Just Because We State Facts Does Not Mean We Are Promoting The Truth

Just Because We State Facts Does Not Mean We Are Promoting The Truth July 4, 2021

National Gallery of Art: Paul Preaching (Attributed to Agostino Carracci) / Wikimedia Commons

Everything good and true is good and true in its proper context. Outside of that context, it can be and often is turned against the good and used to promote falsehoods. This is how facts are weaponized; when they are taken out of that context, they can be used for evil and used to promote falsehoods. This can be seen in the way facts often are weaponized, causing scandal by the way they are misapplied. Likewise, when asked questions, there are times in which no answer is legitimate, either because any particular response can be and will be misinterpreted, or worse, used for some evil end. This is why there are times in which we find our adherence to the truth leads us to be silent. A commonly used example of this is when a would-be murderer asks about the whereabouts of their would-be victim: we can’t just tell them what they want to know. Likewise, when people are suffering, when they are hurt and confused, the best thing to do is to try to comfort them, while the worst thing to do is to state hurtful facts which will only make them react negatively and turn further away from what is good or true.

Many who like to cause problems, many who like to hurt and wound people with facts, when questioned about their actions, say, “I’m just stating facts. What do you have against the truth?” The problem is that, even if what they state is factual, what they offer is not the truth, for it is cut off from the charity and greater good which is necessary for the truth to be discerned. Facts are not the same thing as the truth. We come to realize the truth through facts, but facts require interpretation and engagement before we can use them to arrive at the truth. As many murder mysteries demonstrate, just because someone is found by the police holding the murder weapon in their hands (the fact), this does not mean they are the murderer (the truth behind the facts). To get the truth from the facts requires us to engage the facts with a proper hermeneutic, one which follows the ontological qualities related to the truth itself (it must be good, and in some way, demonstrate a beauty which attracts us to it). Thus, in regards ultimate truth, that hermeneutic is love, and without that hermeneutic, facts will not lead to the ultimate truth but instead turn us away from it.

Facts, when not given in the spirit of goodwill, when they are not engaged for the sake of the greater good, when they are not presented in and through proper charity, can cause grief, sorrow, anger, annoyance, and many other similar reactions. Those who hear them are thus unable to realize the truth which can emerge from those facts. Facts are easy to give. But, the spirit which is needed so that the lead the audience to the truth itself is not so easy to attain. We must all kinds of inordinate passions inside us, pulling us inside out, turning us away from the spirit of charity, and without that charity, we will fail to point to the ultimate truth. Those who like to boast of what they know, those who like to prop themselves up by stating facts, and telling people who do not know such facts how ignorant they are only hinder the realization of the truth. With such pride, they do not possess the humble love which they need, not only to present the truth to others, but to receive it for themselves.

Paul experienced the reality of this when he found himself confronted with a slave girl who would state a fact, that he was a servant of God, but did so in a way which disrupted his work:

As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by soothsaying. She followed Paul and us, crying, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.”  And this she did for many days. But Paul was annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, “I charge you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour (Acts 16:16-18 RSV).

The girl was right. What she said was factually correct: Paul proclaimed the way of salvation. However, following Paul around, saying this at the wrong time, in the wrong place, in the wrong fashion, instead of helping Paul, hindered his work. This spirit within her knew this, which is why it lead her to act in this fashion. We can easily imagine it have her say to Paul, “Why are you upset? I’m just speaking the truth.” But the spirit did not desire others to realize the truth, but rather, to be turned away from it. This is why Paul was annoyed. Dispelling the spirit from her did not mean he denied the facts which she stated. He taught the faith to those who were willing to listen to him, and in those places and at those times in which his message was most appropriate. He helped people receive the truth. What he did not do was confront each and every person he met, telling them facts which they did not know to show how fare they were from the truth. That was the method of the spirit-possessed women.

We should not be like the slave girl. We should be like Paul. When we have something to say, we must do so in the proper spirit, that is, in and with the Spirit of Love. That will have people react to us favorably. If they see we care for them, if we treat them with respect, if we show them love no matter what their beliefs and practices are, they will more likely be interested in what we have to say. And then they will do more than listen to us: they will engage the Spirit of Love for themselves. Through such an engagement, they will begin to realize the truth, not in and through individual facts, but through the hermeneutic which leads to the truth. Jesus, when he healed Celidonius, the blind man since birth (cf. John 9:1-7), demonstrated how this works. Jesus showed Celidonius love and respect, and it was later, when Celidonius met with Jesus, we find that he was willing to, and indeed, desired to listen to Jesus:

Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who speaks to you.”  He said, “Lord, I believe”; and he worshiped him (Jn. 9:3-38 RSV).

Jesus could gone to Celidonius and said, “I’m the Son of Man. Believe in me.” It is unlikely that Celidonius would have done so. It would have just seemed like crazy talk, just as, for so many people, if we confront them and say something difficult for them to believe and say just believe, they will not do so. This, of course, is why Jesus acted in and out of love. Jesus  let the truth be revealed in and through that love. Thus, he first comforted Celidonius, healing him out of his love for the man, allowing it so that when Celidonius later encountered Jesus again, he was able to come to the full realization of the truth.

Confrontation might, for a few people, help them realize some element of the truth, but without love, they will never realize its fullness, as they will never understand the proper relationship of whatever is said to them to the greater truth. Only in and through the hermeneutic of love is that possible We must always give love its due. We must always place love at the foundation of our actions. Love must serve as the foundation for our speech. We must speak wisely, and that wisdom must be the wisdom of love, not pride of knowledge. Then, and only then, when we speak can the truth follow. Otherwise, whenever we confront someone with facts, we will be like a clanging gong which will make our audience upset.



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