Where is the truth? Where is the truth?

Donald J Reece

Friday, August 17, 2018

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As a boy I often wondered about the question Pontius Pilate asked Jesus Christ: “What is truth?” I found it confusing because it went contrary to what I was taught by my parents and at school: “Speak the truth and speak it ever, cost it what it will…” Something is either true or false. Now, I have to get used to terms like “relativism” or in the case of those in the northern metropolis, “a post-truth world — a place where shared, objective standards for truth have disappeared”.

In a August 14, 2018 VOX article, entitled 'A philosopher explains America's 'Post-Truth', journalist Sean Illing interviews an eminent Cambridge University philosopher, Professor Simon Blackburn, the author of the book, On Truth. The objective of the interview was to have the professor shed some light on the “Post-Truth” trend which, in the minds of not a few, seems to dominate the incumbent of the White House in Washington, DC. How can we in Jamaica benefit from this discussion, given our own present realities of “half-truths” or otherwise?

Professor Blackburn employs the metaphor of a silo to show how humans can entrap themselves in a ghetto-like existence. In the silo we only associate and surround ourselves with persons who are of like mind and outlook. All those in the silo are immune against the opinions of those outside the silo. Sounds familiar? The result is “post-truth” which can apply to all others:

What we have, though, is a problem in other domains: like politics, religion and ethics. There is a loss of authority in these areas, meaning there's no certain or agreed-upon way of getting at the truth… The problem is that in politics, people get very attached to hope. They hope for a vision which may or may not be realistic, and may or may not be grounded in truth and facts” ( VOX, August 14, 2018).

I want to underscore the fact that this silo mentality and the resultant “post-truth” affect us all — politics, religion and ethics. The political and social turmoil presently affecting us is clearly generated by lack of the full truth, political correctness, and implicit “party above country” mentality. In these instances, “post-truth” reigns supreme! The Petrojam scam and other related irregularities are symptomatic of a systemic cancer that did not begin yesterday. All the other irregularities or scams that were allowed to “disappear in the nine-day wonder” corridor of political life without any accountability will forever bedevil us as a nation. Until there is a bipartisan agreement to honest and systematic following of regulations, procedures and proper accountability (letting the chips fall where they may!), there will be no true economic, moral and spiritual growth for the nation. Until that agreement by both major political parties is reached, we will all be grappling with uncertainties and the untenable “post-truth”, and we continue to live myopically in a silo existence. Isn't that why we end up dismissing competent persons and hiring those less competent, thereby opting for mediocrity?

The silo metaphor can also apply to the Jamaica Constabulary Force with its “Squaddie Mentality” and the resultant allegation of corruption, as well as to other groups that tend to protect their “own” from any type of scrutiny. Therefore, the silo mentality is not restricted to politicos and the JCF; it's rampant in our society as evidenced in the “code of silence” and “informa fi dead” mentality in our communities, be they garrisons or otherwise.

How does our government — present and future — put in place effective systems and procedures that would eliminate a “silo” type mentality in governance so as to put country above political party and self? From the writings of various social and political commentators, there seems to be systems and procedures, but these are easily circumvented for political expedience that sacrifices country for party dominance. Therefore, political “watchdogs” (eg, NIA, Office of the Political Ombudsman, Integrity Commission, and PAAC) are needed more so than ever for effective oversight. A free press should also be a responsible “watchdog!”

What we say about politics and ethics as regards good, proper governance in order to eliminate or identify threatening corruption and lack of accountability can also be said about religion, in our case, the Christian religion. We have had our local portion of immoral and unethical behaviour from clergymen in Jamaica, some with under-aged children. In the international scene, the Catholic Church has also had — and is still having — cases of perverts or cover-up of perverts by Church personnel: cardinals, bishops, and priests. Far from their minds are the words of Jesus: “If any of you should cause one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble and fall, it would be better for you to be thrown into the depths of the sea with a great millstone around your neck” [Matthew 18: 6]. As a clergyman I know that such immoral behaviour contradicts the raison d'etre of our vocation and ministry. At our ordination priests are charged thus: “Meditating on the law of the Lord, see that you believe what you read, that you teach what you believe, and that you practise what you preach.” Succinctly put, we are called to holiness of life and loving service to the people of God in imitation of Christ, the Good Shepherd.

However, as a result of priests' and ministers' departure from scriptural admonition (cf. Romans 12: 1-2), ecclesial regulations and regular prayer life, countless lives have been ruined with scars forever etched on their victims' psyches. The cover-up by Church authority is now being exposed and the truth is being told at last, and that's good and hopefully cathartic. Although definitive judgement belongs to God, such religious bodies and their respective leaders must also engage in introspection to see how the Church has come to this unhealthy and sinful place, and to set in place procedures that will stop the spiritual haemorrhage and make Church authorities truly effective “overseers” of bishops, priests and people engaged in Church affairs.

Indeed, Professor Blackburn's metaphor of the silo also applies to churches whose cover-up actions are contrary to the very churches' profession of faith. Years ago books were written cautioning us about the evil of clericalism, an ecclesiastical silo existence or “Old Boys' Club” that leads to cover-up and lack of accountability. Time and time again, Pope Francis himself has warned against this type of behaviour, which is the bane of the Church's very existence.

How does the Church — not only the Catholic Church, but all others, too, who are affected by the silo mentality — put in place systems that would make for good governance so as to eliminate immoral/unethical behaviour of its clergy and Church workers? Would the size of Church jurisdiction be one of the answers? Large dioceses do not allow for effective oversight by bishops. For instance, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles with 4,392,000 faithful served by 1,117 priests and one Archbishop (the overseer) is a recipe for abuse and cover-up, especially if there is a culture of clericalism (silo mentality).

When all is said and done as regards State, Church and silo mentality, the raw reality is that we have evolved into a world of relativism that affects not only State and Church governance, but also the entire population having to face constantly troubling questions related to gender and ethical behaviour at all levels of Church and society. Post-truth seems to be trumping our way of life! What I think of something is what I make it! The question asked by Pontius Pilate as he faced Truth Himself, is still relevant: “What is truth?”

Donald J Reece is Archbishop Emeritus of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kingston and now serves as acting pastor at St Richard's Catholic Church. Send comments to the Observer or don.j.reece@gmail.com.

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