How Truth isn’t Truth to Fundamentalists
In an interview on Sunday with Meet the Press, lawyer for President Trump, Rudy Giuliani said, “truth isn’t truth” by way of defending his client against possible perjury. He has since attempted to clarify his statement via Twitter:
My statement was not meant as a pontification on moral theology but one referring to the situation where two people make precisely contradictory statements, the classic “he said,she said” puzzle. Sometimes further inquiry can reveal the truth other times it doesn’t.
— Rudy Giuliani (@RudyGiuliani) August 20, 2018
To me this points to the larger problem within fundamentalism (whatever the politics, creed, or beliefs, for more check out the podcast on the theology of fundamentalism): truth as proposition rather than pursuit.
The fundamentalist need to avoid being wrong (because being wrong is tantamount to being dead) leads to seeing truth as a proposition to be accepted (or rejected if you want to be excluded from the community). You must accept this doctrine or that political belief or this scientific theory or else you are capital-W Wrong. And being wrong sends you to hell or destroys the country (or world). It’s based on fear and the shame associated with being wrong.
Mayor Giuliani said that he wasn’t attempting to pontificate on “moral theology” when he said “truth isn’t truth,” but rather was saying that it’s often impossible to determine what actually happened when two people say contradictory things. While that’s an accurate statement on the surface, I don’t believe that it correctly portrays the situation nor the underlying motivations of most fundamentalists.
There is plenty of actual evidence (not hearsay nor unsubstantiated testimony). This is far from being a case of “he said, she said” and I believe Mayor Giuliani and President Trump are smart enough to know that. With all the fundamentalists that I’ve known, grew up with, and continue to talk to, the common denominator has always been a deathly fear of being wrong, even to the point of changing the definitions of ‘truth’ to suit their position.
Mayor Giuliani came out and said exactly what is at the heart of fundamentalism and exactly why there’s almost no space for dialogue between fundamentalists and anyone else. For fundamentalists truth isn’t truth if it means they’re wrong, being wrong is unthinkably dangerous, therefore truth much change to keep them safe. That’s why the morality of President Trump hasn’t been a problem for the vast majority of White Evangelical Christians (i.e. rebranded fundamentalists).
Moral theology is exactly the point, despite Mayor Giuliani’s dissembling. Morality and theology must, of necessity, be located outside the experience and understanding of the individual. Put another way, morality tells us how to interact with other humans and so should require us to be wrong at times as we learn and grow. If we aren’t ever wrong morality is a useless construct. Similarly theology is meant to tell us how to interact with the divine. If the divine is nothing but a reflection of what we already want then we can stop wasting time pretending that we’re doing something dictated by a higher power and simply take responsibility for our own actions. But that’s anathema to the fundamentalist mindset because it requires embracing being wrong, placing themselves as subject to a higher truth, higher morality, and higher calling rather than justifying what they already believe to protect their fragile illusion of being right and therefore safe.
Truth is only truth if you are willing to let it change you.