Those chilling and cynical words from Pontius Pilate at Jesus’ trial have new relevance today. In an era when people form and reinforce their opinions entirely within a chosen bubble of like minds, any earnest quest for truth seems almost quaint. How did truth become so passé?
At its core, our current crisis of truth is a crisis of community and a crisis of trust. Having become so isolated from each other and so divided in terms of our worldviews and our allegiances, we have trouble trusting anyone who isn’t inside our own echo chamber. So, whether cynically or sincerely, we dismiss data or opinions that differ from ours as fake news or even witch hunts purveyed by the conservative/liberal media. Unwilling to hear or understand each other, we let our democracy and civic life wither, and we’re unable to make collective decisions for the common good, such as with healthcare, the environment, education, or entitlement programs.
We may be in a time when the center cannot hold, but I hold out hope that things will not fall completely apart. I’d like to believe that we’re headed not for disaster, but instead (after plenty of birth pains), to a new way of truthfully tending our common life, based on a new story of interconnection rather than polarization.
For one thing, the ecological realities of our planet will force us. Unlike the blogosphere, the opinion pages, and the chattering 24-hour news cycle, the earth presents us with undeniable, non-negotiable, non-alternative facts. Soil fertility isn’t a matter of opinion, nor is the stability of the climate or the regularity and severity of rainfall. None of these is swayed by our preferences or our political persuasions—and all of them factor importantly in our survival. Sooner or later, we’ll have to acknowledge these truths and work together to safeguard the health of our common home.
As a Catholic, I draw hope from our Church’s two-millennia-long commitment to truth, as derived from Scripture, science and the natural world, Church tradition, and believers’ experience of the signs of the times. In Pope Francis, we have a leader who teaches and lives the fundamental truths of inclusion, solidarity, and compassion.
Although we demonize and deceive each other (and ourselves), I believe that we are hard-wired for connection, belonging, and truth. This is our God-given nature, and it will endure even in untruthful times. Truth will win out.