Sunday, March 18, 2012

La Bocca della Verità (English: "The Mouth of Truth")

In the romantic comedy Roman Holiday (1953), Gregory Peck’s and Audrey Hepburn’s characters visit Bocca della Verita (in English: “The Mouth of Truth”) located in the portico of the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome, Italy. The filmmakers use the Mouth of Truth as a storytelling device since both Hepburn’s and Peck’s characters are not initially truthful with each other.

Hepburn’s reaction when Peck withdraws his “missing” hand was not rehearsed. Peck had convinced the director to allow him to surprise the young Hepburn. The scene was completed in the first take. Note: Hepburn won an Academy Award for Best Actress in this film.

Last week I mentioned several catchphrases from movies that seem to stick with us over the years. One such phrase was: “You can’t handle the truth!” spoken by Jack Nicholson’s character in the movie A Few Good Men (1992).

As I explore the relevance of truth and how it affects our day-to-day lives, I would like to showcase one event in this week’s entertainment news. In the two videos below you will meet a young man named Jermaine Jones.

In the first video, Jermaine sings a duet (Make It Easy On Yourself) with American Idol contestant Richie Law during the Las Vegas Round on February 16th. (This clip is used to let you see Jermaine’s talent—skip it if you like).
At the beginning of this week’s American Idol show on Wednesday (March 14th), host Ryan Seacrest opened the show with the news that one of the contestants had been eliminated. The news read:

American Idol confirmed on Wednesday night’s show that Jermaine Jones was disqualified and eliminated from Season 11. Jones’ outstanding warrants were the reason he was forced out of the competition.

Later during the show, a segment aired showing Jones meeting with producers in what he thought was to be a private meeting. While cameras rolled, producers told Jones that he was being taken off the show due to his having not been truthful by withholding information during the application process.

"Whether or not you agreed with Jermaine’s expulsion from American Idol, it was certainly an unfortunate turn of events for anyone to experience, especially on an international stage.” Matthew Boyer – (American Idol Net).

The second video is an exclusive interview with Jones as he responds to the decision made by the producers to remove him from the competition.
The situation with Jermaine Jones brings up an interesting question: Does truth matter? After all, he seems like a nice guy. In no way does he look like he’s a danger to society. I think they even nick named him “Gentle Giant”. Plus, when you compare Jermaine’s little brush with the law (as he called it: "small minor infractions") against the riffraff in Hollywood, don’t you think it’s a little harsh to boot him off the show? Can’t they just bend the rules this one time?

Wouldn't it be fare to Jermaine's fans if they just let America decide? Isn’t that the democratic way? Just give viewers the facts surrounding his application and outstanding warrants, let him sing a song, and then give America two hours to call in their vote: Yes or No.

Wait! Perhaps the network is being racist? I mean…the producers were white guys, and isn’t Fox Entertainment Group part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation? I believe it is. Someone, quick, call the ACLU! We still might be able to save Jermaine’s career.

Next, we need to answer Jack Nicholson's question. Can we handle the truth if we know it?

That brings up another question (oh my, so many questions). Is it even possible to know the truth?

I was thinking how nice it would be if the Mouth of Truth really worked. Think of all the places we could have them installed: the White House, both houses of Congress, corporate board rooms, court rooms, schools, hospitals, churches, and media outlets…the lists is endless. We would either end up with a very honest world or a lot of one-handed politicians, lawyers, corporate executives, doctors, teachers, and others.

Does Truth Matter?

In our postmodern society (1950’s to current times), we are told/taught/manipulated to believe that there is no absolute truth and that everything is subjective and relative. Apparent realities are only social constructs (see “Man Against Machine) and therefore subject to change. Absolute truth not only doesn’t matter, it does not exist.

The postmodernist replaces the previously accepted methods of “knowing” (revelation, intuition, relational, spiritual, and science & reason) with pluralism which utilizes multiple ways of “knowing”. The postmodernist worldview attacks classifications such as male versus female, straight versus gay (gender no longer has any relationship to biology), white versus black, and imperial versus colonial.

Tolerance no longer means to respectfully listen to opposing views, but has evolved into an emotional gag meant to silence anyone who speaks out against the dominant worldview held by the majority. Anyone speaking out is quickly silenced by accusations of being judgmental, racial, insensitive, bigot, fanatical, outdated, stupid, or any convenient term that strikes the emotions at the time—sounds a bit oxymoronic if you ask me. NOTE: Premodernism (Beginnings up to 1650’s); Modernism (1650-1950’s).

