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Erick Erickson / May 15, 2020

What Is Truth?

When Jesus of Nazareth appears before Pilate in Jerusalem, Jesus tells Pilate that “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

When Jesus of Nazareth appears before Pilate in Jerusalem, Jesus tells Pilate that “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37) Pilate responds with one of the most famous questions in history, “What is truth?”

In postmodern America, where people now talk about your truth and their truth instead of the truth, it is a question that needs some real attention. The conservative movement needs to do a better job of focusing on the question. Too many hucksters are twisting the truth to keep people riled up and enraged instead of providing answers.

In Georgia, Ahmaud Arbery is dead. Two men, Gregory McMichael and his son Travis McMichael, attempted to stop Arbery for supposedly breaking into a home. The men pulled guns, a struggle ensued, and Travis McMichael shot Arbery, who died at the scene.

Sadly, the event happened in February, and it took months before a video of the shooting surfaced online and media-generated outrage provoked action at the state level. The local district attorney had a business relationship with the elder McMichael, and some local politicians claim the police were instructed not to arrest the McMichaels. The state of Georgia is now launching an investigation not just into the killing but also into the local officials who tried to stop arrests.

As the outrage gained national traction that transcended races, ideologies and parties, some started to suggest there was more there. Video surfaced of Arbery visiting a construction site. People suggested that was proof he had been a burglar, as the McMichaels claimed. The owner of the construction site said nothing had been taken and it was not unusual for people to show up to look at the work. Another video surfaced purporting to show Arbery scoping out a house repeatedly, as if planning to burglarize it. But multiple people subsequently stepped forward to say that was not him in the second video.

Why would any of that matter, anyway? Some people are more interested in proving Arbery was no saint than they are in acknowledging that his lack of sainthood did not give two men authority to kill him in the street. Some people are more interested in finding excuses for the McMichaels than in acknowledging the truth. Ahmaud Arbery died because two men thought they could attempt, at gunpoint, to detain him without law enforcement for crimes they presumed but did not witness.

Disturbingly, many of the people seeking now to cast aspersions on Arbery are the same people who have spent months lying about COVID-19. Some of them claimed the virus originated in the United States. Others claimed the virus was nothing more than a flu. Still others claimed the science was all wrong or Bill Gates is engaged in a global conspiracy or a number of other absurd theories.

The malignant obfuscation to undermine health care experts and public policy in the United States for grift, attention or internet celebrity has been revolting. While it is perfectly reasonable to question the need for policies like sheltering in place or the accuracy of models, the willful distortion of truth has picked up a dangerous amount of steam. The idea that this virus — which has killed over 80,000 Americans in 10 weeks while Americans are sheltering in place — is just a bad flu is an obscene statement.

Unfortunately, too many of the same people seeking to pervert the truth of the Arbery situation and the virus situation are voices who pretend to be Republicans. They have no real ideological ties to conservatism. They are just seeking to build audiences or revenue from conservative skepticism of government. They have been nursing grievances for their own gain. They have turned their back on truth, like Pilate.

Conservatism has long had a healthy foundation in truth and the nature of man. Conservatives have never hoped to build a heaven on earth like progressives because we know we are all sinners and should want as few other sinners in charge of us as possible. But conservatives must want and seek truth to have trust in the public square. We have an obligation to it.

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