Friends and colleagues, it has been quite the summer. Someday the historians may label it, “the Summer of Deceit.” Just when we thought the game of he said she said couldn’t sink any lower into the muck that passes for a presidential election, Ryan Lochte and a several of the men’s swim team USA invent a story to cover up a night of drunken vandalism. The Summer of Deceit.

The Brian Williams Phenomenon

Last summer, former NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams learned a little something about the importance of speaking the truth. After a thorough investigation that uncovered he embellished several stories about his coverage of the Iraq War, Williams lost what was once one of the most respected and trusted posts in America. In retrospect, he believes he embellished the truth because it would afford him increased popularity and success, a purely ego-driven venture.

He said in an interview, “Looking back, it had to have been ego that made me think I had to be sharper, funnier, quicker than anybody else, put myself closer to the action, having been at the action at the beginning.”[1]

In hindsight, Williams said the entire experience allowed him to grow as a person, to value transparency and truth.

“I am sorry for what happened. I am different as a result, and I expect to be held to a different standard,” he said.

Williams’ story is just one of many we have recently encountered in our current media and political climate. Every week it appears another well-known person’s deceit is uncovered, only to reveal that they came to value success, fame, and ego over integrity, trust, and respect.

Speaking Truth-Seeking Truth

George Orwell is commonly attributed as having said this: “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”[2]

Students, and to our new faculty and staff, you have chosen to be part of a University where truth-seeking and truth-speaking are sine qua non; that is, the very essence of our existence. On this day, as we launch a new academic year at Valparaiso University, I challenge you to remember Orwell’s claim that the act of truth-seeking is counter-cultural, perhaps even revolutionary. And in these watershed times, when deceit dominates our airwaves, when politicians seek to divide us as a people, and when the way forward is uncertain, Valpo’s importance as a place dedicated to the common pursuit of Truth has never been clearer.

What is Truth?

The Apostle Paul, concluding his letter to the early church in Philippi, offers them and us this wisdom:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)

So let’s think about this concept we call Truth, shall we?

Pastor Jim read us that passage from 1 Corinthians, where Paul muses on the nature of Truth. He writes,

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13: 12)

The search for Truth, as Paul describes it, is like looking in a cloudy mirror—perhaps we can see its contours, but Truth remains indistinct and elusive. Yet, Paul promises that one day, that day when our earthly lives have passed, the Truth will be fully known. Until that day, our lives are spent in the pursuit of an elusive Truth, a Truth that is continually revealed, but never complete.

How can that be? Are we not the most technologically sophisticated society in human history? How can Truth be so elusive when we have Google at our fingertips?

For centuries and millennia, religious leaders, philosophers, and theologians alike have grappled with this question of Truth — a question that remains at the heart of philosophical inquiry and liberal arts education to this day.

As we consider the evolution of human understanding of what is true, we see that, for all of our technology and unfettered access to the accumulated information of recorded time, the search for Truth becomes more difficult and elusive with each successive generation. Let’s take a few minutes to examine that evolution.

The Pre-Modern World: Religious Truth

In the ancient, pre-modern world, human understanding of the concept and nature of truth came directly from belief in and revelation from the divine. Across cultures and religions, human beings conceived truth from scripture and the interpretation of scripture by theologians and religious leaders—how the world began, the nature of God, our human nature, and our social and sacred responsibilities.[3]

For the majority of the ancient world religions, these truths were encompassed under two broad commandments: the belief and obedience in a Supreme or supreme beings and the moral responsibilities to care for one’s neighbor. Many Christians are familiar with Jesus’ words when he says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself… On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22: 37-40)

Other major religions share a similar belief, also known collectively as the Golden Rule. Muslims, for example, live by the words of the Prophet Muhammad when he says, “None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.”[4]

Modernism to Post-Modernism: Scientific Truth to Debilitating Doubt

This paradigm of truth-seeking dominated societies for thousands of years. But in the mid 17th and early 18th centuries, labeled by historians as the dawn of the enlightenment or the beginning of the modern era, truth-seeking began to transition from scripture to science, from faith to reason as a principle method of truth-seeking.

