What Serial Taught Me About Truth

I recently made a nine-hour over-the-river-and-through-the-woods kind of trip driving my brother’s car and his amazingly awesome Australian shepherd, Dodge, from Hartford City, Indiana to Gastonia, North Carolina. He needed to drive a big box truck and wasn’t too fond of the idea of his then seven or eight month pregnant wife driving the car. It was a quick trip, but was mostly driving.

The week prior to the trip I polled a few friends to find a few good podcasts to listen to on this excursion and was directed towards a wildly popular podcast called Serial

Per Serial’s website, “Serial is a podcast from the creators of This American Life, and is hosted by Sarah Koenig. Serial tells one story - a true story - over the course of an entire season. Each season, we’ll follow a plot and characters wherever they take us. And we won’t know what happens at the end until we get there, not long before you get there with us."

In its inaugural season, Serial focused in on a homicide case in which the murder took place in early 1999 with the trial and arrest coming later that year and into the next. A high school girl named Hae Min Lee in Baltimore County, Maryland went missing only for her body to be found a month later. Adnan Sayed, her 17-year-old ex-boyfriend was arrested and convicted for this crime and is now serving a life sentence. The case is built around a single eye-witness account from a friend of Adnan’s, Jay, while Adnan maintains his absolute innocence. Quite obviously one of these two young men are lying, and the podcast explores this mystery. 

The podcast quickly went to number one on the iTunes charts, even before it was released, and gained much critical acclaim as it was the fastest podcast to reach five million downloads. All of the episodes are under an hour, and there are twelve to be devoured. So if you find you want to dive into this intricate story, check out their website, serialpodcast.org.

In a case like this, as with most cases, there is a genuine concern for truth. Hopefully the judge, persecution and defense are all after the same truth, but obviously that is not always the intent.

If I can make a long blog post somewhat shorter, I’ll attempt to make a statement and then back it up with a few ideas; the truth is elusive.

What I don’t mean to say is that truth changes as our perspective changes. What I do mean to say is that there is no other way to perceive truth than to understand that the very perception that allows us to know or experience truth is the same perception that is subject to change.

As I listened to this podcast and began to hear the story and the facts of the case I found myself developing my own perception of the truth of what may have happened to Have Min Lee. It would be ludicrous of me to describe my perceptions of this case as true, and yet, what other way of knowing do I have?

Philosophy seems to have categorized a few different theories around truth so that we can better understand the dilemma and tension we sit in with this truth-knowing and truth-telling. Some would say that a truth is only true when a proposition corresponds to a fact or reality, but it seems as though part of the problem in the first place is landing fact and reality.

Alfred Tarski, a Polish logician, mathematician and philosopher, solved this one by throwing a few “ifs” in there, stating that the proposition is true (snow is white) if and only if the fact or reality is true (snow is in fact white). So now we have ourselves covered right?

Some who ascribe to the Coherence Theory which states that a proposition is true and only true if it coheres with the beliefs of the majority of persons in one’s society.

I’m not really advocating one way or the other for the “correct” way of perceiving truth, but I am highlighting that there are many ways many smart people have come to this conversation surrounding truth. 

I’m not a philosopher, theologian, mathematician or a logician but it is abundantly clear that truth is defined and perceived in a myriad of ways, none of which are quantifiable or even fully realized in the isolation of self. There seems to be some sense of clarity in the fact that truth is better understood in the context of community. And at least in this instance I’m not referring to Christian or religious community. The ability to understand truth and facts and reality exists better when we surround truth and facts and reality with other truths, facts and realities. We begin to get a bigger, clearer, more full picture.

Here’s where things get interesting for me. Enter in Jesus Christ. Both the God-man incarnate and the eternal presence of the son of God who claims to be truth. When it come to this idea of truth, there needs to be a constant. An eternal. A universal something. In this murder trial I need to know that the truth of this story exists and that whether or not I know that true story is irrelevant to it’s own ability to be true.

Jesus fulfills this eternal constant that allows for the angst to sit somewhat comfortably in my soul. This space of knowing that truth exists outside of my ability to always fully grasp it. If truth is a person and not an abstract perception waiting to be had, then there seems to be some beautiful mystery to how I approach truth. Truth no longer is the mountain to conquer, but the beauty to behold.

Austin Smith

Charlotte, NC, USA