Reactions to truth
In the opening chapter of the book “Why Truth Matters,” the authors talk about how people often hate to hear the truth. Some examples of this would be the reactions people have to hear about their health (“You have a cancer and need surgery”), or their finances (“You are living beyond your means and must economize”), or their ancestors (“Your grandpa was commandant of an SS extermination camp”). Also, people who hear the truth often have the most irrational reactions.
This phenomenon interests me, and I must admit that it annoys me too. Why don’t we welcome truth when we see or hear it? Why do we go to such elaborate extents to cover truth, or hide from it, or deny it, or reinterpret it?
Before looking a bit more at those thoughts though, I want to be sure that no one reading this tries to pat themselves on the back and say, “Boy, that is silly. I’m glad I don’t react to truth like that.” So…..
- Are you, as a political liberal, perfectly happy when Rush Limbaugh turns out to be dead right about something? Especially if it’s something you strongly disagreed with him about?
- Are you, as a political conservative, glad to discover that Bill Clinton did something good? Especially if you thought him, “the worst president ever”?
- Are you, as a de-convert, willing to acknowledge the good done by the Christian faith in the world?
- Are you, as a Christian, willing to own up to the ugly side of your own denomination, own local church, or own personal failures to evidence “fruits of the Spirit”?
If I didn’t hit home with any of those, pick your topic. Abortion, homosexuality, gun control, free will vs. determinism, Biblical inerrancy, Reformed theology, homeopathy, feminism, evolution/creationism, … eventually something turns up that will serve as your “button”. And when someone presses that button, when they challenge your beliefs in that area, you will grow fangs and excess body hair.
It’s also notable and interesting that we are usually somewhat blind to the areas where we can’t/won’t believe truths that contradicts us. In fact, we usually tell ourselves that we are totally rational about it and that anyone against us is bigoted, misinformed, crazy, mean-spirited, caddish, and so on.
So why is this? Why is being comfortable, or happy, or thinking oneself infallible so damn important that one must become enranged just because one is challenged? Why does even the dry and straightforward presentation of a verifiable fact, or sound argument against one’s position, or the pointing out of a hole in one’s beliefs or logic cause one to cry, rage, become uncivil, go on a tirade, pout, ‘take your football and go home’, and otherwise behave childishly?
Maybe we are all just genetically arrogant. Maybe we all want to be God. Maybe we are a brain-damaged or, dare I say it, soul-damaged race.
Plato thought that all discussion and disputation should be rational and simply deal with facts. Plato was an idealist.
Aristotle saw that discussion and disputation was only partly and occasionally rational, while most of it dealt with feelings, opinions, impressions, and biases. Aristotle was a realist.
How firmly set is that reality? Can we change it personally? And must/should we try to change it?
Lots of questions: not much by way of answers. Except for that very last question. To it I say, “Yes. We must/should change it in as much as we can. Because, along with the authors of the book I mentioned in the first paragraph, I say that truth does matter.”