Truth is in the eye of the beholder. Ever since I was a young child I was taught to dedicate my life to the cause of truth. Truth would bring me happiness, freedom, and peace. It was not until my early thirties when I started to question the truths I had been taught my whole life that I realized the world is full of gray areas, not just the black and white I was taught as a child. This realization led me to search out truth with more fervor than ever before. Slowly, the fervor melted away into acceptance that I would not be able to find the truth I longed for, ready-made and waiting for me. I would have to create it myself.
I grew up in an extremely devout and conservative Mormon family. Heavenly Father was the source of all truth and we could learn this truth from the Book of Mormon and the prophets. Priesthood authority came straight from God and could be trusted to solve any troubles that came into my life according to Heavenly Father’s will. There was no need for me to question any of the truths taught in church or in our home. I trusted my parents and church leaders completely. Their authority in my life combined with my positive emotions and experiences associated with church were all the convincing I needed of the truthfulness of their teachings.
“True to the faith that our parents have cherished,
True to the truth for which martyrs have perished,
To God’s command,
Soul, heart, and hand,
Faithful and true we will ever stand.”
I was born in the early 1980’s. My elementary school days were spent learning how to use the card catalog at the library. The ultimate source of academic truth was the set of World Book Encyclopedias. If you could not find the information you were searching for in one of the books in your local library, your textbooks, or the encyclopedia, you changed your research topic. For a young school kid, there was nowhere else to turn for information. Growing up, my family owned our own set of encyclopedias. They were prominently displayed on our entertainment center, a decorative collection, status symbol, and invaluable homework aid. On the shelf next to them sat our church books. All the information we could ever need was all neatly displayed in the heart of our home.
“Choose the right! Let no spirit of digression
Overcome you in the evil hour.
There’s the right and the wrong to ev’ry question;
Be safe thru inspiration’s pow’r.”
My generation experienced the shift into the Information Age in a significant way. As technology evolved, so did our ways of finding information, and searching out truth. By my middle school years, the gold foil embellished encyclopedia set on our entertainment center had become outdated and purely decorative. We were originally taught to trust authority, mostly because we had no other options. But as more and more information became readily available to us, we were encouraged to question our sources and think more critically about the information we found.
I remember these latter lessons coming from two main sources; my high school and college writing classes and my church classes. The academic lessons cautioned against using information that was unverifiable and encouraged us to research the reliability of our sources while the religion classes warned against any religious information that did not come from the church’s official website or publishing company and outright taught us to never even consider any other sources as truthful.
“Yes, say, what is truth? ‘Tis the brightest prize
To which mortals or Gods can aspire.
Go search in the depths where it glittering lies,
Or ascend in pursuit to the loftiest skies:
‘Tis an aim for the noblest desire.”
As a faithful Mormon, coming across any Internet article on Mormonism caught my attention. Curiosity to see what my Mormon and non-Mormon friends might be reading about my religion, I was eager and excited to read them. That is, until I came across an article that contradicted many of the things I had been taught my whole life. At first, I turned to my religious teachings that warned me that these sources were not to be trusted. But the contradictions were so troubling that I returned to my academic teachings which encouraged further research to confirm my faith. Instead of the confirmation that the claims of this particular article were false, I found multiple sources that confirmed these troubling accusations. My life was thrown into total confusion. For the first time in 30 years I questioned the truths that had been deeply ingrained in me since my earliest memories. It was terrifying.
“Where can I turn for peace?
Where is my solace
When other sources cease to make me whole?
When with a wounded heart, anger, or malice,
I draw myself apart,
Searching my soul?”
This experience led me to deeply ponder the question of whether or not there is a source of universal truth—a source that could always be trusted. My first instincts were to turn to religion and God as this source of truth, as I had been taught my whole life. The problem with this perspective was that amid all the troubling accusations I had come across against my religion, I could no longer feel the emotional connection with the God I was taught to know. My trust in religious authority had been betrayed and not even God could help me reconcile this betrayal. With my faith on shaky ground, I could no longer justify my previously held convictions of truth.
“The Spirit whispers this to me and tells me it is true,
And tells me it is true.”
If personal religious convictions are evidence of truth, then who am I to say that my religious convictions were more true than those of someone of another faith? How could I know that my religious convictions were truth when extremist Muslims have been willing to give their lives in suicide missions for the cause of their own truth?
“Let us all press on in the work of the Lord,
That when life is o’er we may gain a reward;
In the fight for right let us wield a sword,
The mighty sword of truth.”
A Pentecostal experience of someone of a Christian faith may lead them to believe that they know God’s will just as strongly as the Muslim. A Christian and a Muslim’s beliefs about the will of God are completely conflicting in many cases but each strongly believe based on their own spiritual convictions that they know the truth. The contradictory nature of religious truth claims seemed to negate them all as reliable sources of truth.
“Thus on to eternal perfection
The honest and faithful will go,
While they who reject this glad message
Shall never such happiness know.”
Since religious authority and convictions could not be my source of universal truth, I turned to science and evidence to lead me to truth. However, scientific findings are constantly evolving as new discoveries, tests, experiments and studies are being conducted. Science has proven itself wrong uncountable times throughout the history of the world. This can make many people wary of scientific evidence and words like “truth,” “causation,” and “proof” are used extremely cautiously in this field. While my trust in scientific evidence has always been strong, I have found that in today’s age of information, even experts with the most respected credentials publish opposing scientific findings, and these opposing viewpoints are easy to find. It can be extremely time consuming to try to find the truth about such things as global warming, childhood vaccinations, or the efficacy of fad diets or pharmaceuticals, particularly if you have not been previously trained in these fields of study. Knowing which side of the argument is more trustworthy can be very difficult to decipher, especially if you start your research with preconceived views about the topic. Our tendency to follow our own confirmation biases can often diminish the reliability of our findings, making universal truth an unstable element of invention.
Without religious authority or scientific authority as reliable sources of truth, I turned to faith. My ideas on faith have evolved throughout my truth-seeking process. I refer to a secular view of faith here. I have come to see faith as the act of moving forward in life with confidence that comes from any source that resonates with your life. It is being willing to experiment and try something differently. It is to be actively progressive in your own life, seeking out your own truths based on the things that you value. Faith is choosing to listen to and trust yourself and those who make the most sense to you when you come across authoritative contradictions. It is living life the best way that you know how, even when these inconsistencies in truth confront you.
“Do what is right; let the consequence follow.
Battle for freedom in spirit and might;
And with stout hearts look ye forth till tomorrow.”
After much consideration, I came to the conclusion that there is no reliable source for universal truth, and therefore, no use for universal truth. If we choose to seek truth in our lives we have to be willing to make our own personal truths and recognize that others are entitled to make their own truths as well. What we hold true may not fit the paradigm of another’s truths and we need the humility to not put ourselves above others. Personal truth is the only truth that I believe will bring happiness, freedom and peace.