Galileo, one of the great pioneers of this scientific revolution, described truth-seeking this way: “All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered: the point is to discover them.” [5]

During the modern era, people did just that — we discovered. We discovered truths about our physical world: the laws of motion and gravity, that the earth revolves around the sun. Many people came to believe that all truth was observable, tangible and quantifiable.

In addition, the search for Truth became increasingly driven by skepticism and doubt.

Rene Descartes, one of the founders of modern Western philosophy, said, “if you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.”

The human march through modernity into post-modernity and to the present time has seen not only the privileging of science and technology as legitimate arbiters for claims about what is True, but also a counter-cultural, even rebellious quest for answers to those existential questions that appear beyond the capabilities of science. Many harbor doubts about those religious truths that once answered life’s most perplexing questions. And in response, some instead cling to ideological truths as the basis for sense-making in an otherwise chaotic world. Some reject certain scientific claims that appear in conflict with deeply held religious or ideological beliefs. And increasingly, as Cartesian skepticism has metastasized in these waning days of post-modernity, when confronted with the question of “what is true?” the answer becomes, “it depends on what I think is true.”

This world roils with injustice–apartheid and genocide, acts of terror and retribution. We face poverty and hunger, sickness and natural disaster, and ever-widening economic disparity. Humanity faces serious questions. Questions about justice amidst violence and oppression, questions about overcoming racial, religious, and political differences, and ultimately, questions about why a good and benevolent God allows evil and suffering in our community, across our nation, and around the globe.

Universal Truths in a Chaotic World

Are there indeed universal truths that transcend science and technology and ideology as post-post-modern distrust throttles leaders, institutions, nations, perhaps even the very notion of hope in our world? Can we derive truth claims from the arc of human experience and wisdom that ought to govern both individual and communal ethical and moral decision making and behavior? What about those universal truths that the world’s religions describe as the Golden Rule: love, respect, and care for all humankind. What of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, emerging from the atrocities of WWII, that states, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in spirit of brotherhood.”[6] What of the Judeo-Christian commandments: don’t kill, steal, torture, or lie?

Students, colleagues, friends, this place, Valparaiso University, stands as a beacon of light, a bastion of hope in a world wracked with doubt and despair. This University remains a bulwark in defense of the belief that Truth is continually revealed to us by our Creator and that we ought to dedicate our lives to its pursuit.

In Luke 8, Jesus says, “No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light.”

At Valparaiso University, we live by these words of hope and promise. As a University at the nexus of faith and learning, we are constantly reminded that God is at the heart of our truth-seeking journey. Our motto In Luce Tua Videmus Lucem– “In Thy Light we See Light”–serves as a reminder that the sole purpose of our discovery and exploration of truth is to reveal God’s light in all things.

Valpo accepts that science and religion, faith and reason can and do and ought to exist in virtuous relationship among the many ways human beings seek to know and understand creation. Valpo testifies to the belief that truth-seeking requires bringing noble people of many backgrounds and beliefs together so that we may engage in dialogue across our differences. And Valpo acknowledges that, despite our relentless quest for Truth, “we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now [we] know only in part; then [we] will know fully, even as [we] have been fully known.” This is most certainly true.

The Pursuit of Truth at Valpo

During your time here, you will pursue truth alongside theological, humanistic, artistic, and philosophical scholars in your Core, Christ College, and general education courses. You will live and study in a rich and diverse faith community where you will not only have the opportunity to deepen your own faith, but can learn about the faith of your classmates from other traditions as well.

Enriched and enhanced by your liberal arts education, you will also explore and test empirical truths in your science, mathematics, engineering, business, and health professions courses, as you discover truths about our universe, our bodies, and our industries, infrastructures, and markets.

Experiencing Truth through Leadership and Service

You will also pursue truth outside the classroom through a variety of experiences that will help shape you as global servant-leaders. Some of you will participate in Study Abroad, where you will learn about a culture outside your own. Others will pursue truth when working alongside the poor and marginalized right here in Northwest Indiana or during one of our sponsored fellowships or spring break service trips across the United States or overseas.

