I've had several conversations lately that have caused me to think about truth. Or more specifically, how adhering to a single source of Ultimate Truth can make it very difficult to come to any sort of understanding with someone who believes different things.
For example, there are many people that believe that the Bible is the end-all, be-all source of Truth, despite its contradictions and multitude of possible interpretations. This means everything is measured up against Scripture (or at least, their interpretation of Scripture) to determine what is true. If science says the Earth is millions of years old and that humans evolved from less complex organisms, but the Bible only accounts for several thousand years and says humans were created directly by God, then obviously the Bible is right, because it is the Truth.
Other people don't interpret the Bible literally but regard the Catholic Church as the highest authority when it comes to what the correct interpretations of Scripture are, and for direction on any other issue that isn't directly covered in Scripture. These are the people who, when they discover that I don't agree 100% with Church teaching on some matter, want me to show them where in Church teaching it says that I'm allowed to disagree with Church teaching. And if I point to the doctrine on personal conscience, they want to know where in Church teaching it says that I can apply that doctrine to this particular situation. And so on. Any belief I have must somehow be wrapped up and accounted for in Church teaching or it obviously cannot be true.
But this isn't limited to religious folks. Some people believe firmly that concrete, physical evidence is the only source of Truth. Believing in something that cannot be or has not been proven throughout the scientific method is just nonsense to them. If you didn't make enough gift bags on your mission trip but there were somehow more than enough to hand out, then obviously you miscounted because science tells us that you can't create something out of nothing and inanimate objects don't spontaneously multiply. Miracles are by definition impossible because there is no place for them in this singular worldview.
The always-awesome Rachel Held Evans pointed me to the website Your Logical Fallacy Is, and I immediately found several fallacies related to this idea of a single source of Ultimate Truth.
- There's the Appeal to Authority -- assuming something is true because a source you consider an authority, such as the Catholic Church, says it's so, regardless of evidence to the contrary.
- There's Begging the Question -- we know everything in the Bible is true because it says, right here in the Bible, that all Scripture is from God, and therefore it's true.
- There's even Personal Incredulity, that just because you don't know how something works you assume it's false.
I've found it incredibly difficult to hold conversations about my beliefs with people who adhere this single-mindedly to one source of Truth. Their need for a Bible verse, a Catechism citation, or physical evidence means that all other attempts at explanation become fruitless.
The way I see it is this: Every person in the world believes something different. There may be vast amounts of overlap in two people's beliefs, but there will always be some way that their understanding or their interpretations or their manifestations of those interpretations differ in how they live their lives. So what are the chances that every single thing in your unique belief system is 100% accurate?
What frustrates me most when I have conversations with people who adhere to a single existing belief system is that my own ability to seek truth is discounted. When I strive to live in a way and believe those things that are in accordance with everything I know and have experienced, people see me as wishy-washy, cherry-picking, or simply ignorant. Why? Because I can't point to a single, coherent belief system that I follow and instead am foolishly thinking *I* could know better than what Scripture says, what the Church says, or what science says.
Never mind that not one of those sources of Truth is coherent, comprehensive, and contradiction-free. It must be better than whatever I could come up with because it's older, or it was determined by a lot of people a lot more educated than I am, or it's the word of God, dammit. And therefore I need to set aside everything I will ever experience that does not fit neatly into that belief system.
For those who point to a religious belief system as the source of all Truth, I ask, is God so very limited that it is impossible He would reveal Himself in new ways? Does He care so little for me that it is impossible for the Holy Spirit to be guiding my heart?
I reject the notion that all Truth is already known, revealed, understood, and explained in a singular belief system. This is why I think of myself as a Truth-seeker and not a Truth-knower. Because I know that I will always be operating on incomplete information and that I need to be open to new knowledge and new revelation. I need to continually re-evaluate my beliefs in light of not only my own experiences but those of everyone I know, and as I re-read the Bible, and as science discovers new things.
To my mind, I can never get closer to Truth and to living the life that God wants me to lead if I think that I already have all the answers and I ignore everything that doesn't fit with those beliefs.
So the next question is: Will I ever be able to talk about my beliefs with those people who believe they have all the answers already?