Bishop's Letter: Who do you trust?

First published 12th November 2015

Pontius Pilate, Governor of Judea from CE26-36 famously once asked an important question, What is truth? It would seem that in our time there is a crisis of trust; how do we the ordinary people of this land know who or what to believe?

In recent weeks, we have been told of the dishonesty of Volkswagen a brand associated with reliability in misleading the world about the true picture of the environmental health of their vehicles. Volkswagens early response was to promise to fix affected vehicles and to run advertisements assuring us that they are committed to win back our trust. Time will tell

At the same time, we are bemused by much of what we are told by way of public information. Medical advice seems extremely contradictory. We have been fed on sausages and processed meat for decades and now we are told these things are as carcinogenic as smoking cigarettes. But, some sausages are better than others, and if eaten in moderation probably wont harm you?

Sometimes we are told a glass or red wine per day is good for you sometimes we are told it is bad for you. Sometimes moderate drinking is acceptable, this week were encouraged to take a months alcohol free fast.

Then theres the thorny issue of research. Todays professors are often appointed on their ability to bring in funding for research. This becomes tricky when large commercial organisations with a clear interest in the outcome of the research they fund become involved. Recently I read that the fizzy drinks giant Coca-Cola has been funding to the tune of 5million plus a charity which campaigns against the over-consumption of sweet fizzy drinks.

In recent times we have had one senior politician accuse another senior politician from another party of a very serious crime without, it transpires, a shred of evidence.

Oh, and then there are the lies promulgated daily on social media. Often no evidence involved, some of it brutal, some of it plain sick. It sometimes feels that anybody can write anything about anybody, without any accountability. Even freedom of speech, which used to be a centrepiece of British values and a basic human right, must have its limits.

Of course there are outcomes to this serious devaluation of trust.

First, this creates uncertainty, and in worst case scenarios, like public information on health, can create fear. There must be some who know they have eaten too many sausages and processed meat, who are now anxious that they might have unwittingly been seriously increasing their personal risk of bowel cancer. This may be true, but I wont be the only person who wonders whether todays medical truth will be gazumped in the near future with different and more moderate truth. Somewhat cynically, I can imagine that in the Board rooms of sausage makers, there is already a plan to do further research! For now we need to heed the caution on processed meat.

The second thing to suffer in all this is our need for community. We are social animals and need to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Community can only be built on common need, responsibility for each other and trust. Take away any of these three pillars and the community project begins to fall apart. Relation-ships of any sort communal or personal are put under severe strain in a climate of mistrust.

Of course, its easy to diagnose this societal malaise. Its a bit harder to know what exactly can be done to make it better. In the box set series House, Dr Houses default understanding of humanity is expressed through his continual assertion that everybody lies. I would think that somewhere deep within us we really dont want a world where everyone lies.

The problem is that the truth can be hurtful and sometimes we find ourselves, out of compassion, retreating from confronting someone with the naked truth. Does my bum look big in this? is a question that requires careful handling!

St Paul once gave some wise advice, speak the truth in love. My own acid test in truth telling is to ask myself whether speaking the truth to another gives me any pleasure. If it does, I judge that I may not be the best person to speak the truth.

So heres the thing; the death of truth means the death of other valuable facets of society. Maybe we all need to give this further thought and look at, as individuals and corporations, how we might work at accountability in this matter of truth.


November 2015

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