As Caputo ends his book, he talks about what might come as to this thing we call, ‘truth’, and how we might continue to think about what ‘truth’ means. He notes that ‘truth’ is not something we control—but something that comes to us. It is an ‘event’ that happens. There is nothing even final or definitive about postmodernity. That term is just a way for us to talk about the end of, or the transitioning of, modernity. Caputo:
“I counsel the reader to avoid concluding that we have reached the conclusion. Just the opposite. If the word truth exposes us to an unforeseeable future, no book is ever closed. It will always be necessary to say something about the future, to keep the book open on the future, to expose the book to the future. If I have dared to entitle this book Truth, that is not to be understood as if there is such a thing, one unified and finished thing that travels under that name, to which the reader is here being presented. Instead it announces a promise that lures us on and excites a journey; it calls for something to come.”
What this does is offer a sense of humility into the word ‘truth’ and even some fear. What is to come? We know ‘truth’ will continue to come, but how, and by what form? Do we know? To give an example from Christianity, we can think of the Pharisees. These were the religious Jewish fundamentalists of their day. They knew the Law and the Prophets (what we think of as the Old Testament), like the back of their hands. They knew the oral commentaries (what would later be written down and known as the Talmud). They knew their theology; they were the theologians of their day. Thus, they thought they knew what ‘truth’ would look like when it came. They thought they knew what their Scriptures meant—in the sense of what God meant—what Truth meant. And yet, if we believe and follow the Christian narrative, they missed it completely. Jesus was the ‘truth’ that was to come.
Secular fundamentalists make the same mistake. They think ‘truth’ must come a certain way (see the new atheists), which is empirically or purely scientifically. They are looking for something that will probably never show up in the form they thought it must take. They are locked into a way of “seeing” and understanding called the ‘enlightenment’ and modern. Of course the person who is aware of this, has some self-awareness to know he is viewing from this perspective, that other views may not be false simply because they come from a different perspective, such a person is open to the event, to the possibility ‘truth’ may come in a form he was not expecting. However, the unaware person, the person who dogmatically assumes his perspective is the one and only way to view something, that it transcends the person and takes a universal and objective factual form, this person is closed to the event, to ‘truth’ and is the one most likely to miss it when it comes or happens. They are the Michael Scott’s of the world—gloriously ignorant and clueless—all the while confident they know the ‘truth’ of a matter, which is often just a series of narrow-minded and stereotypical summations or lines of thought. It can be funny if you are playing a character on television; in real life, it is pretty sad. And of course, Christians and other theists can fall into the same trap as already noted.
Caputo suggests that with the ongoing speed in which we are being connected and the way information is able to be accessed, one area of ‘truth’ that will be put before us is the ‘truth’ of what it means to be human. What is the line between what we call being ‘human’ and artificial intelligence? What is alive and what is dead? We call this the information age and how does accessing information differ from what it means to be human? What is the difference between acquiring information and acquiring wisdom? If there is no transcendence, soul, or spirit, then are we truly zombies? If so, then the boundary between life and death is erased; we become the walking dead. If a robot runs out of energy, we say it is ‘dead’ but we know it was never alive even when its batteries were charged. But perhaps we should speak of humans in the same way? Perhaps energy and being ‘alive’ is the same thing? What does it mean to be alive and to be dead? Caputo:
“Whatever we make of it, we stand at present on the border between a postmodern world, one that, however discontinuous its shifts and revolutions has a continuity with its origins in the Greek and biblical culture that launched it, and a post-human one, an uncanny future in which life as we have known it will be transformed. In German, the word for uncanny is unheimlich, not-at-home, feeling strange and alienated and slightly spooked, which could not be more literally realized than in the spooky and unearthly projection of robot bodies and of establishing human colonies beyond planet earth.”
Truth means risk. If there is no risk, there is no truth. The event comes, it happens—did we miss it? What does the future hold? What do we hope for and why? Why this hope and not another? Every moment of every day carries the possibility of encountering the event, the event of truth. If so, then the future is ripe with the same possibility. That is called hope. Otherwise, today, and tomorrow, are nothing but a series of time intervals, measurements, marking only the movement of matter-in-motion until a final disappearance—and there is nothing to hope for or risk—because movement and change are literally the only things that exist. Motion and change by themselves, if not movement for something or toward something good, without telos, is only movement. If all is matter-in-motion, marked by time and change—which is ultimately deterioration–(again, simply the motion of bodies understood mathematically, which is time), then there is no hope, no risk, and no truth. Caputo:
“This brings me back to religion, to my uncertain, irregular and heretical religion, religion being the test case of truth with which we started down this road. Now more than ever before we require faith, by which I mean not the beliefs of the confessional religions, which I think stand in need of a radical rethinking and are beginning to look excessively weary, but the postmodern faith in the event, the faith I have been describing, that the future is always better. I do not mean a confessional faith that is supposed to save us, but a more radical faith that puts us at risk.”
Sometimes today wasn’t good and the future doesn’t look any brighter. But when does the future end? If it isn’t better tomorrow, or fifty years from now, it still may get better. When can we say, “This is it, it will never get better”? Such would require omniscience, the ability to peer into the future to infinity. So instead, we hope. We lean into the future in a way that tries to be open to the event of truth, that thing that is coming, so that we do not miss it. Justice is not fully here yet, but it’s coming. Love is not fully here yet, but its coming. This is all to say that we can never claim our culture is perfectly just or loving—or even say it about ourselves individually. Thus, we hope—we look forward. The words ‘better’, ‘preferred’, ‘best’, ‘desired’, ‘longed for’, and so forth are eschatological words. Those words tell us ‘truth’ has not yet arrived; the world is not yet as it should be. In the meantime, whenever we are just, whenever we love, whenever we forgive, we enact or perform the future. We bring the future into the present. We bring heaven to earth—the Kingdom comes. Or as that theologian of Motown Curtis Mayfield put it: People get ready, there’s a train a-coming.
But all this involves risk. We may miss the train. We may miss justice or love when it comes (many Christians in the American South did—what are missing even now?). It also involves having a sense of what is ‘better’ of what is ‘just’ and ‘loving’. If life is meaningless flux, then there is no ‘better’ only matter-in-motion. There is no risk or hope in such a world. There is no truth there, only information—facts. Ironically, the event of truth in such a world would be to sense or “see” that such a world is impossible. We don’t live in a world of facts; we live in a world of meaning. We don’t make up or imagine the meaning; we recognize what is already there. If we differ over the meaning, it only means we are looking from different perspectives. All art, all music, all poetry, all literature, all film, all drama, all opera, all religion, all pursuits of passion, whether science, math, or love and art, all of it is because we recognize meaning in the universe, others, and ourselves. All these efforts on our parts, in all these areas of life, are our small and feeble attempts to articulate this meaning, these events of truth. They are the record of those fleeting moments, when truth came, when the event happened.
For any who have followed my review of Caputo’s book, I hope this has been helpful. I hope it also continued to clarify what I mean when using the word ‘truth’ and what is being spoken of when we note the differences between the modern and postmodern in relation to that word and concept.