At long last the referendum is here and we shall have our say on whether the UK should remain a member of the European Union, or leave it. Last Sunday the Archbishop of Canterbury shared his views in a newspaper article, wisely refraining from telling us how to vote, and focussing on ethos and attitudes rather than ‘facts’. It made me reflect on the nature of truth, which has a wider application beyond this week’s referendum.
‘We want facts’ has been a common cry throughout the campaign. Yet it shouldn’t surprise us that hard, undisputed facts are hard to come by – if it were all obvious surely there would be no disagreement? Many of the topics in the referendum debate are complex. For instance, it is difficult enough to measure current economic growth, let alone predict it in years to come. Our answers to questions often depend on our definitions, starting assumptions, accuracy of data, the computer model used and of course our own human interpretation of the result – for every ‘fact’ produced the other side has another ‘fact’ seen from a different angle.
Should we then throw our arms up in the air and say ‘No-one knows, there is no truth’? Certainly not. Facts are out there, even when hard to pin down. As an example, there will be an actual number of people who entered this country last year. That number exists, working it out is the tricky bit. Some estimates will be closer than others, the challenge is to decide which is better. The BBC website has a useful ‘Reality Check’ section which I’ve found very helpful.
Faced by different views, it can be tempting to say ‘It doesn’t matter’. People who feel like this may point out that the money spent on the EU is dwarfed by the benefits bill, pensions and the NHS. Yet if the economy were to shrink or grow after Brexit then tax receipts and the money available for public services would be affected one way or the other. Difficulty in choosing between two alternatives does not mean that the choice is unimportant or each alternative equally valid.
Finally, what is truth? We have all know people who have rejoiced in being right, and yet are curiously friendless! However passionate our arguments, we must advance them with humility, generosity and love. Those who have campaigned vigorously on each side will need to flourish side by the future. It is at least as important to pray for the aftermath as for the vote itself.