Still others of you will gain insight and wisdom as you lead campus-wide organizations and initiatives that impact both your classmates and our local community.

Dialogue Across Difference

Valparaiso University is a place that intentionally brings people together — people from all walks of life, from a variety of races, ethnicities, nationalities and religious creeds, from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds and ideological beliefs. Together we will pursue Truth, even as we come to discover, understand, and appreciate our differences.

At Valpo, we engage with one another with respect, with dignity, and with love, knowing that each of us is part of creation, that each of us is flawed in some way, and that our shared journey is one of reconciliation and redemption. Together we search for truth, strive for justice, and cultivate character and virtue. And we know that our classmates, teammates, and colleagues’ perspectives only serve to refine and enrich our own understanding and wisdom.

Against the backdrop of this year’s presidential contest and national unrest, this community is called to model for itself and for the world how we can engage in respectful and loving dialogue across our differences, even when those differences may be irreconcilable. To that end, Valparaiso University will mark the 2016-17 academic year as a special year of dialogue. I ask that students, faculty, staff, and alumni of the University consider how we might best model for ourselves and for the world how to engage effectively in dialogue with one another in the common pursuit of Truth. I look forward to working with all of you, and especially our newest students, in making our this year of dialogue an important and memorable moment in Valparaiso University’s history.

At Valpo We Stand for What is Honorable

Students, the dedicated and accomplished faculty and staff at Valpo aim to prepare and support you, not only to become successful in your chosen fields of study, but to become values-driven and truth-seeking leaders long after you leave this place. We will hold you to a higher standard, uplifting and cultivating noble qualities like integrity, generosity, and wisdom.

And we will challenge you, not only to pursue and discover Truth, but also to stand up for what is honorable. At some point in your time here, each of you will encounter a choice — a choice to stand for what is honorable or to stand by and watch. And when you face this choice, it is our hope that you choose what is honorable, whether you stand up for a friend who falls victim to hateful speech, you stand up for a classmate who is bullied for the way he dresses, or you stand up for a teammate for the way she prays.

If, as Orwell suggests, “in a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act,” then, in this world overcome by skepticism and doubt, standing up for what is honorable and good is an act of courage.

Shield/Honor Code

In a few minutes, you will pin yourself with the Shield of Character, a symbol of the University’s dedication to preparing women and men of character and wisdom who will lead and serve in church and society. Shortly after, you will sign the Honor Code, a more than seven-decade tradition that embodies the University’s emphasis on academic honesty and integrity.

As you participate in these Valpo rituals, know that you are joining a community of nearly 60,000 Valpo alumni of uncommon character who continue to seek truth and justice and cultivate wisdom in their own lives and vocations.

The Valpo Challenge To Seek Truth and Cultivate Character

As you leave this Chapel today, I challenge each of you to consider these next years of your life not only as an opportunity to earn an academic degree from a world-renowned institution, but also to both seek and stand for truth as you explore your passions, discover your vocation, come to know your classmates and teammates, and prepare to transform the world.

To our new students, faculty, and staff, may you embark on this journey knowing that you are now forever a part of the Valpo community — a diverse and intentional community of leaders, scholars, mentors, coaches, teachers, and colleagues who are on a similar journey — the pursuit of truth, the cultivation of virtue and integrity, the love and respect for others who differ from us and disagree with us — a journey that continues to define Valpo and will do so for generations to come.

May God continue to bless each of you and Valparaiso University. Welcome to Valpo!

-Mark A. Heckler, Ph.D.

August 23, 2016

[1] http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/06/19/brian-williams-nbc-today-anchor-apologizes/28971565/

[2] http://johnpilger.com/articles/the-revolutionary-act-of-telling-the-truth

[3] http://www.postmodernpsychology.com/philosophical_systems/overview.htm

[4] http://en.islamtoday.net/artshow-427-3219.htm

[5] https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Galileo_Galilei

[6] http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/

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