33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ 34Jesus answered, ‘Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?’ 35Pilate replied, ‘I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?’ 36Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ 37Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ 38Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’ John 18:33-38
The exchange between Pilate and Jesus is a good one to reflect on in the light of modern political debates. In an era where fake news has become centre-stage, it is increasingly difficult for the average citizen to sift the wheat from the chaff. Aldous Huxley predicted this state of affairs in his Brave New World, where society would be so awash with information that most people would simply switch off.
‘What is truth?’ asks Pilate. A throwaway remark that has rung down the ages. In the midst of the cacophony of noise that is the Brexit debate, are we being too naive in asking for the truth now? Will the truth really set us free?
Truth is, in part, about verifiability - it is open to proof and testifies to the facts and how things really are. For many, since the Brexit debate is about a future that is untested, and therefore unknown, truth is not applicable. All predictions are opinion and therefore refutable. So what is said about Brexit and its consequences is nothing more than an articulation of a person’s commitment to Leave or Remain.
It is absolutely true that the future is unknown and we will not really understand Brexit until is actually happens. But, as with other areas of our lives, we have to rely on the good advice and wisdom of those who have studied and trained and analysed. But unlike doctors and others, the experts in this field have taken no oath to uphold professionalism and ‘do no harm’. So the average citizen is left to decide for themselves who offers the most reliable advice.
Here are some tips that might be useful in discerning the truth in this debate:
Neutrality is a myth - everyone, including experts, have a personal opinion and standpoint. And like the rest of us, they tend to accentuate those pieces of evidence that fit with the opinion they favour. That doesn’t make them liars, simply human. So always be suspicious of those who claim an unbiased or neutral view.
Truth is two-eyed - two eyes gives us perspective in our vision and reminds us that things need to be looked at from more than one perspective. In a public square that is deeply polarised, it is easy to believe that truth is a matter of black and white, when most of us experience in our personal lives a good deal of truly grey. It is essential to remain listen to and analyse what is being said from a variety of sources. As the story of Balaam teaches, truth can be found on the lips of an ass! (Numbers 22:21-39)
Outcomes matter - for a Christian, the search for truth is not simply one where they locate the opinion closest to the facts, they are also bound to ask how it effects the most vulnerable. God’s total commitment to the poor, the outcast and the stranger means a truth that offers transformation as well as transparency. The prophet’s voice may be unwelcome, nevertheless it must ask the difficult questions about how political decisions will benefit those who are currently losing out.
Honesty comes from the same root as ‘honour’ and we are in danger of losing both in our public life. Rather than switch off and hide until it’s all over, I believe that Christians are called to engage to make the next six months and more a lot more honest and a little more honourable.