Can Something be True without Being Factual?

The LA Times published an editorial April 13, 2017 about the Passover, In religion, something can be true without being factual.  The article poses a question, “Does it matter if the Passover story is literally true?”

In it, the author, Eric Schwitzgebel, argues that it does matter.  However, his position is that if it is true, then Judaism has a problem.  He confronts one negative with another.  He states the problem in the following way,

“It matters,” I said, “because if the story is literally true, then a god who works miracles really exists. It matters if there is such a god or not. I don’t think I would like the moral character of that god, who kills innocent Egyptians. I’m glad there is no such god.”

That is, he claims that making the story historically factual, gives Judaism a murderous god, something he does not want to believe.  Such a false dilemma.  Therefore, one must adapt a story or myth to present values to make it powerful for today.  In other words, he celebrates a truth of values, which are adaptable to present circumstances.  Consequently, the way to escape what one considers a negative from history is to establish one’s own truth based on ever changing values.  This argument is one similar to that which many today hold,

“What is true for you may not be true for me,”

or

“Your truth may not be the same as my truth.”

These statements result from divorcing truth from historical fact and creating one’s own “facts” or not having any facts at all upon which truth rests.  That is, truth is that of convenience to do away with what one dislikes.

Several people responded to this editorial, but one specifically caught my attention.  This responder picked up on the core issue when writing,

   “As a professor of philosophy he probably knows the difference between “facts” and “truth,” as well as how much the meaning of stories matters, regardless of their empirical factuality. His “alternative” interpretations of the Torah manifest precisely this difference, in their appeal to the “moral” character of God.    He is correct to say that the meanings of the stories contain their moral lessons. Therein also lies their truth value.     No matter one’s inclination for literal as opposed to figurative interpretation, the stories of the Torah aim at truth, as do all religious narratives. More than their factuality, the truth of these narratives is what both comforts and discomforts us. Interpreting these stories and communicating their truth is what holds in tension our contemporary values with the timelessness of truth.”

What this responder claims is that truth does not necessarily have to be based on facts to hold truth.  That is, truth and facts are not necessarily the same or something can be true without being factual.

Here is the rub.  If truth and facts can be different, then why should we believe this Schwitzgebel or the responder to him?  If truth and facts can be divorced from one another, what difference does it make?  None.  One simply states a baseless opinion among many opinions for one’s faith, which does not rise to any significance, especially if truth has no foundation in reality (facts of history).  Facts are stubborn things of reality.  That which is non-factual has no correspondence to reality.  To espouse “truth” without grounding in reality makes it fictitious and without any significance.  That which is not part of reality does not exist and has no knowledge base.  Our entire existence and way of life are based on truth having its grounding in the reality of facts.  Once we dismiss or ignore facts as the basis for truth, chaos ensues.  We cannot live with such a division.  Rather, one would necessarily take a leap of faith into the dark abyss of non-existence where knowledge does not exists.  Such a leap is an attempt to escape reality itself.

How do we know Schwitzgebel is not wrong if he makes a distinction between truth and facts?  How can Schwitzgebel judge something right or wrong, whether a historical event or present circumstance which becomes history, if truth has no grounding in fact?  If truth and facts are different, how are judges to make decisions in courts?  Those who swear to tell the truth can also ignore the facts of a case.  If truth and facts can be separate, why believe anyone who presents you with a contract?  If someone swears they will do something, and they believe in the division between truth and facts, why would you believe them?  Actions are also facts, and we cannot wish them away regardless how much we try.  It is this kind of reasoning that destroys truth altogether and makes lies the bedrock of society.

However, we know that the Exodus and Passover are true because they are factual events.  Christ is our Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7).  He fulfilled Passover by paying the price for our sins and then rising from the dead.

Have a Blessed Easter (Paschal).

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