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What is Truth?

This was Pilate’s question to Jesus just before he dismissed Him. So, the question of what truth is has been debated for centuries, even before Pilate. My Webster’s Dictionary defines truth as “the state of being the case”, and “the body of real things, events, and facts”, and “the property of being in accord with fact or reality” (emphasis mine). But how do we determine exactly what the truth is? How do we exclude human subjectivity from finding the truth? I’m going to try answering that question this morning.

A number of decades ago federal truth in advertising laws were passed because advertising was, for the most part, devoid of fact, and they passed off slogans as the truth. Carter’s little liver pills had to stop using references to the liver because the pills had nothing to do with the liver. And, Geritol had to stop saying it cured “tired blood” because there is no such thing as tired blood. But, advertisers still skirt the facts and appeal to emotion with terms like “no additional fees”, which, if you don’t listen carefully, suggests that the service is free. It’s not. Medicare insurance companies try passing themselves off as government agencies when they aren’t. They start their ads by saying they have important Medicare information when in fact it’s just another advertisement that skirts the law. And, our politicians use the same tactics in explaining to us why they do something or why they back a certain position. What is “real” is very hard to define.

Whatever truth is, we are now living in a post-truth world where truth isn’t as important as emotion. Truth has taken a secondary position to expediency, to whatever seems good at the time. Wikipedia defines post-truth as the political culture in which debate is framed by emotion and which is disconnected from the facts, details of policy, and repeated assertion of taking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored. So, in this post-truth world, whatever truth is, it’s being ignored by those in influential positions and by the public in general.

Besides this blog, I am a photographer. My background is in photojournalism, but I do fine art landscapes and some interpretive photos as well as editorial and travel photography. I think I can give you a way of understanding what truth is by referencing different kinds of photographs, and how they express the truth found in the image, or how they express what is really true.

Fine art photographs are not necessarily based on fact, but rather they are esthetic-based images. That is, they are designed to look nice hanging on your living room wall or in an office or another public place. This is acceptable because the public knows art is not always based on fact. That’s understood, so there is no deception of the public regarding the truth of what is depicted in the image. In my own fine art photography I try to express how I feel about a landscape or other image. The photo of the Rio Grande River below is a composite. A very bland sky was replaced by a more dramatic one.

Rio Grande River, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Colors and contrast were enhanced to express how I have experienced viewing the river over time. There is no deception intended here, and the public knows that. So in an aesthetical sense, the photograph is truthful. It expresses my true feelings about the river.

Editorial photographs are not, for the most part, truthful in that they are designed pictures intended to make a point. Many are generic stock photos from agencies that are intended for use in a lot of different situations. My photograph of the Ragin’ Shrimp restaurant is a three-image High dynamic range (HDR) photograph in which an underexposed, averaged exposed, and overexposed photograph were merged into one image. The reason is that there was too much variation between the very bright signs, the surrounding area, and the almost black walls. The HDR photo was made to preserve highlight and shadow detail. And, since the photo was made with a wide-angle lens, I corrected a lot of the distortion in post-processing. However, the photograph looks as much like how you would see the restaurant at night as I could make it.

The photojournalistic standard for photographs is high. Almost no manipulation of images is allowed, and many photographers have been fired and black-balled by trying to sneak in manipulated images. Major newspapers like the LA Times and the Chicago Tribune, and the major news agencies like the Associated Press forbid almost all retouching of photos. Some allow slight control of contrast and perhaps a little sharpening and cropping, but no other manipulation is allowed. The reason for the strict rules is maintaining the integrity of the story which requires honesty in the accompanying photographs. The public must be able to trust the paper to present the news in a truthful manner. Manipulation, in digital photography especially, can easily get quickly out of hand.

So very little editing of photos is allowed. The photograph of the American Idol bus in Old Town, Albuquerque, was slightly cropped to exclude extraneous material and contrast was slightly adjusted. No other manipulation was used. The photograph is as shot. I made the image to show the contrast in values in today’s society, and the photograph works well to that end. It shows exactly what was there at the time.

Photojournalism, then, expresses the truth as accurately as is humanly possible, as long as the photographer and the paper follow the rules. In almost all cases photographs from the major news outlets can be trusted to be images of exactly what was there at the time. However, some subjectivity still creeps in because photographers and editors are human. And, while news photos can be trusted to show you what was there, they may technically not be 100 percent truthful even though truth in the photographs is the standard.

Where is the truth found? Where are unbiased facts to be found? The only source for real truth is the Bible. It was written by God-inspired men who wrote down exactly what God told them to write. It is impossible for God to lie ( Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18). It stands to reason that since God created the universe and humans, He knows better than we do how things work correctly. Therefore we should follow His guidelines rather than the perverted doctrines of men. All lies and slights of tounge-which are lies- come from the devil who is the author of lies ( John 8:44; Ephesians 4:14 ). The Bible is the ultimate in journalism because it tells us how God intends the world to work and it excludes human error.

We, then, should not lie. Christians are God’s ambassadors on earth. We should not lie against the truth because no lie, however slight, is of the truth ( James 3:14; 1John 2:21). Biblical truth is the only solid foundation on which to build our lives. All other sources of truth must be examined in the light of the Bible and examined for slights of tongue and pen, because they do contain some error. You can’t build your life on a foundation of truth if you use corrupted materials. Your actions, thoughts, and words must conform to the ultimate truth as found in the Bible. And following Jesus’ example of how to live is the place to start.

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