Have you ever stopped to think about the word “truth”? I like to tell my students that it’s one of “those” words—words that everyone thinks they have the complete definition for; while, in reality, they may be missing part of the story. Even the Webster’s definition is complicated:
A (1) : the body of real things, events, and facts : actuality
(2) : the state of being the case : fact
(3) often capitalized : a transcendent fundamental or spiritual reality
B a judgment, proposition, or idea that is true or accepted as true
truths of thermodynamics
C the body of true statements and propositions (https://www.merriam-dictionary/truth)
Definition A is the simplest, and I think that it is what most people have in mind today when they think of the idea of truth. After all, we live in a society that is used to verifiable facts in its science, its law, etc.; and I think that society likes to impose that seeming order that is derived from those verifiable facts on things that are often much less literal—things like culture and the humanities.
Definition B may get less traction in the modern world, but I think that it is particularly important to remember. I was talking to a class about the mythologies of Greece and Rome the other day, and I was trying to give them a better idea of how to approach those mythologies. I told them that it is important to understand that what we see as quaint little stories about gods and goddesses were the truths that the people of ancient Greece and Rome lived by. While Classical mythology is enjoyable to study and may seem to us today as though it was intended to be fiction, the people of those cultures lived in a world where those stories were true. It doesn’t matter whether or not they were historically verifiable or not. All that matters when studying these people, is that those mythologies were what they believed—they were their truth.
Hundreds (or even thousands) of years from now, historians, archeologists, and regular people may look at the truths that we in our modern world live by through a different lens. I only hope these future people take a minute to understand that the paradigms that make up our culture were truths formed in good faith.