If you think about it, postmodernism could have been invented by Yogi Berra: “No one goes to that restaurant anymore because it’s too crowded.” “Half the lies they tell about me aren’t true.” “I never said most of the things I said.” From a novelist viewpoint, you just can’t make this stuff up.

Integrity is the truth one projects to the world. Without truth, integrity (trust, honesty, consistency, morality, ethics, values, etc.) is lost. Truth and integrity go hand-in-hand. When truth becomes a relative matter, so does integrity (that sounds like another oxymoron, as I don’t believe integrity can exist in a relative world).

The fact is that everyone—including you—has a worldview. Your worldview shapes every thought and idea you have. What we think and believe is he foundation for all of our actions. Every action has a consequence. Our thinking controls how we act, not only as individuals, but as groups, as a nation, and as a culture—for good or ill. Truth, or a lack of, is the foundation of our thought life and our subsequent actions.

Studies point out that a person’s worldview is primarily shaped and is firmly in place by the age of 13; it is refined through experience during the teen and early adult years; and then it is passed on to others during the adult life.

These studies underscore the necessity of parents and other influencers being intentional in how they help develop the worldview of children."Without an agreed-to absolute truth, there are not many sociological alternatives to avoid fragmentation in a society.

Let's look at a few alternatives. One possibility might be hedonism (every man does his/her own thing)—a “whatever” worldview. This option only works if you are alone on an island. It worked for Tom Hanks in Cast Away (2000)--that is until Wilson came along. Not until a second person (or what he pretended to believe was a person) joined Tom did he have to justify/negotiate his “whatever” worldview. I can only imagine if Wilson started talking back.

A second possibility is the absoluteness of the 51% vote—majority rules (democracy). But we must remember that on the basis of this alternative, Hitler was perfectly entitled to do as he wished if he had the popular support (51%). On this basis, law and morals become a matter of averages. If the majority vote supports it, it would become “right” to kill the old, the incurably ill, the insane, or whoever. No voice could be raised against it.

There are numerous examples in history of how this method has ultimately failed miserably. I should mention here that the enormously complex bills that are being passed today at an unprecedented rate by our Congress and Administration appoint individuals (within the bills) with the authority and power to decide on the law as they see fit; as the situation dictates at the current time. Once the law is passed it is enforceable without question--even if the new law appears to be in conflict with the Constitution. One such law was just passed this week that challenges the First Amendment.

That leaves us with only one alternative: the power and authority is given to one man or an elite to arbitrarily determine absolutes. These arbitrary absolutes can be handed down and there is no absolute by which to judge them. Again, numerous examples in history remind us of the chaos, tyranny, and ultimate failure that have ultimately resulted from this alternative.

In the late 1970’s Vaclav Havel wrote the essay “The Power of the Powerless” as part of a joint Polish and Czechoslovak effort opposing Communism. The essence of his essay exposed the big lie of Communism by showing that it could be maintained only by the millions of small lies elicited from greengrocers (a retail trader in fruit and vegetables; in green groceries).

Havel proposed that the most revolutionary action was living within the truth. The dignity of the human person consists in the ability to know the truth and to live it. Living within the truth would restore one’s innate human dignity and make life again worth living—because the truth matters more than life itself.

Under the orderly surface of the life of lies, therefore, there slumbers the hidden sphere of life in its real aims, of its hidden openness to truth.

The singular, explosive, incalculable power of living within the truth resides in the fact that living openly within the truth has an ally, invisible to be sure, but omnipresent: the hidden sphere [of openness to truth]. It is from this sphere that life lived openly in the truth grows…. But this place is hidden and therefore, from the perspective of power, very dangerous. The complex ferment that takes place within it goes on in semi-darkness, and by the time it finally surfaces into the light of day as an assortment of shocking surprises to the system, it is usually too late to cover them up in the usual fashion. Vaclav Havel, “The Power of the Powerless: Citizens against theState in Central-Eastern Europe”.
By 1989, countless people across Eastern Europe had committed themselves to Havel’s challenge. These brave people acknowledged that they knew the truth and pledged to live within the truth. As a result of the actions of many people in their unified pursuit of truth, there did indeed occur a “shocking surprise to the system.”
On November 9, 1989, by midnight, sledgehammers started knocking down the Berlin Wall as hundreds of thousands of people were passing freely through the Brandenburg Gate (ironically a gate that was commissioned by Friedrich Wilhelm II to represent peace).

