A Matter of Truth


By Wayne Allensworth

To this end I was born, and for this cause came I into the world,
that I should bear witness unto the truth

— John 18:37

I had come to see Mr. K knowing that his birthday was in June, so I asked him what the exact date was. He couldn’t remember. He took a notebook from the old-fashioned TV tray that sits by his recliner and thumbed through the pages. A thin smile passed across his face, and he told me it was on the 18th. It was the 20th, so I wished him a belated happy birthday. He didn’t seem to mind the belated part.

He’s fading as he begins his 94th year. He looks a bit paler, a bit thinner, and he is beginning to shuffle when he walks, even when he uses his walker. We talk about the past as we always do, of his days as a farm boy, especially, and of his time in the service, then his career as an engineer. He worked on rocket guidance systems when that still had something of a romantic air about it, like the sci-fi stories I read when I was a boy. Spacemen and rockets and the exploration of the stars. He sighs and tells me that he was lucky — that we were lucky — to have lived in a period of prosperity when more people than ever had enjoyed a decent life. But that’s all over now and he doesn’t think it will come back.

We exchange stories about our ailments. Mr. K says that his doctors tell him they can do no more for him. He thinks the end is near and he is ready, as he has told me numerous times in the two years I’ve been coming to see him. The other day he fell asleep in his chair and slid all the way off, never knowing it. He awoke on the floor. Here, in this place. He shakes his head.

Where is “here” for him? The very idea of being warehoused in a stale, dreary, and sterile place like this terrifies me. Mr. K is a man of simple faith, and trusts that God will take him when the time comes, which he seems to hope is drawing near. I was telling him something about my grandchildren when I saw he had closed his eyes, his head leaning slightly to one side. I sat in silence. Then there was a knock on the door. A woman stuck her head in the door to tell Mr. K it was time for lunch. He snapped out of his catnap, and we slowly walked down toward the cafeteria, Mr. K shuffling along with his walker. I don’t help him; he resists being aided. He doesn’t even want me to hold the door open for him. “I can get it, I can get it!,” he says. I patted him on the shoulder, and we shook hands. I left before he could complain about the food as he so often does.

So, again, he told me he was ready. His expectation was of being called and taken. Taken to some place, or state of being, that transcends here and now. And I wondered. What is reality like for him? His short-term memory is going fast, names and dates elude him, but he keeps his eyes on the prize of an ultimate reality, an ultimate truth. And the depth of memory that permits a Mr. K to exist at all as distinct, but not separate, from other human beings, animates his life as he nears his end. The cross is at the center, pointing the way. The way, the truth, the life.

Different perspectives, different realities, or perceptions of reality exist for all of us, for all living things. Modern physics shook up the old world of solid things, separate from one another, of stasis as the norm, and a world of certainty. Underneath the surface of the day-to-day reality that we humans can perceive is apparently a sea of potentiality, of probabilities, of interconnected entities that are constantly in motion. A strange reality of non-locality, where the entities take on the qualities of whatever the observer expects in a given experimental situation and interrelated entities shift instantly in reaction to a change across vast distances at the tiniest levels of existence. Wave or particle? Not exactly. A reality of fields with an element of indeterminism. Uncertainty and complementarity. Apparently opposing properties as aspects of one reality. This doesn’t make reality an illusion, there is something out there, but the something we see is that which we as observers help co-create with our perceptions. Which raises a question. What is truth?


Pilate’s question was very much on my mind that afternoon. Jesus had told the Roman Prefect of Judaea that he came into the world to bear witness to the truth.

As I understand it, postmodernism has it that all “truth” is relative, a product of power relations and words as constructs in an illusory narrative. Ultimate truth, if there is such a thing, is unknowable, morality a social construct of the strong meant to oppress the weak — though “strong” and “weak” and judging the weak as “oppressed” and in need of “empowerment” are themselves truth statements that arise from a notion of ultimate truth. Every relationship is about the imposition of power by one over another. And woke madness and the culture of victimhood proceed from that assumption.

Sane people hold that truth is real, but truth gets tricky. It can be hard to pin down precisely in every context. I’ll once more channel Iain McGilchrist and his critique of scientism, materialism, and atheism. He takes aim at left brain hemisphere dominance and its either/or lens that eschews ambiguity and the coexistence of opposites that are both true, though one may be truer than the other in context. McGilchrist emphasizes embodiment, experience, contextualization, paradox, and the flow of reality that arises from an ultimate ground of being. He criticizes fragmentation and linear thinking in favor of a holistic approach and intuition. So, what is truth?

Truth is not a thing. It is a state of being, of living in truth and truth living in us. It is not static or frozen, a Platonic form separate from reality itself. Truth is embodied in reality, accessible by experience and intuition. Objectifying truth, I think, leads to the mechanistic, rigid, and unforgiving reality of the Pharisees. It becomes a contextless list of precepts unrelated to life as it is actually lived. Truth is intuited subjectively in that it acts through experience and in the world, proceeding from the transcendent reality from which it arises, best perceived in context. It is established by an observer interacting with this other, this something that is real, but not an entity. Truth is perceived through relationships in the flow of reality. Truth is not warehoused distant from the reality whom the ground of being, God, called forth from chaos, the sea of potentiality. It is organic in that truth as we perceive it grows with understanding and experience. It is contextual but not relativistic and arises from the ground of being, from God. God is love. Love compels God to create, to give us the gift of being. Being is a positive good, however fraught with pain, suffering, and uncertainty. Non-being is self-evidently a nullity.

