So We Still Believe in Reality

Courtesy Sports Illustrated/CNN

Courtesy Sports Illustrated/CNN

Like everyone else in America it’s been hard to turn away from the story of Manti Teo. Was he the victim of or the victimizer in an elaborate hoax? Time may tell.

One aspect of this episode that interests me is the way it reveals how deeply many Americans still, apparently, believe in something like objective reality and objective truth. Before you yawn, consider this: for decades now we have been told that there is no such thing as objective truth or truth that’s true for you and for me in the same way. We’ve been told that there’s “your truth” and “my truth” but not truth in the way that we used to think of it.

If the subjectivists were right, that there’s only your truth and my truth then who is to say that Lennay Kekua didn’t exist since she existed in the imagination of Teo or Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. Many, however, seem to scandalized that they were misled about the existence of Lennay Kekua. In other words what actually is matters. It’s also evident that people know the difference between what is imaginary and what is actual.

The recent confession by cyclist Lance Armstrong that he lied to cycling authorities, to sponsors, and to his fans has also sparked outrage. In a way, however, the very fact that Armstrong has been found to be a liar is encouraging. It’s not that anyone takes any joy in the damage done by the taking of performance enhancing drugs or the lying but that there seems to be a widespread recognition that there is a difference between that which is true, i.e., that there is testimony that accurately reports the state of things and testimony that does not and that it is possible to tell the difference.

The reason we distinguish between a real and fictional Lennay Kekua or between truth and lies concerning Lance Armstrong is because we were created by God, who is truth, who created us in his image to know truth from error and to know things truly and rightly. To be sure, the fall has damaged our ability and our willingness to perceive reality and conform to it. As sinners we are remarkably willing and able to corrupt and suppress reality even when it is right before us. Nevertheless, by the restraining mercy of God even unbelievers can see truth in secular matters. Apart from saving grace we sinners do not follow where that truth leads nor are we able to use it properly but that does not mean that we are utterly unable to see it.

Sometimes I worry that we as a culture have descended so far down the subjectivist rabbit hole that we might not be able to find our way out again but these two cases, where someone lied and where truth was clearly distinguished from lies, are clear testimonies that, however much we may pretend that we’re too sophisticated to believe in such simple things any more, we really can see and recognize objective reality from falsehood and that’s a good thing.

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. We’re suckers for truth about the things that don’t really matter.

    When it comes to really important stuff, we’re much more willing to go along with bald-faced lies.

  2. Thank you for the excellent discussion of a very serious subject.

    I almost didn’t read it, however, because of the “hook” involving yet another athlete in a scandal. Words cannot describe how much I don’t care about one more athlete – “amateur” (ha!) or professional – totally puffed up with an exaggerated sense of his own importance. The fact that we care so much about these people in the first place proves that we’ve lost touch with reality.

    I like the new word “celebutainment.” From sports to pop culture to politics, it describes how far we’ve descnded into the worship of the trivial.

    (Opera singers, however – especially sopranos and mezzo-sopranos – now that’s another matter entirely. They desevere all the time and praise we can lavish upon them, their being real artists and all.)

  3. This brought to mind something I read from CS Lewis years ago, to paraphrase (poorly): “The average bloke in the pub reading the daily paper is not confused by subjectivist reasoning, it’s the intellectuals”. Regardless of the themes we hear reiterated constantly in the media, most of our fellow image bearers know better, at least at some level (Romans 1).

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