tl;dr: Absolute truth exists, and living in accordance with it brings joy, while living against truth brings suffering.
The idea for this post has been in my mind for awhile because of many things that have been weighing on my mind, mostly about how the world is versus what it should be.
This post is about truth. The definition of truth I use is this:
And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come.
This definition was spoken by the Lord Jesus Christ, so it is His definition, not mine.
Speaking truth is always a delicate thing. The reason is because of the Savior's warning in D&C 93:25, the verse right after His definition of truth:
And whatsoever is more or less than this is the spirit of that wicked one who was a liar from the beginning.
While I will tread as carefully as I can in this post, I will still need to speak about things that I know of myself. Thus, I must take responsibility for the contents of this post.
If I write something in here that is offensive to God and the truth, He will hold me accountable, but I accept no accountability from men or women that are not His authorized representatives.
From here on out, I will also continue writing about tough subjects like this. Whenever I do, I will use a tag, the “Truth” tag, to make it clear that I am not just speaking my opinion; I am speaking the truth. And God will hold me accountable if I get anything wrong and lead anyone astray.
Definition of Wrong
For this post, the definition of wrong that I will use is this:
- not agreeing or coinciding with truth.
The first thing you must understand is that truth is absolute.
Now, I must acknowledge somewhat good philosophical arguments to the contrary, smug as they may be. This is one of them.
At the end of the post, he asks those who believe in absolute truth, like me, to answer the following questions:
- Define “truth.”
- Define “absolute.”
I already gave God's definition of truth above. As for “absolute,” I will use two definitions from Mirriam-Webster:
- having no restriction, exception, or qualification.
- positive, unquestionable.
In other words, when applied to truth, “absolute” means that “the knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come” does not change with experience, evidence, or opinions; it always stays the same.
For example, it is an absolute that Jesus of Nazareth either existed, or He did not. My experience and opinions, and the evidence I currently have, do not change whether He existed or not. My experience, evidence, and opinions may be wrong, but that does not change the fact.
Likewise, if He did exist, and I know that not only did He exist, but He still lives, then He is either the Son of God or a charlatan. My experience, evidence, and opinions do not change the fact, even if they are wrong, which they are not.
Let me put this in more secular terms.
I was not alive during World War II. I did not experience anything about that war, especially about the Holocaust.
My experience tells me nothing about whether it actually happened. The evidence I have tells me something happened. And my opinion about it, like the experience and evidence, doesn't change the truth, though it does change my behavior. (More on that later.)
In other words, it doesn't matter if I believe the Holocaust happened or not; the truth of it remains unchanged.
And that is what makes truth absolute: if the truth remains unchanged despite experience, evidence, opinion, and anything else, then it is absolute truth.
Opinions Change Behavior
I said earlier that opinions can change behavior. The truth of that statement seems tautological to me, but I will attempt to explain it anyway, using the Holocaust example from earlier.
Why does my opinion change behavior? Let's assume I decide to not believe that the Holocaust never happened. What happens then? Nothing, at least at first. But my thoughts change. I start to wonder why the Jews were given the country of Israel. And I start to think less kindly about the Jews. Eventually, taken far enough, my Holocaust denial might (but may not) lead to full antisemitism. And then to racism.
And that is bad.
But that is a poorly written and extreme example. Let's look at a less extreme example, this time from a movie: Meet the Robinsons.
In the movie, the main character, Lewis, keeps his roommate, Goob, awake late at night working on an invention. That late night causes Goob to fall asleep during an important baseball game, and he misses the game winning catch. Goob subsequently blames Lewis for all of his problems and lets his bad feelings fester until he becomes the villain later.
All because his opinion that it is better to “let it fester and boil inside of you. Take these feelings and lock them away. Let them fuel your actions. Let hate be your ally, and you will be capable of wonderfully horrid things.” If he had the opinion that it is better to “let it go” as his coach had advised him to do, he would not have ruined his life.
The fact that letting it go is the best course of action does not excuse what his teammates did, nor the apparent inaction of his coach.
Wrong Opinions Cause Suffering
Relativists among my readership would be quick to point out that the fact that different opinions cause different behavior doesn't matter.
That was why I led with an extreme example of someone becoming antisemitic from denying the Holocaust. You see, holding a wrong opinion about something could, and often will, cause a person to do things that will hurt himself and others.
Want another example? How about the belief that the first emperor of China had in his doctor, who was prescribing him pills with mercury? It is thought that he died from the mercury poisoning he received from those pills, but even if he didn't, it probably made him go mad.
Having a wrong opinion caused him to lose his mind and possibly his life.
Perhaps you want yet another example, one about an ordinary person, or three? The Duke lacrosse scandal caused three members of the male Duke lacrosse to be falsely accused and prosecuted for rape. The fallout was so bad that the initial prosecutor was disbarred.
Having a wrong opinion almost cost three men everything. Pursuing that falsehood recklessly cost an attorney his license.
So yes, it matters when someone has a wrong opinion, but thankfully, it mostly has a cost to themselves, not anyone else. After all, it only hurts me if I believe that eating only candy won't hurt me.
Forcing someone to have a certain opinion is absolutely wrong. First of all, you do not know whether you are right or wrong, and second, even if they are hurting others, exerting control over a person's thoughts is wrong. The only thing that we, as a society, should do is to punish actions, not thoughts.
Thus, having and acting on a wrong opinion causes suffering.
Since knowing the truth is so important, how do we discover it?
There are a few techniques:
Each of these helps us to discover truth about different things.