On December 29, 1989, Vaclav Havel became President of Czechoslovakia by a unanimous vote. He died December 18, 2011. Read more about Vaclav Havel’s stand for truth (Action Institute, “Living Responsibly:Vaclav Havel’s View”).
Havel says that our century’s distinguishing mark is that “we are going through a great departure from God which has no parallel in history.” It is no coincidence that “the first atheistic civilization” has produced the bloodiest century in history. The civic face of atheism is ideology. Havel considers ideology “almost a secularized religion.” His exact synonym for “ideology” is “the lie.” An ideological regime “must falsify everything”–the past, the present, the future, statistics, everything. Action Institute, “Living Responsibly: Vaclav Havel’s View”
Bottom line: Truth does matter.
Can You Handle The Truth?
Vaclav Havel learned a crucial lesson of life: In order to live with significance, we need to discover truth, to discover reality; and once we’ve discovered it, we must live in fidelity to it. Integrity and seeking the truth go hand in hand. It wasn’t enough for Eastern Europeans to know the truth; they had to live it. The experience of those who lived under Communism teaches that we are all not only truth-seekers but also truth–avoiders, when our appetites and desires and survival instincts make the truth inconvenient or threatening.
If truth becomes for us a value worthy of suffering and risk, then we shall overcome fear—the direct reason for our enslavement. Jerzy Popieluszko, one of Poland’s dissident martyrs.

The question we should ask ourselves is not “do we believe there is an absolute moral truth?” but “why can’t we accept an absolute truth?” Often, the reason the idea of an absolute truth is unacceptable is because of what we might have to give up if we accept it.
Most Americans currently embrace the worldview that truth is relative, according to two national surveys conducted by Barna Research.
Approximately 1/3 of Americans believe that moral truth is absolute; 1/3 believe that moral truth is relative to the circumstances; and 1/3 does not believe that absolute moral truth exist. You might want to read that sentence again. I found it hard to believe the first time I read it. Afer you digest it, go back and watch the last video. Don't be so naive as to believe that what happened to them can never happen to us.
Is It Possible To Know Truth?
In our postmodern society, objectivity and truth are often masked behind the curtain of ideologies established by those in prominent places of influence. Modern governments have forms of manipulation at their disposal which the world has never known before—psychological techniques, techniques associated with biological science, and the ability to influence behavior through the mass media.
For many, what they see on television becomes more true than what they see with their eyes in the external world. One must not forget that every television minute has been edited. The viewer only sees events after they have been edited, presenting the illusion of objectivity and truth.
Most of those in prominent places of influence (congressman, other government officials, professors, and members of the journalistic fraternity) typically share a common worldview, eliminating the need for collusion or a plot against absolute truth. The minds of those trapped in their worlds of apathy and indifference, seeking only personal peace and affluence, are easily taken hostage to the machine, marching ever so slowly toward “change”—the proverbial frog in a pot of boiling water.
Change does not occur overnight, but is a rather subtle trend that occurs through a persistent, multi-directional campaign of manipulation aimed at changing the minds of the populous. The subtle change is necessary in order to go unnoticed (see the frog above--poor sucker).

How can evil come upon us so silently without our notice? How can we so easily accept the worldviews that will ultimately result in our demise--as others before us have done? You only need to glance into the past to answer the question: “How?”

From Europe to England to the United States; from the minds of intellectuals to the educated minds teaching our youth, to the general populace; through philosophy, the arts, music, drama, novels, movies, television, and finally theology, our minds are shaped by the influences in our lives.

To all those who have suffered as a consequence of our troubled past I extend my sincere thoughts and deep sympathy. With the benefit of historical hindsight we can all see things which we would wish had been done differently or not at all. Queen Elizabeth II.

The pages of history paint the truth in bold, bright, primary colors that even a child can see: Greece, Rome, Germany, Soviet Union, China, North Korea, Venezuela, Tunisia, Libya, Iran, Iraq, etc.—millions upon millions of people (frogs) mindlessly “boiled” in their own apathy.

For evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing. Simon Wiesenthal, Holocaust survivor.

We know we are reaching a point of no return when we see “good men” join the majority, twisted in their own confusion between right and wrong, good and evil, truth and relativism, conviction and skepticism. (The surveys and studies mentioned above point clearly to this fact).

YES! It is possible to know truth, but we must be truth-seekers (like Vaclav Havel) not truth-avoiders. If something is true something else must be false. Question: What will you do when you find truth? Can you “handle it”?
Why do you NOT believe the Bible is true? What would you have to change in your life if you did?

