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Ethics and Religion Talk: Truth vs. truths

The following short essay comes from the Rev. Sandra Nikkel, head pastor of Conklin Reformed Church:

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at More recent columns can be found on by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

“There are many people today who would advocate for making room for: my truth, your truth, and everyone else's truth. Many of these people would also advocate for making room for God's truth--as an accessory to adorn our lives. This is not only insulting to God, but detrimental for our spiritual health and the well-being of our society.

“The fact is that, acknowledging God's truth is not enough; we must live by it. It must enter our minds, penetrate our hearts, and transform our daily living. Even if we acknowledge God's truth as the only Truth, unless we're living it, we're practicing empty religion. This is what God exposes in Titus 1:16: ‘They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.’

“In the midst of a world that is becoming more and more comfortable with watering down the Truth, distorting it, and mocking it, we, the children of God, must lift it up, be ruled by it, and resist the temptation to weed out what we don't like. And no matter the cost, we must be ready to proclaim it, live by it, and uphold it so that the world may know that God does not adjust to us; we adjust to Him--who lives and walks in Truth and Love!”

Father Kevin Niehoff, O.P., a Dominican priest who serves as Judicial Vicar, Diocese of Grand Rapids, responds:

I agree with Sandra Nikkel’s short essay on the issue of truth in our society. To support not only the verse from Titus, but I would also like to add to the scriptural reference the Catholic Church’s teaching of truth in the words of the Apostles Creed. These are words by which we are called to live,

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended into hell; on the third day rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty; from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.

Fred Stella, the Pracharak (Outreach Minister) for the West Michigan Hindu Temple, responds:

I certainly agree that when I hear people talk about “speaking their truth” more often than not it seems to be delivered in a rather self-serving manner. I much prefer a humbler way of stating our feelings and observations. As far as living God’s Truth, who among us with a theistic worldview can argue? The challenge is discerning that Truth. The number of sects, denominations, movements, and schisms among the religions of the world offer a testimony to our inability to clearly distinguish Truth from otherwise. 

As an example, for over 2,000 years a majority of  Christians accepted “God’s Truth” that one man should represent Christianity above all others in the form of the papacy. All the while, other Christians how disagreed willingly died for a “Truth” that claimed papal authority was purely manmade. 

In the Hindu tradition we do acknowledge that there is one, absolute, undeniable Truth. However, we also recognize that we mortals, with our biases and various cultural backgrounds, may have different  views on what that Truth is. It is our responsibility to investigate matters spiritual and moral through the reading of scriptures, the teachings of a guru and our own ​conscience to make the best decisions possible. But we know that different people will come to different conclusions. While there are instances that are black and white (Should I kill my business competitor or not?), many times the situation requires more of us. The most important thing is that devotees aspire to seek and live out God’s Truth as best they are able. 

My response:

If the Torah is an accurate record of God’s words, a Jewish tradition asks, how is it that there are multiple versions of the ten commandments in Exodus and Deuteronomy? The answer is that God’s voice is comparable to knocking flint and steel together. One bang produces multiple sparks.

To my mind, the idea that there is exactly and precisely one version of truth in the world is preposterous. If Judaism is right, is Christianity necessarily wrong? I propose that all of world’s religious (and secular) traditions are at the same time both true and false, missing a portion of the Truth.

Theological humility demands that we admit that the record of revelation and construction of pathways to God or the life of goodness are at best very good approximations of the truth. They are useful means of developing a relationship with God, of refining the human being, and of creating kind and loving communities.


This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up in the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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