Truth is: the ideas by which each of us decides to govern our lives. Hence truth is multiple. I think of truth as comprised of Big Truths and little truths. A Big Truth is the primary, or organizing, principle around which we organize our lives. Little truths can be moral, ethical, or practical, but little truths are not the consuming passion of one's life; under the right circumstances little truths can easily be modified. Particularly the little truths make it possible for us to live comfortably in community. The Big Truths, however, divide us.
Everyone does not hold the same Big Truth, and hence they often disrupt life in community. The Big Truths are usually moral and ethical in the extreme and can be classed in the following categories: political, religious, economic, cultural, social, racial, etc. Some examples of Big Truths are: that big government is bad for the economy—which leads in the extreme to sequestration and government shut down; or that there is only one true religion, which leads in the extreme to prejudice, persecution of minority religions, and pogroms; or that racial minorities are lesser human beings than persons in the dominant group, which leads in the extreme to economic exploitation of minorities, persecution, and pogroms.
Little truths have not escalated (and may not) into an all consuming Big Truth. And to some extent they are negotiable depending on the circumstances. For example, consider the little truth "honesty is the best policy": if you run a red light, you will be fined (but only if you get caught); or if you plagiarize the work of another, it will damage your reputation (but only if you get caught). The little truth "when in Rome, do as the Romans do," if disregarded in London (where they drive on the left-hand side of the road) will result in an accident for Americans who disregard it (but not if they are lucky). The moral truth "human life is precious" if interpreted against under Roe versus Wade, which is thought by most Americans to best consider the rights of all citizens, can result in harm to the fetus (but only if you choose that option). All little truths and their applications are subject to change and modification; Big Truths are not so easily modified.
The Big Truth of whatever variety inevitably brings every other truth under the driving force of the belief that my Big Truth is absolutely True, and that person who has found this absolute Truth will judge all other truths, Big and little, in its light. Some of those current cultural Big Truths in today's society are, for example: abortion is murder; marriage is between one man and one woman; homosexuality is a sin; sexual acts are only for the reproduction of the species. Big Truth-finders are unable to appreciate the circumstances and truths of others who don't share their Big Truth.
The poet, Wallace Stevens, expresses the idea of giving up the truth and discovering the diversity of the world like this:
It was when I said,
"There is no such thing as the truth,"
That the grapes seemed fatter.
The fox ran out of his hole.
You . . . You said,
"There are many truths,
But they are not parts of a truth."
Then the tree, at night, began to change . . . . ("On the Road Home")
In short, we hold different truths in varying degrees! But holders of a Big Truth will dismiss the value of every other truth if it conflicts with the prime insight that their Big Truth is absolutely true—hence the only way to find the diversity of truth is by giving up the Big Truth. Big Truth-finders are myopic and cannot see the manifold nature of truth.
It does happen, however, that from time to time people give up their Big Truths. Paul, the apostle of Christ, for example, gave up the Big Truth of Judaism only to replace it with the Big Truth of the Christ. But, on the other hand, some also give up the Big Truth of Christianity for other truths. Demas, the close companion of Paul (Philemon 24), is accused by a later writer of deserting Paul, "because he loved the present world" (2 Timothy 4:10). The distinguished New Testament historian, Robert W. Funk, who held a Bachelor of Divinity and a Masters degree from the Disciples of Christ Butler University and its affiliated Christian Seminary gave up the Big Truth of the Christ for the practical truths of historical and literary criticism; and later founded the Jesus Seminar.
There is no one single Truth, no matter how Big, that can accommodate all truths by which people live. The truth is we decide what truth is.
Charles W. Hedrick
Missouri State University