Truth animates and informs action and shapes normative behavior, the ethics and morality that grew out of the experience of life that arose from chaos, cultural evolution acting with and within physical evolution. The broad parameters that permit humanity to develop and thrive, as well as to seek and experience something of the transcendent. The family and the social codes that accompany it, for instance, are true in that they proceed from the creation and the God that is love, and from the experience of living. Truth manifests itself kaleidoscopically, by projecting itself through life and experience. The cultural forms that took shape through experience informed by truth vary somewhat cross-culturally. At times, they have been distorted or inverted at the micro level, but the commonalities, what C. S. Lewis calls “the Tao,” are striking. Truth is a fountain springing from the ground of being. Truth supports an array of virtues that are part of the flow of existence, enabling and ennobling it.

Truth is a whole. It isn’t fragmentary, but its aspects are contextual and are nested in other aspects of the greater truth that they spring from. I believe this is what Jesus was getting at in his interactions with the Pharisees and scribes, whose rigid objectification of truth allowed only one answer in any given circumstance, and did, in their case, serve a collective will to power. The law as they perceived it lacked charity. Thus, the postmoderns are not entirely wrong, but they are as narrow and blind as the Pharisees and their epigones. From my recent article Writing in the Dustspecifically regarding the Pharisees accusing Jesus of breaking the sabbath:

The Pharisees took Christ to task for his disciples’ picking grain to eat on the Sabbath. He replied by saying that the Sabbath was created for man, not man for the Sabbath. In another instance, Jesus entered the synagogue on the Sabbath and healed a man with a withered hand, knowing his enemies awaited another opportunity to accuse him. “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath days, or to do evil? To save life or to kill?” he asked them. They kept their peace. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus asked which of them, if one of his sheep fell into a ditch on the Sabbath, would not pull it out. Jesus was not simply declaring himself ‘lord of the Sabbath.’ And he did more than ask whether rescuing the sheep would technically break the Sabbath. That is the wrong question. He was really asking, “What is the Sabbath for?” How we frame a question alters how we answer it…

In fact, we don’t sequentially “think through” every problem, as much as that is required in certain instances — say, building a bridge or repairing a machine (though intuition does play a part there, too). We immediately understand many situations with little reflection. It is “knowing” as understanding, not as formulaic certainty, something that requires no accounting for context or appeal to value (“Is it lawful on the Sabbath days to do good, or to do evil?”).   

Or the certainty of the Pharisees, whose legalism misses the point. That’s the certainty of a rigid and unrelenting zealot. The Pharisees and their unforgiving legalisms are present in fanatics of every stripe — those who do not let empathy, experience, or intuition tell them anything in their pursuit of a twisted form of purity. In his profound and informative books, [Iain] McGilchrist does not draw back from comparing Jacobins and Bolsheviks to inquisitors and “fundamentalist” iconoclasts, Puritans of every stripe, political or religious, both of whom transform a series of propositions (it is unlawful to break the Sabbath!) into rigid ideologies that profess to have all answers in all situations. They are the same people. Doubt is a part of faith, which is not, as materialists assert, a profession of belief without evidence, but a way of knowing aimed at understanding, based on intuition and experience, which is also evidential. We had better doubt ourselves and reject legalistic, bureaucratic certainty if we are to remain humane beings capable of mercy.

Thus, Jesus confirms the validity of the Sabbath while casting it as a truth nested within a larger truth, subject to contextualization in experience. Is it lawful to break the Sabbath? Yes and No.

Truth can mean simply a fact, or a series of facts. It can be a way of stating what is real. Ultimate truth arises from the ground of being, informing us of what is good and true. All other facets of truth are contained within it.

What is truth? Truth is subjective, but not in the sense of being an illusory invention, but of being discerned by experience and intuition from interaction with reality. It cannot be objectified, as it is a facet of the organic flow of created existence that springs forth from the ground of being that is truth’s source. It is manifest, embodied, in life, within context. It is a whole, not a series of linear, fragmented and frozen precepts. It is not merely an instrumental question — is it true that you were born in Houston? — but an answer to the question of being at all. It is real, but not easily defined, as words are inadequate in describing transcendence.

Truth defies modernity’s efforts to turn reality into a mere machine, and turn God, if it has a place for him, into a clockmaker or mechanical engineer disconnected from the reality he created. And thus, unnecessary.

But God is truth. And one must live truth. The truth will set you free.

Chronicles contributor Wayne Allensworth is the author of  The Russian Question: Nationalism, Modernization, and Post-Communist Russia, and a novel, Field of Blood. For thirty-two years, he worked as an analyst and Russia area expert in the US intelligence community.

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