Today I have been harassing bindweed. Don’t worry. It’s what you’re supposed to do. Here’s the problem: Two weeks ago I reseeded part of the rectory’s back “lawn.” I weeded, raked, seeded, mulched and watered. Now, two weeks later, we have a small handful of struggling – and, sad to say, doomed – strands of grass amid a verdant field of … bindweed. You’re acquainted with bindweed? I thought you might be. It’s noxious. I’m not calling it names – that’s not part of the harassment – but rather describing it as the experts do: a noxious weed. And invasive: Noxious and invasive.
I’ve discovered that bindweed – sometimes called, quaintly, “wild morning glory” by those who have never had it in their back yards – is nearly impossible to get rid of. This is because of its roots, which go deep (20 feet) and wide (as all outdoors). And, apparently, a single molecule of bindweed root will, when left in the soil, generate 10294 linear feet of bindweed.
Over time, harassment works, or so I’m told. Thus my harassment campaign, which consists of digging up every bit of bindweed I encounter. As such, bindweed and the harassment thereof has become my life. We’ll see what happens. So far our bindweed has taken more harassment than any Jesuit could withstand and is thriving.
Next year we’re going to grow just two things in the back yard: dandelions and bindweed. Won’t that be pretty? No harassment required.
And so to truth. “What is truth?” (John 18:38) Had Pontius Pilate known that these words would become his legacy, he might have reconsidered them. Perhaps something along the lines of “Have a happy day?” Too bad Pilate’s administration didn’t have a staff of PR people on hand to help craft his image.
Pilate’s question is as relevant today as it was back then. There’s a lot of image-crafting going on today. Some of it is sophisticated and polished and the product of highly-paid Public Relations consultants. Some of it is homemade and crude: The adult equivalent of the child who answers “No!” when asked whether he broke Mommy’s lamp – all the while standing amidst shards of pottery, holding a baseball bat.
It’s been said that “the first casualty of war is truth.” That assertion, perhaps first uttered in 1917 by Senator Hiram Johnson (Republican, California), may well apply to any crisis. Now we’re fussing about the numbers of people who’ve died from COVID-19. There are legitimate questions to be asked about how people are counted. For example, since there has been so little testing done in the United States, do you include only people who have actually tested positive or do you include presumptive cases – cases in which someone has not been tested but displays all the symptoms of COVID? I can think of three such cases among my circle of friends. Thanks be to God, all have recovered. One was told by his provider (in another state) that in order to be tested he’d have to be sick enough to go to the emergency room and be admitted to the hospital. If I may say so, that’s no way to run a pandemic.
Legit questions aside, there are plenty of reasons to tweak the numbers downward, especially if you’ve had a prominent role to play in the nation’s response to the pandemic. Fewer deaths and fewer cases make a botched response look less deadly and make you look better. In any case, adjusting (or hiding, or denying) the facts is a time-honored practice, whether it happens in government, in private industry, in families, or in the Church. Messing with the facts is, BTW and when doing so is meant to deceive, is lying.
But truth is truth, which has to do with epistemology, which is the study of knowledge. As every schoolchild knows, there are a number of theories of truth, all asking much the same question: What does it mean to say that a belief or statement is true? Is it true because we agree that it’s true? Is it true because it’s useful? Or is it true because it corresponds to reality? This last is called the correspondence theory of truth. It has nothing to do with writing letters.
What every theory of truth assumes is that truth – whatever it may be – exists. And, in fact, most of us equate truth with reality. To say that a statement is true is to say that there is a relationship between the statement and the way things are. The statement “the yard is full of bindweed” is true if the yard actually is full of bindweed. Which, I assure you, it is.
Final point. Can something be true as myth? That depends – of course – on what we mean by myth. Sometimes when we say that something is a myth we mean simply that it is false: If I were to say, “The Yankees are the best team in baseball,” someone who was well-meaning but who didn’t really know what they were talking about could respond with the words, “That’s a myth!” That’s not the meaning of myth I’m getting at. When I say myth I don’t mean false or untrue but rather a story about something that is outside the bounds of everyday language. The creation story in the first chapter of Genesis, for example, has been described as myth. OK. Can the story be true as myth? Sure, if it accurately describes an aspect of reality that cannot be captured in ordinary language. True as history? Perhaps not. True in that it says something important about the relationship between God and creation and does so in a way that other words could not? Absolutely.
So, is Love at the center of everything? Yes. Are you loved? Yes. Are you beloved? Yes. Do you matter? Yes. All true.