The Principle of Many Truths


I’ve been thinking recently about a concept I call “The Principle of Many Truths”. It’s a way of explaining why people can present differing points of view depending on when and how they’re asked about something.

It’s hard to grok without examples, so here are a couple:

  1. Someone claims to believe in God, yet they sin constantly and do not act at all like a true Christian. People say, “They obviously don’t truly believe if they act like that.” Yet they go to church and tithe and profess belief at ever turn. The answer for many is simply that both things are true: in rational or cynical moments they know religion to be false, and in spiritual moments they do, in all honesty, believe.

  2. Some people act like racists and claim not to be. To be clear, there are some racists who know they are racists and simply lie about it for obvious reasons. But many people who act like racists genuinely have black/minority friends and love and care for them and see them as equal. Yet they still dislike blacks in general and behave…well, like a racist.

In both cases we can stop searching for the mystery and the deception. Humans are confused creatures most of the time, and those who aren’t trained to rigorously self-evaluate are quite prone to harboring multiple opposing viewpoints at once on significant topics.

In short, many racists are also not racists…in certain scenarios, in certain conditions, regarding certain people. And many liberal, kind, non-racist people behave in a very racist way…in certain scenarios, under certain conditions, with certain people.

And many believers in God actually know he doesn’t exist…sometimes. Similarly, many people who have shed their religious beliefs become extremely pious at certain times, and absolutely believe.

When you ask most people what they believe, you’re most likely to get an answer that they’re not fully aware of. They are at the whim of their current state based on recent inputs and events, combined with the way you asked the question, etc. And most do not seek out these dissonant viewpoints in order to synchronize them.

They let them all exist in there together, to be called upon in the right context. Even then the word “let” isn’t correct–this is happening to them.

So the next time you see someone spouting opposing beliefs, don’t look necessarily for some intricate system of deception. Look instead for evidence that this person actually believes both views at different times. Look for evidence that they hold within them many truths.

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