24.01.2023 Feature Article

The Personal and Group Benefits of Truth: Do People Want the Truth, and Does the Truth Matter?

The Personal and Group Benefits of Truth: Do People Want the Truth, and Does the Truth Matter?
24.01.2023 LISTEN

It is lamentable that truth has become the scarcest commodity in our world, including people from all religious persuasions. It is even more regrettable that people who claim to be the followers of the one who boldly claimed to be the embodiment of truth are the ones whose words cannot be trusted. We cannot build trust and credibility without the truth. How can we be the mouthpiece of the Gospel of Christ if our words cannot be trusted? It behooves us to promote the truth in our world if it is essential for our society's survival.

Some years ago, I talked with a Ghanaian woman about establishing a church in Ghana to preach or teach Biblical Truth. The woman responded, "Pastor Steve, did you say you want to establish a church in Ghana to teach the truth of the gospel? I answered in the affirmative, and the lady responded, "Then do not expect many people in your church!" She told me Ghanaian Christians want to hear about their spiritual state, what the future holds for them, how pastors can ward off evil forces from their lives, and how they can help them overcome their economic challenges, even though that is not the primary purpose of the gospel.

About 15 years ago, a friend in Amsterdam called me and said, "I have asked a woman going through a marital problem to call you because I know you would tell her the truth." The woman called me, and I talked with her for more than an hour. After listening to her attentively and asking follow-up questions, I concluded her problem was not spiritual but behavioral and attitudinal. I told her she needed more counseling than prayers and that while I intended to pray with her, I would focus more on counseling. You know what? I did not hear from her again. Later my friend called and said, "Probably you should not have given her the naked truth like that because she thought her problem was spiritual and needed a pastor who would just pray with her."

So my question is: Do humans want the truth, and does the truth matter? And how can we promote truth if it is critical for societal survival? First, what is the truth? St Aquinas said: "A judgment is said to be true when it conforms to the external reality." Truth is the quality or state of being by fact or reality. It refers to the conformity of a statement or proposition to reality. The concept of truth is central to many fields, including philosophy, logic, and science. In philosophy, the concept of truth is closely linked to ideas of knowledge, belief, and justification. In logic and mathematics, truth refers to the correspondence of a statement to the facts or the rules of logical inference. In science, truth refers to the correspondence of a theory or hypothesis to empirical evidence.

In the Bible, Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). This statement is one of the most significant claims that Jesus made about himself. The statement "I am the truth" can be interpreted in many ways, but it is generally understood to mean that Jesus is the embodiment or personification of truth. In this context, "truth" can be understood as the ultimate reality or standard of what is true and right. By saying, "I am the truth," Jesus claims to be the source of all truth and the ultimate authority on what is true and right. It can also mean Jesus' words were truthful, not just in a literal sense but in a moral and spiritual sense, meaning that all his words and actions were truthful and authentic.

St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the most influential figures in the development of Christian theology, maintained that truth is ultimately rooted in God, revealed through scripture and the inner workings of the human mind. For Augustine, truth includes objective facts and subjective aspects such as beauty and goodness. Epictetus, a Greek Stoic philosopher, had a different understanding of truth than Augustine. Epictetus believed that one could not know the truth through words or language but through actions and events. He taught that true wisdom is the ability to understand the nature of things and act according to that understanding. Epictetus believed that the goal of human life is to understand the nature of reality and to live by it

Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher, had a complex understanding of truth. He believed that truth is objective and eternal and that humans can discover truth through reason and contemplation. He believed that knowledge is not just a matter of knowing facts but understanding the underlying reality or essence of things and that the human soul can know the truth, but it can be hindered by the distractions of the physical world and the limitations of the human body.

Immanuel Kant, arguably one of the foremost thinkers of the Enlightenment and one of the greatest philosophers of all time, maintained that truth-telling is a "perfect duty," one so basic that it cannot be overridden by other values—not even saving the life of a friend, let alone saving the feeling of a friend. For Kant, lying is always wrong, no matter what. He believed that lying is wrong on two fronts: First, lying corrupts the moral capacity of humans, and second, lying prevents others from acting rationally and freely. In other words, lying undermines the dignity of other humans.

The question is: Does the truth matter for societal survival? The truth matters because it is a fundamental aspect of human life and society. It is essential for understanding the world around us, making informed decisions, and building trust and credibility in our interactions with others. Knowing the truth about the world around us helps us make sense of our experiences and navigate our environment. It enables us to understand the causes of events and predict our actions' outcomes. The truth helps us to make informed decisions: Having accurate information is crucial for making informed decisions. Without the truth, we may make decisions based on falsehood or misinformation, which can lead to negative consequences.

