“‘Truth?’ said Pilate. What is that?”
– Pontius Pilate, Gospel of St John, 19:38
“The Pope has changed doctrine.. That politican must be right – it’s all fraud.. He said she’s always been like that.. I heard he stole.”
Every day we are presented with a variety of opinions which seem like so many post-it notes pinned to a wall. As if this were not confusing enough, opinions are so often presented as ‘fact’; we tell ourselves – and, worst still, others – that “what I believe is, by virtue of my believing it, true”.
Truth, then, has become ‘my’ truth.
It has evolved from the objective to the subjective and is seen solely through the lens of our own experience and perception and belief-system.
As recounted in St John’s Gospel, standing before Jesus Christ, Pilate asked – “what is truth?”. It seems to me that in these present days, this is a timely and pertinent question for us to consider.
In the political sphere, truth becomes whatever the powerful say it is; it doesn’t matter so much – it would seem – that facts tend to get in the way of our protestations about truth. And so the election was won by a lot or was not won at all; this or that thing happened or did not happen; this was the actual number or this was not the actual number. It all depends on our perspective.
The trouble is, many will believe it just because someone else says it.
Similarly, in the religious world what is presented as truth may be nothing more than our own opinions and objectives; but if a bishop says it is mortally sinful to vote for a particular party, it is highly likely that at least some people will accept it as ‘truth’, whether that is or is not objectively true – and as a point of note, this is not at all what the Church teaches, as the Catechism attests.
So what do we do?
We need to maintain an air of critical thinking – in other words, don’t believe something just because someone says it. Saying it does not make it true. Facts make it true or not true. So check the facts.
Where possible, go back to primary sources – are you sure the Pope changed Catholic doctrine? How do you know? Was there an official announcement or did someone else simply say it had happened? Have you checked what he actually said? Or did this politician really suggest to do such and such a thing? How do you know? What is documented and by whom?
Look at the sources you are listening to and from whom you are getting your information – ask yourself how reliable they are. Have they been reliable in the past? How often? Do they have a particular agenda, be it religious, political or something else? Are the apparent facts confirmed elswhere? Check, check, check.
Social media has many uses – but it could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be called a clear, objective and reliable source for all information. If social media is your primary source of information, you may easily find yourself being misled, even by those whose intentions might be otherwise good.
Be prudent in your thinking and belief.
Remain critical, at least initially, until confimation of a ‘fact’ is obtained.
Use your judgement – God gave you higher critical faculties for a very good reason.