What is truth?

A question raised by Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea, at the trial of Jesus of Nazareth.  Pilate does not stay for an answer – he releases Jesus to the Jewish authorities for Crucifixion, saying “I find no fault in him.”

Truth is generally the objective of beliefs that we build up over our lives. Falsehoods are to be avoided, as they introduce risks to our plans and expectations.  But many people dismiss the likelihood of potential risks, believing that there is another path, another set of circumstances, that will bring benefits to them.  Assuming they are pursued, what these circumstances will do to others is set aside. And so “truth” is relativized.

Many political leaders are not ultimately concerned about “truth”.  Take Pilate:  his potential risk is unconnected with the fate of the person before him.  He is little concerned with the significance of the answers Jesus gives to his questioning.   Reaching the truth will be difficult.   So – Truth is irrelevant and can be dismissed with a question.

Pilate is concerned that mishandling the anger of the crowd may result in a riot and possibility a rebellion – the last thing that a Roman Governor wants. An inquiry into truth is remote from his personal interests. So, he cleverly shifts the responsibility for what will happen to the civic leaders who have brought Jesus before him. 

We see a similar unconcern with truth in the leadership of the United States of America, starting with President Trump. His strategy is to persuade voters that there is another path to American success.  So that can ignore the ongoing discussion about the difficult choices that climate change is forcing upon us.

In pursuit of this strategy, Trump has had some success.  But the greater risk is that the US Federal Government is prepared to ignore the truth of science.  Already we have seen the subtle misrepresentations, the censoring of climate change language, that assist in keeping the support of the crowd. And George Orwell’s totalitarian state, as he imagined in his novel 1984, is one step closer to us today

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