Wednesday 3 April 2024

Truth as a Christian virtue

Truth is a Christian value - indeed, without the historical influence of Christianity; then the seeking and speaking of truth would likely be a mere personal idiosyncrasy. 

It is therefore important that Christian theology explains why truth is a necessary virtue - absence of which is sinful, and needs to be repented. 

The dwindling strength and influence of institutional Christianity is a reason why truth has become perhaps the most neglected virtue


Probably also that churches have themselves failed to acknowledge and repent their own many and gross lapses from truthful values (lapsing almost invariably into expediency) - thereby destroying even surface credibility of their claims. 

For this reason; that truth is a Christian virtue is neglected in church teachings; and as institutions "Christian" churches have become almost indistinguishable from other social institutions in terms of the truthfulness of their public discourse. 

As usual with Christianity here-and-now; the Christian virtue of truth has become a matter for individual discernment and responsibility - and will often oppose the practice and statements of any particular Christian church.


(Also, to a lesser extent, the feminization of the West; since women are relatively more prone to untruthfulness, and less likely to be driven by truth as a value. Most, maybe all, virtues and sins differ in strength and frequency between the sexes. e.g. men are better at truth, while women are better at loving-kindness.)

Untruthfulness is therefore anti-Christian. However, untruthfulness is tolerated, even encouraged in some circumstances, in other religions - thus Christians should not assume that people of other religions or atheists/ materialists value truth as an ideal. 

Most such people don't even want personally to be truthful - their motives and goals are quite other. 


Stephen Macdonald said...

There exists a small cohort of dedicated atheists for whom truth remains "sacred". People like Bret Weinstein, whom I admire to a certain degree.

Of course such men and women have no interest in what grounds and makes possible the very possibility of truth.

William Wildblood said...

Loving kindness without truth soon descends into sentimentality and truth without loving kindness can become hard and unyielding.

Luke said...

Have you any thoughts on which Christian societies valued truthfulness the most, and to what extent and why? For instance the Ethiopian Christians, an ancient Christian people, don't seem to me to be noteworthily truthful. And an Irish Catholic poet once said of the Irish Catholic people -a hundred years ago- that they would never tell the truth when a lie would fit in nicely. It seems to me that the central to northern European Christian nations valued truth to a greater degree if truth is regarded as relating to science or political and judicial corruption. But then again these nations and their diaspora went first and furthest down the road of Liberalism and progressivism. Maybe having no in-side knowledge of non-Christian societies, I can't perceive the truth veneration of the old, historic Christian peoples so clearly.

Lucinda said...

To the point about women's relationship with truth (which I do not dispute), I would like to offer an explanation. I believe that truth was not the primary draw into Creation for women, like it was for men. For men, it seems to me, the primary difference between eternal chaos and Creation revolves around Truth, or in other words, what things will bend to the agent's will, and what things will bend the agent to the will of the thing. So the draw into Creation would be a desire for the challenge of discernment, or in other words, a kind of contest, which often finds expression in various gambling-like behaviors.

For women, who I believe are cluster beings as an eternal characteristic, the draw of Creation was an offer of stable clustering, or eternal relationship. And women don't naturally understand the part truth plays in that primary desire. The nearest approximation they naturally get is consensus truth received through relationship to truth-seeking men.

I think it's important because men's failure to appreciate women's fundamentally different goals for participating in Creation creates unecessary aggravation. Otherwise godly men often interpret female ambivalence about truth as animosity to God, which then is interpreted by otherwise godly women as animosity to God's offer of relationship stability.

Bad news: Women ARE deficient as battlers for truth. Good news: their desire for coherent and lasting relationship can bring them in as allies nonetheless.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Stephen - Yes, as I said "personal idiosyncrasy." - but strong truthfulness in atheists (such as I was until about 15 years ago) is Much rarer now than 40 years ago, as I described in Not Even Trying - because there is no compelling reason to be true from an atheist understanding. It now seems that it was a cultural residue of Christendom that made Westerners continue to be often/ mostly truthful until the later 20th century.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Luke - My understanding came from science, which was strongly regulated by truth and was most evident in Western Europe - and especially Protestant nations.

But I don't know that a statsitical approach is the best way to understand the phenomenon. Untruthfulness is natural and spontaneous, Christianity brought in the ideal of truthfulness. After which there is first the question of whether truth is a personal and/or social ideal and why - then there is the ability to live up to that ideal.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Lucinda - As so often your perspective brings something new and freesh! That is something I have never seen articulated before, and I don't fully grasp it - but at first glance it sounds like there is "something in it".

For me, I am in no doubt that the man and woman are both (as a dyad) essential for creation (and for that love of which creation is the manifestation) which is the root of everything else.

This entails that men and women are non-identical - and ultimately complementary rather than hierarchically related.

Beyond that, I find that it is difficult to generalize except by abstractions which I grasp rather insecurely, and which are quantitative rather than qualitative - so probably do not get at the essence of difference.

I suspect this difficulty is because there is no essence of the difference - we are dealing with two orders of Beings - the most fundamental metaphysical distinction-between and similarity-with, upon which everything hinges - hence beyond analystic description.

william arthurs said...

In England we have this special "man-of-the-world wisdom" derived from diplomatic practice, whereby ambiguous forms of words are adopted, and applauded, in order to kick problems down the road, and no-one in a position of responsibility looks further than his own retirement. And yet we are still aware of other traditions which try to look centuries ahead -- Chinese ("was the French Revolution a good thing?" - "Too early to say") or (less so now maybe) the Vatican. Such traditions may offer rousing rhetoric in public, but in private, analysis and briefings for decision-makers have to be truthful.

Bruce Charlton said...

@william a - During my years at work I saw this "diplomatic" dishonesty - public misleading, private knowling of the truth - almost disappear. Instead, the modern managerial bureaucracy believes its own lies - more fervently than do the public.

The difference is, I think, that in earlier generations there was a personal ideal of truth, such that people knew when they had departed from it. Wit hthe secualr materialist ideology of the modern West, there is no underlying acknowledgment of reality - therefore no basis from which values can be strong and stable.