While vacationing in Italy, I had the opportunity to flex a couple of neurons. My family is full of devout Catholics, and my youngest aunt Costanza (Costu) has the “gift” of speaking in tongues. That means the hardcore Catholics pray with her, and sometimes that sets her off in a indecipherable tongue-speaking frenzy. My uncle Michael can interpret her, so the message isn’t lost.
Moreover, Costu is also intelligent, having graduated from MST in Rolla. So she wanted to discuss philosophy with me, and she wanted to know what was my “truth.” It was early in the week, and I thought it would be a good idea to get this over with so we all can enjoy our fantastic resort.
As somebody well read in post-modernism, asking the very question “truth” sets off alarms. Such questions like “what is X” are classic questions of philosophy, but after Nietzsche, they no longer have any place in our society – all and any answer has no credibility – but I couldn’t answer like this to my Aunt. So I had to speak in the right language, and speak about the game of philosophy.
I replied that “Truth is one of the many games philosophers have been playing for 2,500 years. The minute I offer a truth I have made a claim, which stakes a position, and in doing so, I’m already playing by their rules, and I’m stuck in that game.”
Of course, this didn’t satisfy my dear Aunt. She insisted that at the end of my life, I will have to have a truth. I replied that my truth today will not be the same as the truth I think I have 10, 20, or 30 years from now. I wasn’t the same person I was 10 years ago. What makes anyone think they will be identical in the future? Even if I had a truth that didn’t change, the minute I write it down on a piece of paper, and make it public, it’s no longer my truth, but something everyone else will interpret into their own versions.
Aunt Costu went on to say that I knew what her truth was: Jesus Christ. Naturally I was ready for this, and said that Jesus was smart enough not to answer her question. Auntie insisted that he did, and said that “those on the side of truth, are on my side.” I replied: Yes, he sure said that, but not to Pilate. Pilate was the one who asked him “What is truth?”
Auntie said I was wrong, that she remembers Jesus answered him. I told her that she need to re-read the gospels again, and stop listening to the priest who switches lines around. She ordered Uncle Mike to pull out his iphone and pull up the Gospel of John. I said that the Gospel of Mark is better because it’s the older one. John’s the most recent one. She disagreed, naturally, saying that John was one of the disciples. I told her that there were too many elements in that gospel to be eyewitness account (prior to his birth and events that took place elsewhere).
I promised Aunt Costu that I would finish the half-full table wine if I was wrong. Then I asked her if I’m right, what would she do? No answer 😀 While she looked it up, I also told them that Buddha had the same policy with that question and told them the Zen koan of Buddha and the philosopher. That stunned poor Auntie for a bit. A penalty for being way too parochial and insular, methinks!
After my uncle and my aunt were shocked to learn that I was right: Jesus stood silent after Pilate asked him “what is truth,” my uncle took the initiative to ask me what was my interpretation of philosophy. So I took him on a lightning tour of philosophy, starting with Plato’s allegory, and went through the medieval philosophers (extra emphasis on catholic thinkers like Anselm and Aquinas) then stopped at Descartes. Uncle Mike was utterly absorbed, and discombobulated when I pulled out the stops for Descartes’ omnipotent deceiver!
My aunt moved on to the next incorrigible unbeliever, cousin Igor. He was shrewd enough to say that he believed in Jesus just like he believed in Confucius, Buddha, Mohammed, and Lao-Tsu. I would have gone on to the story of “Book of Truth” had my aunt pressed matters further, but she knew the game was over and I enjoyed the rest of the week religious-free!
Next story: the great white shepherd dog.