By Sister Pat Kenny

That question, posed by Pilate centuries ago, has haunted readers of the Bible. Was it an honest question? Was it asked with a sneer? Did he care what the answer was? Is this a question everyone asks at some point in life when facts and lies collide?

Truth—the abstraction, not a particular fact—is at once solid and slippery. It leans on perception, understanding, openness of mind, willingness to accept new information and an underlying innate human urge to be honest and to expect honesty in return.

Respect for truth has endured the wildest swings. Literature in every age reflects the lives of heroes and traitors who played with truth to their peril; some survived, many did not, and readers often find themselves torn between characters they admire for their staunch commitment to the truth as they know it and those who parried like duelists with truth as it suited their needs.

In our own time, caught in a struggle between valid and substantiated facts, The Big Lie and COVID vaccinations, we grapple as much with how we understand what we have seen and heard so differently as with why. What mechanism of the mind twists information we have seen, heard or felt in opposite directions? What underlying and perhaps unacknowledged needs can only be satisfied by adapting facts to what we need them to be?

We look ahead and wonder what kind of dystopian world we have created by falling into this deadly mystery. Like a knitter whose yarn has tangled somewhere along the path to the needles, we have to stop and find the source of the problem or it will effectively halt any progress. It’s an onerous task, and the untangling will inevitably harm the yarn to some degree, test the patience of the knitter and perhaps prove a fatal flaw. Unraveling our deep-seated, very personal reasons for wanting to believe our truth, that is, the facts as we know them, is like an internal trial. We need to ask ourselves critical questions, the answers to which predicate why we cling to what we think we know. How does my belief in this “fact” support what I want to believe about me as a person? Here are some questions I ask myself:

  • How does my acceptance/support of this “fact” improve some aspect of my life?
  • Is my self-image or image in my little world a factor in my support of this “fact”?
  • What have I to gain or lose by my acceptance or denial of this “fact”?
  • Have I any doubts about accepting or denying this “fact”? 
  • If new evidence does not support what I believe, am I willing to change my mind?

If truth is truly important to me, I owe it to myself to recognize the implications of my answers.