What is truth?


By Kathy Berken

Kathy Berken

My recently-engaged daughter and I watched the old biker dude walk alone into the lobby of the Wedding Fair at the Convention Center. He was a remnant of the Haight-Ashbury era and groovy folk music. The gray haired hippie’s tattoos and white muscle shirt told us he was obviously looking for the auto show held in the same complex. He stopped at a post near the ticket window. “Want a couple of free tickets to the wedding fair?” he asked as he held out two pieces of paper. “I got them in the mail and, heck, I’m not getting married, thought I’d give them away.” We took the tickets, thanked him, and he left, indicating that he was going home. The tickets were good, and we saved $30.
The truth about him was lost in our assumptions. He wasn’t going to the auto show, and we were puzzled as to why anyone would bother to drive to downtown Minneapolis with tickets received in the mail just to give away. The truth, after all, was his not ours. More information yielded greater truth. We stopped looking for more information once we were satisfied with the results.
This could be a dangerous way to live.
When I discovered the wildly famous Kony 2012 video, I felt deeply moved by the cause. With over 82 million hits in the first few weeks alone, this 30-minute movie showing the atrocities committed against thousands of children by Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony, has become a catalyst for young people to help stop the violence by spreading the word and donating money.
However, on the same YouTube page, there are a slew of videos criticizing the Kony 2012 movement. After awhile, I began to question the truth of the original. The truth is caught between the reality that Joseph Kony once captured thousands of children, turning them into sex-slaves and violent soldiers, and the possibility that Kony is already dead and/or the video is merely propaganda to get the US into another war for oil. Now that I am ignoring the Kony 2012 movement, am I also ignoring a social justice issue? This is where danger lurks.
The media has been hungry to discover the truth about the U.S. soldier who allegedly murdered 16 innocent Afghanis in the middle of the night. When can we — or, more importantly, attorneys and investigators — stop gathering information and formulate the truth around this horrific act so justice can be served?
Jesus told Pilate that the reason he was on earth was “to testify to the truth.” He said, “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37). Then Pilate asked Jesus “What is truth?” (18:38), and when Jesus had no response, Pilate said there was no reason to incriminate him.
In a well-known Latin anagram of a possible exchange, Pilate asks, “Quid est veritas?” and Jesus responds, “Est vir qui adest” or, “It is the man who is here.”
Plato understood three absolutes: goodness, beauty, and truth. We struggle with absolutes because subjectivity can cloud definitiveness. Truth might be the most challenging because, just as the bishops of the Second Vatican Council outlined the meaning of Primacy of Conscience, which deals with our personal truth, we are not always certain what — or who — is right. The bishops said look to tradition (scripture) as well as doctrine and experience. So, if we are to discern the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but, perhaps the answer that Pilate received might be sufficient: “Est vir qui adest!”
We can look to Jesus’ life and message for more insight, so our discernment process contains the element of our faith.
(Kathy Berken recently received a master’s in theology from St. Catherine University, St. Paul, Minn. She lived and worked at The Arch, L’Arche in Clinton (1999-2009).

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