Truthfulness is a cornerstone of trust and credibility in our relationships. When we know someone is truthful, we can trust them and rely on them. On the other hand, when we suspect someone is not being truthful, it erodes trust and makes it challenging to build strong relationships. Truth is necessary for understanding and addressing social issues such as discrimination, inequality, and injustice. Without the truth, we cannot understand the natural causes of these problems, and we cannot develop practical solutions to address them. Truth is essential for scientific and technological progress. Scientific research and technological development would be hindered without a commitment to discovering the truth.

So what motivates us to seek the truth? People may have different motivations for seeking the truth, and not all individuals may place the same importance on discovering or understanding the truth. Some people may be highly motivated to seek out the truth in various areas of their lives, such as their personal beliefs, professional pursuits, or understanding of the world around them. Others may be less motivated to do so and may be content with their current understanding of things. Some people may have a greater inclination to seek the truth, while others may be more comfortable with their current understanding of things. People may seek the truth in different circumstances and for different reasons. For example, scientists may seek the truth in their research to advance knowledge and understanding.

Some people may reject the truth when it conflicts with their beliefs, values, or interests. For example, a person may reject scientific evidence that contradicts their religious beliefs. A case in point was the disagreement between Galileo's geocentric and heliocentric discoveries and the ensuing controversy with the Catholic Church. Additionally, people may be more likely to reject the truth if they perceive that the truth is threatening or uncomfortable. Sometimes people have a cognitive bias to reject information that contradicts their current beliefs, called cognitive dissonance.

We live in a world where falsehood is well established and the truth eliminated. And now, scholars are talking about the post-truth world. There has been a moral inversion where evil has become good and good has become evil. We live in a scary world where all norms and ethos have evaporated, and individuals are doing what they consider right in their own eyes. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche maintained that "Sometimes people do not want to hear the truth because they do not want their illusions destroyed." Others have argued that the truth sounds good in theory, especially if it's the truth we agree with or that puts us in a favorable light.

In 2009 researchers at the University of Illinois and the University of Florida analyzed data from 91 studies involving nearly 8,000 participants in the debate on whether people actively avoid information that contradicts what they believe or whether they are simply exposed more often to ideas that conform to their own because they tend to be surrounded by like-minded people? The studies asked participants about their views on a given topic and then allowed them to choose whether they wanted to view or read information supporting their own or an opposing point of view.

The researchers found that "people are about twice as likely to select the information that supports their point of view (67 percent) as to consider an opposing idea (33 percent).” The study also concluded that "certain individuals, those with close-minded personalities, are even more reluctant to expose themselves to differing perspectives." They would choose the information corresponding to their views: about 75 percent of the time. Others have also observed that the truth is often emotionally painful and intense. To come face-to-face with certain truths has been a terrifying experience for some people. Moreover, the human brain is good at creating fiction.

We have the moral obligation to promote the truth in our world if the truth is essential for the survival of societies. Promoting truth in societies can be a complex and challenging task, as different people may have different understandings of what constitutes truth and may be influenced by various factors such as personal experiences, beliefs, and biases. Nevertheless, we must find ways to promote the truth for the betterment of society. Some ways to promote truth in society include encouraging critical thinking and skepticism, encouraging people to question claims, examine the evidence, and think critically about information. We must create and foster an open dialogue and debate environment: Allowing different perspectives to be heard.

Supporting and promoting reliable sources of information by encouraging people to rely on credible sources and be aware of misinformation can help promote truth. Helping people understand how their cognitive biases and logical fallacies can affect their understanding of truth can help them become more critical consumers of information. We must promote self-reflection and self-awareness by encouraging people to reflect on their own experiences and biases. Furthermore, we must create a culture of accountability by holding those who spread misinformation accountable, whether individuals or organizations. It is important to note that promoting truth in society requires ongoing effort and commitment, and it is also important to consider cultural and social contexts.

Truth-telling is essential for every society because it forms the foundation of trust and respect among individuals and institutions. People are likely to make informed decisions and cooperate if they can trust that the information, they receive is accurate and truthful. Also, truth-telling helps prevent the spread of misinformation, which can lead to harmful consequences such as poor public policy, discrimination, and even violence. Without truth-telling, a society may struggle to function effectively and efficiently.