Often our morality controls our theology. We are often afraid to assert what we believe and know to be true. Society pressures us to be “non-judgmental” and “tolerant” (that is, not to say anything that might offend someone). We are told to keep our thoughts to ourselves, to be content with living a productive life and leave the thinking to those who are busy strategizing how to manipulate your mind. This begs the questions: Is it possible to be tolerant and articulate truth at the same time? (Vaclav Havel didn't think so) If so, how?

What Is Truth?

A Jew, his back still bloody from a nasty whipping, stood stripped before a gentile bureaucrat. What was to be done with this troublesome Jew, who didn't seem to understand "tolerance" but appeared to be determined to undermine peace and justice?

“Are you a king?” Pilate asked. Jesus answered, “I came into the world to bear witness to the truth” (John 18). Pilate then asked a philosophical question, “What is truth?” After all, Jesus had told his disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

It frightens us to hear such open talk about truth. We are more concerned with how to live in a world where there is a plurality of truths than we are with truth. Pilate himself was trying to deal with this problem of pluralism. It was difficult enough keeping Jews in their place—with their Sadducees, Pharisees and Essenes—without a young Nazarene claiming to be the truth. Pilate’s response to Jesus’ claim was to try to get him into a philosophical discussion about truth. And then, when this young Jew refused to enter the discussion—refused to be rational—Pilate had Jesus killed.

A sign of “truth decay” in our modern society is witnessed by those claiming to be Christian—say they believe and put their trust and faith in God and Jesus (“I am the way, the truth, and the life”) as the living Truth—yet say that absolute moral truth is relative or nonexistent (see the surveys).

Without a doubt, postmodernism is creeping (or surging) into the lives of the eroding Christian base. A Christian who is confused about the issues of his worldview or unsure if moral truth is absolute, presents a cognitive disconnect. I think I hear Yogi Berra working on a one-liner for Christians.

Remember, with relativism as a worldview: there is no God, there is no universal knowledge of what is right and wrong; no bases for ethics—without truth you can’t have ethics. Ethics depends on an absolute agreement of truth.

So where do we find/know truth? Pascal argued that those who seek truth will eventually find it, and in finding truth, they will find God. In the Old Testament, truth was used to refer to God, Himself.

But where do we find/know truth if we don’t accept the Bible (in its entirety) as God’s inherent, divinely inspired written words. God thought of everything in his design for humanity when He wrote truth on our hearts; it’s innate knowledge. The apostle Paul claims that we can know God exists through the witness of nature. “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” Romans 1:20.

Truth can and should be tested and examined to be determined if it is reliable. The Bible can be tested to determine if it is true. Don’t be a fool by believing anything you hear, see, or read. “Fools will believe anything, but the wise think about what they do.” Prov. 14:15 “…anyone who examines this evidence will come to stake his life on this: that God himself is the truth.” John 3:33

Test it. Check it out. Then decide on your acceptance of what is and is not truth. The ultimate test of truth is describing the way things really are.

1) Look in your heart. Your consciousness tells you what is right and wrong (Rom. 2—the truth is written on our hearts—innate in all humans). When you find it, can you handle it? As a rule, people try to rationalize truth. We have the infinite capacity for self-justification. We think we know better. Typically, the general culture doesn’t want truth because it is limiting.

2) The created world around you reveals truth in an unlimited number of ways (Romans 1).

3) Truth is that which conforms to reality. Compare ideas with the way the world actually works.

4) And when you are finally able to accept the Bible as truth, you will have an endless supply of references to support truth. The Bible teaches truth. It is revealed truth. It is tested and confirmed by science.

A note to ponder: If Jesus was false (not the living Truth), the 12 disciples, by the nature of man, would not have died for the truth Jesus represented Himself to be. People do not die for something that they believe is false. The disciples died for what they knew to be true. The evidence for the historicity of the Bible and historicity of the resurrection is overwhelming.

Jesus said “I am the way, the truth and the life.” John 14:6. (Truth is a person).

Buddha said, “I am searching for the truth.” At the end of his life he said, “I am still searching for the truth.” The Vetas (Hindu scriptures) says truth is illusive (sounds almost postmodern). Everybody is betting their life on something.

In the final analysis, there are really only two kinds of worldviews: those that acknowledge that truth exists and is knowable; and those that believe all realities are merely human constructs and are therefore relative.


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