On Telling the Truth: Post-Election Edition

What I think I’m doing here: rambling, barely coherent commentary and critique on my own work. The better question is: what do you think you’re doing here?

I have been thinking about my earlier essay on telling the truth because, well … [gestures broadly at post-election discourse]. I received very little feedback on it, and I didn’t think it was entirely successful, but I was glad I spent some time trying to wrestle with it because … [gestures broadly again]. And, I find myself continuing to chew over some of the ideas I was working through.

There are a few reasons why the essay didn’t quite work the way I hoped. One was due to self-indulgence on my part – I was pleased with myself for trying to weave something together from diverse writers like Bonhoeffer, Fitzgerald, and Stephenson … too pleased. I’m not sure that weaving together all three quite provided the insight I was hoping for (or perhaps I just needed to spend some more time/effort on making it work). A more direct, streamlined approach might have been more effective (more truthful?): I think I was disturbed by the ways in which the real world was mirroring Stephenson’s novel and was hoping that Bonhoeffer might help me wrestle with that reality.

As I say at the end of the essay, when I first began, I had hoped to more clearly arrive at some actual solutions (get off Twitter etc.), and I don’t quite feel I did. Which in essay terms, is fine. I don’t mind leaving the reader some work to do, and I think it also recognizes some of the complexity of the challenges we are facing. But, the events of recent weeks, with their stark illustration of some of the problems we face, have kept pushing me on the question of how we might get out of this mess. It is a mess.

Within the essay, there are two threads that can be pulled. One is the more metaphysical, recovery of creation-in-Christ theme as a way to understand who we are and the world we live in. No one wants “better metaphysics” to be the answer to any question in the Year of Our Lord 2020 … but that’s where I am at the moment. We will struggle to tell the truth if we are also unable to answer the deepest questions of who we are, what the world is, and what we are here for. I find the Christian account of the created world and our place in it convincing and generative, I find it to be true, but it’s not the only vision that might provide coherence to a life. We need some big, coherent frameworks, big stories (again, think of the “creation narrative” character of the second half of Fall).

Those who have big stories to tell (“… Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, and every tongue confess …”), need to actually trust them, and be willing to tell them as well as they can. For me, this means trying to tell the Christian story as well as I can – and I think even if I don’t convince anyone of the truth of the claim, “Jesus is Lord,” there’s still value in the telling. To put it another way – the better I can tell the Christian story, the better others will need to tell their own stories, and we might get closer to conditions that allow us to actually tell the truth.

The second thread from the earlier essay is like, what if we just … tried? I mean, what if people just tried to tell the truth? Forget the metaphysics, forget the big frameworks, forget the probability of actually being able to do so given limited knowledge and human frailty, just … try. It feels like an extraordinarily stupid thing to say, until you look around and realize that so much of our public discourse is filled with people who aren’t trying at all. People want to win. They want to feel like they belong. They want to console. They want to destroy. Telling the truth doesn’t come into it. It might not lead to success or power, but there might be more important things than success or power (and maybe we need “big stories” to remind us of that, and so maybe metaphysics isn’t so easy to abandon after all).

So, some simple solutions: metaphysics, virtue, the grace of God. That’s all it’s going to take.