The pressure to conform with prevailing ideas over objective truth is intensifying - Michael Veitch

Children’s fables, passed on from one generation to the next, survive because of the timeless wisdom they convey.

Michael Veitch, Parliamentary Officer, CARE for Scotland
Michael Veitch, Parliamentary Officer, CARE for Scotland

One of the best examples of this genre is The Emperor’s New Clothes wherein a vain king is duped into believing that some mischievous tailors have produced a bespoke royal robe that only the wise can see. Anxious not to be exposed as foolish, the emperor, and eventually everyone else, affirm their belief in the blindingly obvious lie that the clothes exist. Eventually one boy speaks up, stating the self-evident truth, that there is no garment and the emperor is in fact naked. The moral of the story is obvious, namely that ‘groupthink’ and pressure to conform, even with a self-evident untruth, for fear of social isolation, is all too real.

Why is this relevant in Scotland today? As a centre of both the European Reformation and the Enlightenment, we have a prestigious and globally significant legacy in terms of contending for truth and reason in the public square, the church and the academy. Yet increasingly it seems that in our great universities, the Holyrood chamber, or even in the church, there is an intensifying pressure to conform with prevailing ideas that can take priority over truth itself. This should trouble us all.

‘Gas-lighting’ has become a popular term in recent days, whereby manipulation of reality is used to cause people to question what they know to be true. The little boy in The Emperor’s New Clothes, saw through this, and literally ‘called out’ what he knew to be the case. Similarly, it is essential that in Scotland today, those who question a prevailing social or ethical narrative from a robust evidence base, are listened to, respected, and, crucially, not shamed into submission for affirming what they know to be objectively true.

Perhaps modern society is uncomfortable with The Emperor’s New Clothes because it reminds us that, by definition, truth is truth, regardless of whether or not we personally choose to endorse or affirm it. It cannot be altered to suit the sensibilities of a particular age. As God himself said through a prophet in ancient times: “execute the judgement of truth and peace in your gates” (Zechariah 8:16).

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The objectivity of truth extends beyond the sphere of ethics to even bigger questions about life, death and what follows. As the multiple eye-witness accounts preserved for us in The Bible affirm, God did send his Son, Jesus, into our world at a definite point in history, to a definite location (Roman-occupied Palestine).

This very same Jesus did die upon Cross for the sins of people and rise again, to reconcile them to God, as the ancient Hebrew scriptures from centuries before said he would. This very same Jesus also spoke in uncomfortably unequivocal terms about the judgement to come, and the absolute need for all people to be reconciled to God by faith in Him, asserting: “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Of course, no one is forced to believe, however our lack of belief in no way dilutes the truth of the good news of Jesus Christ. And simple rationality tells us that matters of God, faith, life and death are far too important to be left in the realms of subjectivity.

In the midst of these troubled times, what matters most is that individually, and corporately as a nation, we build our lives upon truth. In this, the 450th anniversary of the death of John Knox, who contended for truth more than most for the sake of the country he loved, we would do well to reacquaint ourselves with the God’s Word as the ultimate source of truth in a confused world.

Michael Veitch, Parliamentary Officer, CARE for Scotland

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