Not too long ago, “everybody” just knew that the world was flat. We now laugh at such an attitude as being ridiculous, because even though the world may SEEM to be flat, we now know the truth—based on all kinds of evidence—that our Earth is far from flat.
This question “What is truth?” was famously raised by a well-known, if controversial politician of old to try to understand how to do the right thing. We’re seeing too often in the news across this past week how very important that question still is, and how differently people act based on their idea of what truth is. So “what is truth” in deciding how to act?
In many ways, the recent war in Iraq was a war over truth, where the bloody Battle of Fallujah was iconic of those dynamics. The people fighting in those days “knew” they were doing the right thing, based on the “truth” coming from passionate speeches rather than evidence. But something happened not long after Fallujah that led “The Sons of Iraq” to start siding with Coalition forces in what became known as The Anbar Awakening, which was the beginning of the end of the fighting there. Tribes that had been bitter enemies found that working together, even when they strongly disagreed, was more effective toward their common, greater cause, once they started to change their epistemology.
That fancy word just asks “how do we know what is true?” Western society as a whole, and American thought in particular, has evolved to where our primary way of knowing truth (epistemology) is based on either legal or scientific evidence, not clan tribal loyalty. Few Americans now think of themselves as following a tribe or tribal leaders, but any time we identify with a group that helps shape our behavior, we become tribal in a sense–which is not a bad thing–unless our tribal loyalty blinds us to what it true, good and real.
This question of truth was put to one of the greatest moral teachers in history by a politician to help decide what to do. You guessed it, I’m talking about Jesus, but the moral teacher Jesus whose moral code is widely respected by most Americans, whether they follow the religion of Jesus or not. We all recognize the power and strength of his moral teaching, best remembered today in the Golden Rule, in his maxim to love your neighbor, to even love your enemies. And while he did wreck a temple that was twisting religious practice, he also said to “render up to Caesar what is Caesar’s” in a day when his government was far from righteous, and told those taking up a sword in his cause that was not the right way. That infamous politician of old asking the question, though, is most remembered for feeding into the mob rather than holding to the truth.
This is where Judas comes in. Most of us know his story—he was so blinded by hatred of the oppressive government that he betrayed his friend in what seemed to him to be the true and only way to fix it: to incite an insurrection. In doing so, he became one of the most reviled persons in history. So do we really need to ask “What would Judas do?”
Our whole country, religious and not, just finished celebrating that moral teacher as “The Prince of Peace,” as if peace just might be really important to real Americans. While that teacher certainly said “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” probably even more famous are his words “blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be more like Jesus and called a child of God as a peacemaker, rather than being more like Judas, blinded by hatred, eager to start an insurrection. What, then, shall we say to all this? And will we be remembered as peacemakers by what we do?
Rev. Jim Lewis