As I said before, science can only help us discover truth about the observable universe. This is because it relies on observation, so it cannot help us with things that are not observable.
Since God and His Son are the source of light, and revelation comes from Them, it is good for discovering truth about anything, but on God's timetable, since
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Thus, revelation can only tell us truth that God wants us to know at the present moment. Not only that, but we need faith to receive any truth from God.
Logical reasoning, the combination of logic and reasoning, is a tool for extrapolating truth from already known truth.
This should make its weakness clear: if you are not starting from truth, logical reasoning will not lead you to more truth. In fact, it may lead you astray.
These above techniques are all well and good, but using them to discover the truth about everything would be exhausting and impractical.
This is where faith comes in.
At this point, the atheists are probably shouting at the screen at me that faith is only for “superstitious” religious folk. And that would be a funny assertion coming from people that use faith everyday.
Notice the definition of faith, the first sentence, from the link above:
- confidence in something or someone.
That is a general definition, not a religious one, and that's on purpose because we all use faith in our everyday life, not just in worship.
Don't believe me?
Have you read a study recently? Or did you read just the conclusions and trust them? If you did the latter, you exercised faith in the study authors; you decided to have confidence in them rather than reading the study and exercising your own judgment about the conclusions.
Have you watched a news channel lately? Did you also watch a channel with the opposite bent and compare the two before coming to your own conclusions? Or did you just watch that channel and believe what you were told? If you did the latter, you exercised faith in news channel; you decided to have confidence in the reporting rather than verifying with outside sources.
For that matter, did you consider the motivations of the authors of secondary sources and primary sources and used your own judgment about whether to trust them? If you did not, you exercised faith in them.
Have you run the famous experiments of science yourself? Or have you simply learned about the results and trusted them? If so, you have exercised faith in the scientists who performed the experiments.
As you can see, everyone lives by faith; it is impossible not to.
So to the atheists who accuse me of being superstitious because I have faith in God, I simply ask: where have you placed your faith? I know you have faith in something or someone. Where did you place it?
It would be good to ask yourself those questions as well.
For me, I know where my faith is: in God the Eternal Father, and in His Son Jesus Christ. And in the fact that They will reveal all things to me, though on Their timetable.
And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
And someday, I will know the truth of all things.
But the point here is that you need faith to discover truth for yourself, whether you believe that or not.
Barriers to Discovering Truth
Just as there are ways to help with discovering truth, there are barriers that hinder the discovery of truth.
The first barrier is a poor attitude towards truth.
If someone has the opinion that knowing the truth does not matter, they will not care much about discovering it.
As we have seen before, opinions change behavior, and living by wrong opinions causes suffering, so having a wrong opinion can change behavior for the worse. Thus, knowing the truth matters, which means that the opinion that the truth doesn't matter is wrong.
But of course, if someone does not care about something, they will ignore it. And ignoring truth is a great way of failing to figure out what it is.
Another poor attitude about truth is believing that it is relative. Obviously, for something like absolute truth that does not change, regardless of experience, evidence, or opinion, believing that it is relative is wrong.
The best antedote to a poor attitude is a refusal to accept cognitive dissonance and the drive to fix it by discovering the truth.
Some people have the correct opinion that truth matters. However, they wrongly believe that they can change it to be more what they desire it to be. For something that is unchangeable, this is obviously wrong, and acting on such a wrong opinion will eventually lead to failure, for it is hard “to kick against the pricks.” (Acts 26:14)
In other words, people who care about truth either want something to be true, or want to know the truth in order to live their lives according to it. The former prevents the discovery of truth; the latter enables it. The desire to adjust yourself to truth is a great way to discover it. However, the converse is also true: desiring truth to adjust itself to you is a great way to hinder your discovery of it. If someone ignores reality and tries to shape it to fit them, they will fail and suffer.
Not much needs to be said here since it is obvious that brainwashing hinders the ability to discover truth. However, be sure that you know the signs of brainwashing, so you may be able to recognize when you or anyone else may be under the influence of brainwashing. When brainwashing is discovered, please get professional help to get you or the victim out.
Unfortunately, I have personal experience with this one.
Some time ago, I was introduced to a position on a topic that I had not considered before. Afterward, I did some research that used good sources, but I also used bad sources. And I was radicalized to an extent.
It took an argument with my brother for me to realize that I had allowed myself to become radicalized. Since then, I have become more moderate on the topic, allowing for nuance.
That is the key: I allowed nuance. Radicalization usually means that the radical takes a position of “all or nothing” on a topic, seeing those who disagree as heretics. The real world is rarely so black and white. My radical position on the topic was that something was completely unnecessary, but that was a wrong opinion.
The point is that my radical opinion was preventing me from discerning the real truth: there is a middle ground with nuance. And like it did to me, radicalization will prevent anyone from discovering the truth.
To prevent radicalization, be introspective; think about your current opinions and figure out which ones lack room for nuance. Those are the ones you must investigate further, but unfortunately, this must be done one-by-one, manually, for every opinion.
Truth and Love
Because we now know that living according to wrong opinions causes suffering, I want to answer another question: if you love somebody who is suffering, what should you do?
The answer is easy: regardless of whether they want to hear it or not, you should try to lead them to the truth, even if their loved one does not want to believe the truth or even to hear it.
That said, as I mentioned before, it is never a good idea to force someone to live a certain way. Encourage, but don't force.
If I were to put the point of this post into one sentence, it would be this: absolute truth exists, and living by it will make your life better.
That is why I will write more about truth, even if there are those who don't want to hear it. I am striving to love my fellow men, so why wouldn't I try to tell my fellow men the truth?