What is truth?

22 November 2015
Last Sunday after Pentecost
The Reign of Christ
Proper 29B (RCL)
2 Samuel 23:1-7
Psalm 132:1-13
Revelation 1:4b-8
John 18:33-37

In the wake of recent events (attacks in Beirut, Paris and the backlash against Syrian refugees in this country and around the world), I have been wondering about the ideological advantages of fear. I think I can figure out the evolutionary advantages of fear: individuals who retreat from or conquer threats are more likely to survive and pass on their genetic memory to future generations. I question, however, the advantage of fear for the survival of the species as a whole. Fear, I suppose, makes it easier to enforce group loyalty, and prevent defection. The Washington Post published an article that points out that Daesh (ISIS is not a state) practices terrorism precisely to get “us” to respond in fear, in order to drive the wedge between “us” and “them” deeper, and force Muslims into radicalism in response to “our” fear.

I think any state or organization that resorts to fear as a guard against defection must necessarily doubt the strength of its own institutions. The reaction of the governors calling for an end to or hiatus in the settlement of Syrian refugees in their states must doubt the resilience of their people. Fear, in its place, is an appropriate response. Caution, in its place, is an appropriate response. I suppose nation-states need to be able define who is a citizen and who isn’t, but when institutions are afraid of defection, the resulting bifurcation of the world into light and dark can get pretty ugly.

This Sunday is sometimes called “Christ the King,” or “The reign of Christ.” The feast day was first observed in 1925 at the institution of Pope Pius XI in part as a response to the upheaval of World War I, and the collapse of the monarchies of Europe. Pius noted that although the hostilities of the war had ceased, there was not true peace, which could come only through the reign of the Prince of Peace. Christ’s kingship was given to him by the Father, rather than acquired through violence.

The reading form John’s Gospel assigned for this Sunday raises the world’s inability to imagine a state of being that doesn’t rely on violence. I only regret that it leaves off the next verse, in which Pilate asks, “What is truth?” For the kingdoms of this world, truth is the systems of classification set up to reinforce the political and ideological integrity necessary for their existence. For Jesus, truth is something else entirely. For nations, truth is what they can ask their citizens to die for, and what it will kill for. For Jesus, truth is what God asks us to live for. And Jesus’ resurrection is God’s way of claiming that God’s truth is more powerful than Caesar’s.

The collect for this Sunday asks that God might reconcile the peoples of the earth, “divided and enslaved by sin,” into Christ’s most gracious rule. For us to even dream about that prayer, we will have to face our deepest fears, and examine them under the light of God’s truth.

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