What better time than at the height of a presidential election season is there to meditate on the word “truth”? What is true? Which of those deeply held beliefs, firmly rooted in us, could we name as true?
Truth: at one time people knew to be true that the world was flat, that it revolved around the sun, that left-handed people were evil, that women were the property of men. These weren’t casually held opinions. These things were simply true.
The etymology of the word “true” is telling. Coming from a Middle English word for tree, trewe, from Old English trēowe, and Old High German triuwi, meaning faithful, it is also a word that is probably related to Sanskrit’s dāruṇa (hard) and dāru (wood). Rootedness then is something that trees and beliefs have in common.
I have written in the past about Bach’s epic Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. It might be the only organ piece that many people know and I could probably stop someone on the street and sing the first three pitches:
and they would be able to rattle off the next flourish of notes:
Here are three things you probably know to be true about this well-known piece by J.S. Bach:
- It is an organ piece
- It is by J.S. Bach
- It is associated with creepy mansions
But not so recent scholarship suggests that everything we think we know about that famous piece may well be incorrect. There are some who think it was most likely written first for the violin, and then transcribed for the organ. Based on analysis of compositional techniques, some scholars doubt that it is by J.S. Bach, and most assuredly, whoever composed it did not have creepy mansions in mind. It may not have even been composed in D minor originally. Knowing these things does nothing to change my enjoyment of the piece, which leads me to think that truth’s malleability isn’t such a terrible thing. Holding too firmly to something that proves to be untrue sounds like a recipe for ridicule and disappointment.
Yet surely there are a few incontrovertible truths, ones that we should allow to become deeply rooted in us. I might be tempted to begin my list with something about Bach being the most important contributor to musical development – and that’s true. But Archbishop Desmond Tutu may have come closer to naming some basic truths in one of his oft-quoted sermons, and I can’t help but believe that the world would be a better place if all would allow these truths to take root in them.
Good is stronger than evil; Love is stronger than hate; Light is stronger than darkness; Life is stronger than death. Victory is ours, through him who loves us.