“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” – Psalm 73:26 (ESV)
“Perception is reality,” goes the saying. But is it true?
We’ve spent the last couple of posts discussing the existence of truth as a knowable external reality, and the misuse of truth — turning it into a fetish, an idol. Now I’d like to discuss how to survey and navigate the territory between truth and perception.
If you don’t know where you’re going, any route will take you there.
Can we trust our senses?
The answer is yes. And no. Consider the ways we hack our senses for enjoyment. Movies screened in 3D are manipulating the sense of sight to create the illusion of depth. Stage magicians exploit known gaps in our attention to create mind-blowing effects. And Disney’s imagineers use vibration, light, and sound to make Space Mountain seem higher, faster, and scarier than its physics would suggest.
Hypnosis and psychology succeed therapeutically by altering the patient’s perception of his circumstances and/or his resources for dealing with them. Life coaches and motivational speakers, pastors and mentors — all encourage their hearers to choose their response to misfortune or blessing.
And of course, marketers and politicians seek to persuade us that their version of utopia is near at hand if only we would part with our money — or our votes — as evidence of our devotion.
We can see that perception is somewhat malleable, but we have already established that perception and reality are separate.
Just the facts, ma’am
If you’re a fan of procedural dramas or cop shows on TV, often the establishing scene is of the homicide squad at the scene of the murder. Note that there are known facts — the victim is most certainly dead, for one. There may be a weapon present, as well as other articles that may or may not be pertinent to cause or the circumstances of the death.
The story from there — whether the mystery gets solved — depends on the interpretation of facts and the application of logic. For example, a victim with two gunshot wounds to the head is most certainly not a suicide.
At this point, I hope you are able to see the difference between facts and perception.
Use your head
In our previous discussion on truth-fetishism
, we noted the obsessive fixation of fact-checkers on “facts” as if they can be pinned to a card like so many butterflies. A common error is to seize on the literal meaning of a word while ignoring the common context of its use. Another is to interpret facts to fit one’s own favored view. Unfortunately, this is a regular feature of current journalism, but it didn’t begin last year.
Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson ran for president in the 1980’s. He complained that the news media were against him, saying that if he were spotted walking on water, the next day the headlines would read, “JESSE CAN’T SWIM.”
Uncharted territory or an own-goal?
If we are living, as some writers have posited, in a post-truth world, I submit to you that it is because we have willfully abandoned our reference points. It’s been some time since I’ve done any orienteering, but I always loved it. With a compass and a topographical map, one is given rendezvous point some distance from his starting location and a time to be there. Military veterans use this same skill set as part of “land nav.”
If one asserts, as postmodernism does, that the maps are corrupted, and compasses aren’t reliable, then any destination is equal to any other. Obviously I disagree, but here’s why: in my orienteering experience, there was only food at the correct rendezvous point. Hunger will teach you to focus. Sometimes the stakes are even higher than eating. If you want to eat, avoid self-defeating behavior, such as denying reality.
As I write this, it’s Lent — the 40-day period of spiritual preparation for Easter. Consider that this celebration commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead — an event that has never been duplicated in human history.
The writers of the New Testament emphasized that they themselves had seen Jesus crucified and had also seen him alive after three days in the tomb. That is, they trusted what their eyes beheld — even when it defied their experience and “what everybody knew.” And their testimony to others was convincing despite a hostile culture, and a government bent on quashing this upstart sect.
We will discuss this at greater length soon, but consider this: it is true that the disciples sincerely wanted to see Jesus alive, but their behavior as described by the eyewitnesses suggests they believed that death was final. Only their encounter with the risen Jesus made the seemingly impossible possible. And note also their willingness to die for the truth of the resurrection– no sane man would die for what he knows to be false.
Putting it to work
So, how can you use this? My hope is that, whatever your circumstances, you will seek truth and wisdom — however slow or imperfect your search. If you believed there was gold buried in your front yard, you would dig with purpose! If you merely thought it would be cool if there were gold buried in the yard, you wouldn’t work nearly as hard. Transcendent truth is like that, too. If you really want it, you must believe that it exists — then you’ll use every resource you have to acquire it.
So how about you? How are you pursuing wisdom and truth in your life? Add your comments below.