 180 degree triangles is true for me and everyone around me, all these people - presumably of good will? who are telling me, no, the numbers add up to something else... yet both sides insisting "no, this is UNIVERSALLY true, the truest true that ever trued"... well that ended up accidentally making my faith kind of brittle. And when combined with a few other adolescent observations of teenage behaviors (the slightly clockwork way that the first sunday altar call at Star Lake Musicamp was a bit of a dud, but the closing sunday was always vibrant small ministry stuff... and the way some of my peers were less nerdy, sunday-school straight and narrowers than I was despite my doubts) I leaned away from religion in general. Maybe I'm the poorer for it, but like I mentioned above, I take Truth maybe a bit too seriously - I would rather live with measured uncertainty and a sense of "best guess" than to be confidently at risk of being Wrong.
Another thread:
I do hang a little bit with the Unitarian Universalists - and they lean heavily into respecting the multi-path view of the Divine and the various traditions that try to get people there (at least with the new England flavor, I've heard elsewhere in the country they're more just like conventional Episcopalians)
But of course, that radical acceptance of superficially incompatible beliefs goes well beyond what I think is considered acceptable in mainstream Evangelical Christianity. In my understanding of that point of view, Muslims and Hindus, say, are completely out to lunch Truth-wise - woefully deceived and needing to reject their religion/upbringing if they are going to find Salvation. That's a big ask!
(And similar to having to explain why a God with perfect and total love, power, and foresight (including how humanity would use its freewill) let so many other religions spread, He would seem to have gone out of his way to deceive well-meaning scientists, or permit the devil to plant a lot of fakely-aged fossils and set up a lot of old-looking light for astronomers to observe, etc.)
Of course, a less literal reading of Christianity could accept things more poetically, and even accept some all-too-human arbitrariness and contingency in the Bible! But I grew up with people who leaned heavily into the inerrancy (and often the literalness) of the Bible. My take is it's an issue of "where to draw the line", that if you start to loosen that sense of being uniquely True and protected by God, it's the camel's nose in the tent for willy-nilly belief, since even before that mainstream Christianity has rejected the legitimacy of normal human standards for evaluating religious factual and moral Truth. (Abraham was good and noble for taking Isaac up and being willing to ritualistically sacrifice him, for example)
The richest book I read on the subject was Karen Armstrong's "The Case for God" - highly recommended. One eye-opener was her outlining how many traditions Christianity has drawn from and engulfed. (This would include mythological types like sons of god, and even diving sacrifice for human redemption, things that many Christians seem to assume would be unique to their belief system, though I guess the charitable view would be less "Christianity cribbed from this older belief" and more the older belief had a very blurry idea of the Truth that would later be seen through cleaner glasses.) It also explained how in the 1600s-1700s Christianity kind of hitched its wagon to science; at a time before Newton explaining gravity and Darwin seeing how speciation was likely occurring, a Divine Watchmaker was actually a pretty solid theory, and that led rise to a form of belief of all things Biblical simply, factually true - but modern believers (like my youthful self) don't realize that before that, maybe scripture wasn't expected to be simply literally true (in fact reducing God to something a specific factually true account might be a form of idolatry, and you end up worshipping the story, and not God proper). But anyway, as science began to come up with more likely true explanations about how planets formed, and when, and how species split off, a strong form of mainline Protestantism doubled down, and started rejecting facts science was saying were most likely true in favor of other facts more compatible with a literal reading of the Bible. (e.g. young earth Creationism)
Anyway, my mom Betty Israel mentioned she has been appreciating this thread. She's a retired major in The Salvation Army. For at least a decade I was too nervous about offending her, and afeared of her judgement of my non-church-going to broach these topics. And I mean we have since then discussed things a bit, but this thread has been a particularly rich chance to explain where I've landed, which while seemingly pretty far afield from where she's at, at least she respects my process and appreciates some of the thoughtfulness, so thanks for that.
In response to "Truth is Immutable"...
So adopting a Christian perspective... don't you find God has presented himself very differently? Even within the OT, he has aspects of a God who walks among us like in the Garden of Eden, to someone who despite being cosmically all powerful can't defeat folks with chariots of iron (Judges 1:19), and then of course in the coming and sacrifice of Jesus, there is a big change before and after! So even if you believe that represents that eternal Truth, I would say a lot of mutability in how it is presented to humans! ( this article puts things pretty well)
I know believers, especially conservative ones, are wary of people being too free in what they believe God to be, especially suspicious of people who might wish to lower the barriers of "probably sanctioned by God" to include that which traditional belief has regarded as Sin. But I think to see it all as immutable is a tragic diminishing of what God is.

(or even better, Genesis 18:16-33 which presents a God that can be reasoned with! Though the Book of Job has some things to say on that i guess 😃 )