A series of questions, Pt. II: What is truth?

A conversation with an Orthodox Christian monk sharing his perspective on God, existence, and the meaning of life. This is the second digital letter in a series dedicated to the exploration of existential questions. 


Dear Reader, 

I’m sitting in front of my computer screen now, cursor blinking, and I’m literally scratching my head over how to talk about truth. I keep thinking that there must be a story to share that will allow me to transfer my mental process to you. But, maybe that’s forcing it. I do know that truth can’t be forced.

I watch a dog being walked down the street – sniffing, peeing, barking, wagging – as its owner is on his cell phone – texting, flipping, reading, seeing. They are both engaged in the same general activity – going for a walk – but they are not having the same experience. What’s true for dog is not true for man, even though they are experiencing the same time and space. They experience time and space differently.

My mind accuses me: “This is not a good example of the relative nature of truth…Seriously? A dog and a man?” I know. It’s not very good. But I’m trying to ease you into this idea of the subjectivity of truth because Fr. Silouan’s insights on it go deep quickly in the audio shared below.

There’s also a part of me that is tip-toeing around this topic because truth is something that people take very seriously. People die for what’s true. I don’t want you to plug up your ears if you hear me say that I think truth is relative because then you’ll miss hearing Fr. Silouan’s illuminating answer about how we might approach understanding truth about God, the universe, and self.

While at the monastery, Fr. Silouan and I had many conversations about truth and knowledge of God. I kept coming back to the question: “Is knowledge of God subjective?” Meaning, if I’m a unique person drawing conclusions about God based on my own experiences, then won’t I inevitably draw a different conclusion about who God is than you do? (Religious leaders fear the divisive potential that an affirmative response to this question might bring. (ie. When praying, are we praying to the same God?))

For the greater part of my life, I have longed to understand truth, God, and the universe in a psychological way, experiencing many headaches and bouts of depression as a result. Why could I not know God? I wondered. But, more painful than not knowing was my inability to accept the answers (the “truths”) about God that I’d been offered. How could I truly know? I didn’t want dogma. I wanted experiential knowledge.

In his reply to my question about the subjective nature of truth, Fr. Silouan talks more about what it means to be a person than what it means to know a truth. Explore with me, through this 5-minute response, how knowing and being are two very different ways of wrestling with what’s true.

Listen to Fr. Silouan’s response: 

 
 

Peace and good,
Dane

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Dane Johnson

Ramble with a Plan, 542 Brannan Street, South of Market, CA, 94107

Writer | Explorer | Pilgrim