I was thinking about the idea of truth today and somehow Mr Heckles from Friends popped into my head. Remember him? He was the strange old man who lived below Monica and Rachel and always complained about the noise. His lies were so blatant and funny that I would often find myself waiting in anticipation to see what he would come up with next. This video shows a few examples, the last of which changed the lives of Chandler and Joey forever.
What we believe to be true shapes everything about our lives, from whether we listen to scientists about health guidelines to the people we allow into our circle of friends. When it comes to spirituality, the question of truth becomes even more complicated. For many Christian believers, the Bible is claimed to be the standard of truth. Biblical ‘truth’ is often used to judge scientific information, perpetuate gender and racial stereotypes, protect economic systems, and defend deceitful politicians. Which raises the question of what truth actually is.
Most of us think of truth as information that is factual. In the case of medical advice, scientific discoveries, or proclamations by politicians about the state of the world, truth claims do need to align with verifiable facts. But we get into trouble when we confuse metaphor, mythology, and meaning with fact. To question verified insights of the sciences because they ‘contradict’ what the Bible says is to violate the purpose of Scripture. It is also to set ourselves up for suffering when we disregard science as a result. I am reminded, for example, of a child who nearly died because the parents refused to allow medical staff to administer a blood transfusion.
When we enter the realm of spirituality, it is important that we honour and are guided by those who do the difficult and important work of verifying and reporting facts: journalists, medical practitioners, and scientists, among others. But it is also important that we realise that there are truths that have nothing to do with facts.
We live truly in the sense that an arrow that hits its target has flown truly. A true life is not one built on facts, necessarily. Rather it is one of integrity. We live truly when our words, actions, attitudes, beliefs, and thinking all align with one another. In this sense, someone who conforms to all social norms and dictates, but secretly acts and thinks in antisocial ways, is not living truly. But someone who is committed to justice and participates in social disobedience is living truly even if they are legally considered to be a criminal.
And this is the kind of truth we find in sacred texts and rituals. The Bible is not a book of facts, but a book of truth—the truth of myth, metaphor, and meaning. It is a book that speaks truth about how to live a meaningful, fulfilling, compassion, and connected life. For a more focussed discussion on the relationship between the Bible and science, see my post, Why The Bible Is Not A Magic Book.
An authentic spirituality is essentially about learning to be the most compassionate, connected, and contributing people we can be. And, it is also about learning to live a life we consider to be meaningful and fulfilling. Facts are not nearly sufficient to show us how to find these qualities in our lives. We need stories, myths, and metaphors that reflect on what is truly meaningful and what really contributes to the common good. And we need rituals and practices that train us in the habits of living truly. And that is why we need intentional spiritual practice in our lives.
There are many different ways we can engage in spiritual practices to develop a life that is true. I would suggest though, that whatever the details of your practice may be, it will be most effective if it includes the following elements:
We are challenged to speak truth to ourselves about our motives, desires, actions, and the effect they have on other people and our world.
We are challenged to speak truth to those in power in some way, even if it is simply to opt out of unjust systems and ways of living.
We are drawn to explore and shape our lives around questions of ultimate meaning and importance, including the great global issues of our time.
We are taught practical ways to express kindness and compassion, to experience our connectedness with others, and to make some contribution to help our society become more just and loving.
SPEAK YOUR TRUTH
What would you add to this list? How do you work with truth in your own life? Please share your stories and experiences in the comments. Speak your truth and let’s learn to live more truly together.
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