Thursday, October 18, 2007

Quid est veritas?

One of my favorite scenes in the The Passion of the Christ is the conversation (in Latin! sigh) between Pontius Pilato and Jesus. "What is truth?"

A friend mentioned her conversation with a priest over ways we know truth. This friend happens to be a PhD in Chemistry, so she lives and works in the Scientific Academy where what is true is usually what can be measured. Portrait of a happy materialism.

In other words, we can only say "that's true" when we're talking about how many kilometers it is to Canton, how many electrons the Carbon atom has, or how many milligrams of Tylenol I can safely take with x milligrams of Advil. It's true if you can measure it, experiment on it, prove it.

But this friend and her priest weren't so sure. There must be other ways of knowing something is true. For example, in a Jane Austen novel, I find something true about human nature. In TS Eliot's poetry I find truth about the world. I know it is true that my husband loves me and that brings me joy. This is a sort of poetic knowledge of truths that can't be measured.

(But somehow they are more real to me than atoms, distances, or even time.)

I think it has something to do with the fact that, in the end, truth is personal. In fact, it is a person. Jesus gives no answer to Pilate's question, because truth is not just beakers, scales, poetry, philosophy, or theology. It is all these things, but it is finally him. Strange waters.

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