I’ve been pondering what it means to live in an era some call ‘post truth,’ or perhaps ‘national reality disorder.’ Whatever we call, it, most Americans seem to be looking for some kind of anchor related to truth. When trust and truth-telling have eroded away, so have our relationships with each other. Even children know that when you don’t tell the truth, people stop trusting you.
At this point in our country’s polemic intensity, psychiatrist Dr. Mona Weissmark claims “the divide is so deep, and it’s playing out in how people take in facts.” In an article in the Christian Science Monitor, she explains that today’s ideological polarization is correlated with an increase in stress, anxiety, and interpersonal problems and is unlikely to go away by itself.
How do we take in the facts?
How do we help the ideological polarization go away?
How do we know when ideology is creating truth or when truth is creating good ideas?
The Gospel of Truth
It occurred to me that one of the ancient texts from the Nag Hammadi Library is called ‘The Gospel of Truth.’ So I picked it up again to see if there were some words of wisdom that could shine some light on this current quest for truth. Sure enough, the first words in the text tell us that “the gospel of truth is a joy…”
Then it goes on to qualify who gets this joy. It’s for people who have a certain kind of relationship with “the Father of truth.” You can call the ‘Father’ or ‘God’ by any name comfortable to you. The point is simply acknowledging a divine source of truth.
The gospel of truth is joy for people who have received grace from the Father of truth, that they might know him through the power of the Word (16:31).
There’s something about this truth from God that functions differently from the ideological polarization that Dr. Weissmark alludes to. Two things about this simple statement stand out to me:
- The idea that God is the source of the truth that brings joy.
- The suggestion that the truth comes in the context of grace.
Both of these statements are about relationships. Ideology tends to disconnect from relationships and turns the focus toward our own wishes. But the Gospel of Truth tells us we need a relationship with God, the source of truth. And grace tells us we experience the joy in good relations with others.
I envision these relationships represented by a kind of bicycle wheel. It functions with spokes all uniquely important, but held together by a hub. We can look at a central idea (the hub) from opposite points of view (the spokes of the wheel), but the same source of truth holds us in useful relationships with each other. In fact, as the wheel needs the opposing forces of the spokes to keep it round and ensure it can go forward, so we need relationships with those who represent all different perspectives.
The Nightmare of Error
The text from the Gospel of Truth goes on to explain what happens when we disconnect from these relationships. We try to act on our own in ignorance. And:
ignorance of the Father brought terror and fear, and terror grew dense like a fog, so that no one could see. Thus Error grew powerful. … Established truth is unchanging, unperturbed, and beyond beauty. For this reason, despise Error (17:7-20).
When we don’t have a relationship with the Father/Truth, we experience the opposite of joy. It’s powerful, but it causes terror and fear—to the extent that we are blinded with our intensity. This sounds like the way ideological polarization works to “increase stress, anxiety, and interpersonal problems”—causing the type of divide Dr. Weissman describes.
In the same Monitor article, Lee McIntyre (author of the 2018 book, Post Truth), takes it a step further. “Post truth,” he says, “is the political subordination of reality.” When people release their anchors in truth (God), they rely on their own imaginations, create their own truths, lose track of reality, and even dismiss their moral compasses.
An even more dangerous situation follows. McIntyre explains that “the ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced ideologue. It’s the person for whom true and false and right and wrong don’t exist.”
The Gospel of Truth calls it a nightmare.
Since there had been terror and confusion and uncertainty and doubt and division, there were many illusions among them, and inane ignorance—as if they were fast asleep and found themselves a prey to nightmares. In these dreams they are fleeing somewhere, or they cannot get away when chased, or they are in a fight, or they themselves are beaten, … it seems people are trying to kill them, though there is no one chasing them… this continues until those experiencing all these dreams wake up (29).
Is this the breeding ground for conspiracy theories?
Unselfishness: The Gospel of Truth’s Remedy
If the Gospel of Truth is making a correct diagnosis of the cycles of truth and error, its therapeutic remedy is worth pondering.
Speak of truth with those who seek it and of knowledge with those who have sinned in their error. Steady the feet of those who stumble and extend your hands to the sick. Feed the hungry and give rest to the weary. Awaken those who wish to arise and rouse those who sleep, for you embody vigorous understanding. … Do the Father’s will then, for you are from him (32:20–33:5).
This is the grace that restores broken relationships, awakens from the nightmare of error, and allows Truth to be the source of peace we crave in the world today. It underscores the joy in Jesus’s teaching of truth-knowing: to “know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32).
 Eoin O’Carroll, “After a ‘post truth’ presidency, can America make facts real again?,” The Christian Science Monitor, 4 Feb 2021.
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