Jerry Brown: “I mean Clinton’s a nice guy but whoever said he always told the truth?”
California Democratic governor candidate Brown got a little testy recently and mouthed off about the former president when responding to an ad by his Republican opponent, Meg Whitman. She had brought out an old debate clip showing Brown being criticized by then presidential candidate William Jefferson Clinton. But that begs the question as asked by Pilate to Jesus: What is Truth?
In my one of my online communication classes at Minnesota State University (Mankato) we have been discussing great topics like epistemology (study of how we know things) and ontology (the study of existence). One statement keeps coming to the top in slightly different words, but with always the same meaning: “What is true for me may not be true for another”. We call it relativism. All of these budding professors and school teachers and psychologists and social workers are convinced that this is the way the world works. But I’d bet the farm not a one of them lives like it outside the classroom, at least when their own interests are at stake.
Who wants to live in a world where the gal behind the counter can decide for herself the amount of change we should get back from the twenty dollar bill we gave her? When we tell the mechanic we want an oil change, are we happy if he changes the tires instead? What about doctors? Do we want their perception to comport with reality or are we happy if they choose whatever truth they want to believe? In each of these cases, we want other people to live by a standard of truth we can all agree upon.
It isn’t just math either. It is ethics. If we really believed that truth was relative we could never ever cry out “that’s not fair!”. By what standard would we judge the truth of the matter? One the contrary, we want people to tell us the truth. We want people to live by some objective standard of fairness. What if the teacher didn’t like our politics and gave us whatever grade he or she jolly well pleased? We would howl like a dog sitting on a cocklebur. But how can we insist on a particular grade anyway, if there is no such thing as objective truth?
If you really believe each one owns their own truth, why do you get so hyped up about politics? Who cares if the Bush tax cuts are extended or not? It really matters because it is your tax cuts being effected.
Why is it important if Mike Castle or Christine O’Donnell wins the Delaware Senate GOP primary, if truth doesn’t matter? And what point is there for California Governor candidate Jerry Brown to worry about former Bill Clinton’s proclivity to tell lies if there is no such thing as truth?
So, we are willing in the confines of a private classroom to proclaim relativity, but outside the walls of academia, we almost always want truth to mean truth. And we want people to tell the truth, at least, to us.
Jesus once gave an answer to Pilate’s question: “I am the Way the Truth and the Life, no man comes to the Father but by Me”.