Truth and Fiction
The saying that the truth will set you free has been so often repeated that is the sort of thing that one almost ignores. It’s one of those sayings like “Yes, Math will help you in the future” or “Never say never.” It’s cold, it’s cliché; its effects are diminished by too frequent use. It is, however, certainly a true saying, and gazillions of people have felt its effects.
Then there’s the idea that there is no truth. The idea that truth changes for every person. That truth, like God, is to be considered dead. It is old fashioned and outdated, the stuff of fairy tales and legends. Truth is what you make it.
We live surrounded by skewed truths. If you put enough half-truths together, then you get something that looks plausible. These half-truths are shoveled into the world through twitter, Facebook, tumblr, and from the towers of so-called news organizations. They fuel outrage in epic proportions—every day there is someone else calling for a boycott of some new business or other based on some quip or other that perfectly proves the point of some agenda-fueled organization and proves just how awful the “other side” is.
A half-truth, when called by any other name, is a lie. Skewing the truth means that it is falsified, and therefore no longer true. In a world where the only truths that matter are the ones that have been tampered with, it is no surprise that people believe that truth is dead.
Except that it isn’t. Venerable Fulton Sheen wrote:
Those who boast of their open-mindedness are invariably those who love to search for truth but not to find it; they love the chase but not the capture; they admire the footprints of truth, but not catching up with it. They go through life talking about “widening the horizons of truth” without ever seeing the sun. Truth brings with it grave responsibilities; that is why so many keep their hands open to welcome it but never close them to grasp it.
For a great many people, then, half truths are the best truths. They allow for searching without ever finding anything more than one wants to believe. Half-truths allow for circular arguments—for debates that go on forever without reaching a resolution. Half-truths make people angry, because they force something to be looked at from only one angle—the angle that makes the speaker either entirely right or entirely wrong. For instance, there was recently a(nother) call to boycott Starbucks coffee because the CEO reportedly told all anti-gay marriage shareholders to sell their stocks. This, of course, stirred up a good bit of support from the pro-gay marriage crowd, and some intense fury from the anti-gay marriage side of the aisle. Nothing very surprising there except that the whole thing was built on twisted words. A shareholder expressed concern that Starbucks’ support of gay marriage was hurting his profits. The CEO told him that if he thought he could make more money elsewhere, he was free to sell his shares and invest in something else. This was never about gay marriage. It was never about people. It was all a discussion of money that was twisted to be about politics. Now, If one opts to boycott Starbucks because of their support for gay marriage, that is one thing. Opting to boycott Starbucks because of something the CEO never said or meant is another matter altogether.
In stories, the reader is often initially exposed to only a single facet of the characters involved in the story. Slowly, the reader learns more about each character—what made them good, evil, amoral, loveable, pitiable, or detestable. If a reader had to pass judgment on those characters based only on that first initial glimpse, then most characters would be decidedly unlikeable. The reader cannot know a character from the beginning of the book. One has to go to the trouble of reading the rest of the book to find out all about the characters. Likewise, one cannot find the truth behind a half-truth without putting at least a little effort into finding it.
It is most alarming to see half truths used on the side of arguments that are morally sound. It is unsettling to see an abortion supporter whose words have been twisted to make him sound even worse than he did on his own. If an argument is true, then it can and should stand on its own. The social battles that are going on in the world currently are confusing and convoluted. They only become more confusing when there are constant barrages of skewed-truth propaganda. The deception plays both ways. Neither side is more or less guilty than the other. The truth can set you free, but, as Walter Scott wrote, it is “a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” When we accept half-truth instead of looking a little deeper for the whole truth, we are letting the truth slip through our open fingers.