By: Paul Murano – April 2018

The words of Pontius Pilate on Good Friday recorded in John 18:38 echo through the centuries as the fundamental question of skeptical relativism: What is truth? It was a rhetorical question, illustrating the universal culture war present today as it was then. In the scene the representative of relativism asked Truth Himself what He is. This question came immediately after Jesus told Pilate, “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” Let’s explore this question beneath the surface, as well as what it means to be “of the truth.”

We don’t have to look far in popular culture to see this question popping up in various forms. In the iconic scene of the movie ‘A Few Good Men’, Tom Cruz’s character shouts out, “I want the truth!” – which elicits a quick response from Jack Nicholson’s character, “You can’t handle the truth!” In the new Chappaquiddick movie about Ted Kennedy the line that gets the most publicity is: “We will tell the truth, at least our version of it.” Sometimes telling the truth gets us in trouble, as we saw in the Geico commercial where a wife asks her husband the dreaded question, “Do I look fat in this dress?” Another version has Honest Abe’s wife asking the question, forcing Lincoln into an awkward silence. In both versions a narrator’s voice is immediately heard saying something like, “Before the time it takes for you to take out the sleeper sofa, Geico can save you 15% or more on car insurance.”

These three examples represent three ways humanity has dealt with truth. We: a) demand it, b) falsify it, or c) fear it. Let’s look at each of these three, one at a time. Those who want it without fluff or equivocation usually possess a good will coupled with the virtue of courage. It illustrates a willingness to reform one’s ego and desires according to something greater than oneself.

On the other hand, those who often falsify the truth by lies or exaggerations value self more than truth, often seeing the latter as the enemy to happiness. And those who fear truth are often sincere but cowardly. They seek the easy road in life by avoiding the important and potentially uncomfortable questions. These three modes of response – openness, deception, and avoidance – can be further categorized into two different attitudes: love of truth vs. love of self. Those who primarily love truth are willing to sacrifice self; those who allow selfishness or fear to dictate their choices are often willing to sacrifice truth.

Which of these was Pontius Pilate? It depends on which Gospel you read. Some accounts portray him as fearful (of the crowds) while others emphasize more His power and aloofness. Perhaps he was sincere in asking the great three-word question and even knew the answer deep in his heart, but was unwilling to submit to the Answer who was standing right in front of him, crowned with thorns. Which of the three categories do you fall into with regard to truth? Are you the truthseeker, the falsifier, or the avoider? Does love, pride, or fear run your life? Which would you like to be? The question reminds me of a cartoon meme I’ve recently seen on the internet and posted a couple times on Facebook. In the picture there are two booths with signs, set up next to each other. One person mans each booth. The sign on the left says “Comfortable Lies” and the sign on the right “Unpleasant Truths.”

There were hundreds of people lined up in front of the booth on the left, while only a few people two were in line for the booth on the right. Would we rather live in a pleasant fantasy filled with pleasure and avoidance, or the challenging reality that includes sacrifice and suffering? Pilate chose one, Jesus chose the other.

Justice demands that we suffer for the sin and injustice we have perpetrated or contributed to in this life. Without justice there can be no mercy, and without both there is no love. If we continue to avoid the truth out of selfishness or fear we cannot love, and one day will come face-to-face with the consequence of this: hell. If we are to be saved from this everlasting consequence of avoiding Truth, we must trust in His divine mercy. This is the message of this Easter season.

Pontius Pilate and the skeptical relativist in all of us should heed the words of Truth Incarnate who wants to save us all from our selfishness and fear: “If you remain in my word you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32). “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn 14:6). “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but forfeits his soul?” (Mt 16:26). That is truth.

Paul Murano

Paul Murano

Paul Murano

Dr. Paul Murano teaches philosophy at Rivier University and North Shore Community College and hosts Beneath the Surface radio show on 980 WCAP. Paul has a doctorate in marital theology, is certified in bioethics by the NCBC, and teaches adult ed. at St. Patrick's in Nashua. He is founder of Heartbeat Pregnancy Help in Burlington, and is a singer-songwriter-musician. E-mail Paul at

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