Two years ago, I led a one-day workshop through Belfast Senior College entitled “Fundamentals of Civil Discourse.” Even in our intensely polarized times, more than 30 people registered and wanted to learn how to converse with others respectfully and with care, even those with whom they disagree passionately. That is a sign of hope.

But there was one critical set of questions several participants asked that the class was not designed to address. How do we meaningfully and respectfully have conversation with someone whose understanding of what is true flatly contradicts what we know to be the case?  How do we disentangle lies without disenfranchising the other? And most importantly, does truth have its own objective reality? Or is truth merely an individual’s perspective of what is real?

Questions about the nature of truth have been debated at least since the time of Socrates and have formed the basis for countless doctoral dissertations. They surely can’t be addressed in fewer than a thousand words! But they nevertheless get to the heart of the impasse our society finds itself in today and therefore demand our attention, especially the attention of people of faith.

Truth is the bedrock of all enduring religions. When we claim faith in God, or whatever we choose to call the Divine, we are simultaneously claiming faith in Truth itself because, for people of faith, Truth is Divine. When we claim such faith, we are shunning the temptation to cynicism and instead are embracing the One who has created a world of order, not chaos, where some things are real and other things are not, and where the curious among us are delighted to discover and communicate the difference. When we claim such faith, we are committing to live together in a just society, and justice has no meaning if it is not rooted in a commitment to truth, in a commitment to separate what is real from what is not. When we claim such faith, we are putting our trust in the One who promises that the truth will make us free.

Truth insists we be accountable to reality, that is, to what actually is the case, regardless of whether it corresponds to what we want to be the case. Human life cannot persist without truth, at least not any human life worth having. If we lose our trust that there is something called “Truth,” if we lose our willingness to discern fact from fiction, if we become cynics about whether truth even matters, then our reality becomes distorted, and our faith is dead.

Human beings have been lying since the dawn of language. That is, they have learned how to intentionally misrepresent what is in fact the case. But even the best liars typically bow to truth when their back is against the wall and the evidence is indisputable.

The distinctiveness of our time is the increasing acceptability of assaulting Truth itself. The effect is to undermine our faith in our ability to distinguish fact from fiction. We live in a time when those who have mastered the Orwellian game of insisting that what’s up is down and what’s down is up refuse to be accountable to reality and often are applauded for it. This is heresy against Truth itself. It is heresy against the Divine, who created all that is real and who calls us, the world’s stewards, to reflect that reality with integrity and as accurately as possible.

Our time begs for a reckoning with Truth. Those who have faith the size even of a mustard seed need to show the power of that faith. It is the power to move a mountain of lies and distortions and shake us from our fascination with diversions from reality. Truth is real. Truth is our judge. And our faith in it, no matter how small, now and always, will lead to our liberation.

GBAM, an interfaith group, envisions a world in which faith unites, rather than divides people. It gathers monthly to support one another and our community. The group can be reached at 338-4482 or on its Facebook page, GBAM – Greater Bay Area Ministerium.