One of my favorite musicals is Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Jesus Christ Superstar, and my favorite song therein is a duet sung by Jesus and Pontius Pilate in the trial of the former conducted by the latter.
“I search for truth,” sings Jesus, “and find that I get damned.”
“And what is truth?” sings Pilate. “Is truth unchanging law? We both have truths—are mine the same as yours?”
I thought of this passage after Oprah Winfrey’s speech last Monday, wherein she spent the bulk of her time talking about “truth” and, in the process, may have launched her campaign to be the next President of the United States.
Her speech, which can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AiMlwarrC7s, praises the press for its commitment to reporting the “absolute truth,” yet she soon begins talking not about “the truth,” as if were something that could be found and agreed on by all rational persons—“unchanging law,” perhaps–but “her truth,” and “your truth,” as if each person—perhaps even Pontius Pilate–could have his or her own truth.
Of course, having one’s “own truth” is not necessarily bad. Oprah Winfrey herself had a childhood of poverty, punctuated by beatings, sexual molestation, and rape, yet her truth was that she was “born to greatness,” which motivated her to rise above the wretchedness of her childhood conditions and become what she is today. And many others can have their own truths, only to discover they are widely shared and even absolute truths as well. Oprah Winfrey wants women and girls to universally adopt as their truths that to be harassed, molested, and raped is wicked, evil, and immoral. Who could possibly argue the contrary?
But there’s another side to the issue as well. Simply believing something is true does not make it so. Yet on television Oprah Winfrey has allowed outlandish claims made by her guests to be offered as their truths, if not necessarily the truth, without adequate challenge, or any challenge at all. Check The Atlantic at https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/01/the-power-and-perils-of-speaking-your-truth/549968/?utm_source=fbb, The New York Times at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/04/magazine/04Hay-t.html, and Newsweek at http://www.newsweek.com/why-health-advice-oprah-could-make-you-sick-80201 to see that among the clowns and quacks to whom she’s given a voice and a platform are:
- An actress who crusades against childhood vaccines on the specious and unsupported grounds that vaccines cause autism (the one medical study linking vaccination to autism has been universally discredited);
- A “New Age” guru who has argued that the European Jews who were murdered in Nazi gas chambers may have been partly to blame for their deaths because in past lives they may have done something bad themselves, thereby eliciting retribution courtesy of Hitler (talk about blaming the victim!—not even President Trump, for all his soft pedaling of the alt-right, has equaled that one);
- Assorted crackpots who preach that simply thinking of something one wants will, through the magic of quantum physics, produce the desired object or goal (someone can think himself thin without diet or exercise; I’m imagining a billion dollars in my checking account right now).
Will Oprah Winfrey actually run for President? Three years ago the thought that a billionaire television personality with no discernable qualifications and no experience in either government or the armed forces could nonetheless win the presidency of the United States would seem preposterous. But times change. It’s far easier to imagine such a scenario today.
And it’s easy to see her appeal as well. Her style would make her an attractive candidate whatever her race or gender might be.
Of course, Oprah Winfrey may decide not to run for President after all, and all this talk of her defeating President Trump in 2020 may be forgotten long before then. But should she run—and especially should she be elected—everyone—Republican or Democrat, Trump Trainer or Never Trumper– should hope that she’ll focus more on seeking the “absolute truth,” rather than on accepting individual truths which, however sincerely held, may be absolute lies. Even this Trump supporter wishes for more concern with the search for Absolute Truth and less concern with assertions presented as truth yet which cannot stand up to empirical analysis.
Well—off to check my bank account.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.