The burning sun, white snow—where does the truth begin?

Truth is often homeless, a proverb says. And indeed, truth is certainly a fleeting visitor. And yet it is nothing less than a human right. However, which truth is meant?

Truth has many faces, as many as there are human beings. Not only does every human being have a right to the truth, but everyone perceives it differently. What one person sees as the truth is, for others, a subjective description of a situation which they experience completely differently. In other words, truth is always subjective. There is no such thing as objective truth. To define truth as the opposite of falsehood is also only part of the truth. Apart from the provable results of scientific truths, personal truth is more or less in a state of flux. It is relative.

The truth and nothing but the truth

There are plenty of examples. Anyone who says that the sun is burning from the sky on a hot summer day has told the truth, at least from a relative point of view. But where does “hot” begin? Anyone who insists that snow is white has never seen the black snow in regions where coal is mined.

Pontius Pilate, the supreme judge of the Romans in ancient Jerusalem, asked the well-known question: “What is truth?” Pilate looked the accused Jesus, who stood before him, straight into the face and said, “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered, ‘You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.’ Pilate said to Him, ‘What is truth?’ And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, ‘I find no fault in Him at all’” (John 18: 37–38).

Truth per se

So what is truth? Pilate at least wanted to let Jesus go, but the people demanded something else. We can read: “‘But you have a custom that I should release someone to you at the Passover. Do you therefore want me to release to you the King of the Jews?’ Then they all cried again, saying, ‘Not this Man, but Barabbas!’ Now Barabbas was a robber” (verses 39 and 40). It was a settled thing, it seems. To this day, such things have not been eliminated. They happen all the time: truth proclaimers, freedom fighters, and humanitarians are never in season. They are made to suffer because not everyone likes their truth. They are killed in order to nip a problem in the bud.

The right to the truth

Each year on 24 March 2019 the world observes the International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims. Granted, it is a bit of a cumbersome title, but the underlying cause is good. This annual day pays tribute to the memory of Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez, who was assassinated in San Salvador (El Salvador) on 24 March 1980. But the day also commemorates others. Tribute is to paid to the victims of human rights violations, to people who devoted their lives to fighting and protecting human rights for vulnerable populations, and people who exposed themselves to great danger in their struggle for the right to truth and justice. Thank God, such people exist: people who seek the truth and then stand up to the traders of lies. And even if it is only a partial truth that they express, namely their personal view of things, it is good to hear their truth. It is not the truth itself that makes people bad, but the distortion and concealment of it.

Photo: Africa Studio -

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Peter Johanning