On Deciphering the Truth…
By Thinking

George Santayana said many famous one-liners. Anything that he wrote or said ought to remembered and applied to our lives. However, here are two examples of his wisdom. “A child educated only at school is an uneducated child.” That should make you think.

The other example is about the importance of learning. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I have used Santayana’s quotes in classes that I teach and in essay that I write over the years.

George Santayana

Presently, I am teaching a survey class of various religions many of which developed more than a couple millennia ago. Last week, some of my students were fascinated with Laozi or Lao Tzu. Laozi, like Santayana, had many one-liners. “When the student is ready the teacher will appear.” He also said, “When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘We did it ourselves.’”

Laozi is leaving China with his work completed.

In class, I mentioned that Laozi’s actual existence has been questioned by many scholars. Some believe that he never existed. They posit that some ancient Chinese philosopher/theologian invented Laozi as a means to convey that person’s mindset, which was the basis of Daoism. Other scholars believe that various legends have morphed together over time and congealed into one person who we call Laozi. Finally, others simply accept that Laozi was a real person.

I don’t have enough background in ancient Chinese history to pick one of those three choices as the correct one. I just told the class that it remains an open question among the pool of Chinese scholars. However, I do know that the mere fact that Laozi’s name appears in ancient texts doesn’t means anything other than his name appeared in some ancient texts. There is no actual contemporary mention of his name or people that knew him, etc.

That seemed to have caused some of my students concerns and questions. The question remains about how we can know what is true or not true? We don’t know, which is a fact. Nevertheless, some, in the class, learned an important lesson. My mantra is to question everything before assuming anything.

Now, my next teaching moment had nothing to do with Laozi but Jesus. Many of my class came from a Christian background. While there is a great deal of writings about Jesus in the New Testament and from the early Christian church, there is no firsthand documentation of an actual Jesus aside from what Christians wrote about him after the fact. It is an exact parallel to Laozi. If the historical Laozi concerned some of my students, you could imagine how the lack of any firsthand evidence about Jesus went over in that group.


There are some non-Christian sources like Flavius Josephus who was a Jewish historian. He wrote about Jesus…in 93 AD, which was at least six decades after the fact. I wanted to make sure that my students saw the parallel with Laozi.

Additionally, many NT scholars believe that the early church modified parts of Flavius Josephus’ writings. In that way, it would prove that Jesus was an actual person. Regardless, whether the early church doctored the writings of Flavius Josephus, it doesn’t make any real difference. There isn’t any firsthand documentation of someone who lived at that time period who mentioned Jesus outside the NT and the early church. As with Laozi, I don’t want to debate the pros or cons the historical founders of either religion. I merely wanted to show my class the problem that scholars have authenticating information about a person.

To muddy the waters further, Christianity is not some monolithic belief. There are three major groups of Christianity: Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism. Those three groups differ about what Jesus said and what he meant. To make matters even worse, they differ within their own group.

The problem of finding a historical whoever is problematic. Even if there was an actual person called Laozi or Jesus, we don’t have much evidence about what they thought as opposed to what their followers thought the founder said or meant.

For example, we know that Confucius existed, but that doesn’t mean that any of his followers bought into his beliefs. We don’t know what Confucius thought. We do know what others thought he knew. Nevertheless, there is a gap of time between Confucius’ life and the groups, which appeared later. The Analects were written ca. 500 BCE by some of his followers. In many cases, portions of the Analects were written a half century after Confucius by followers who never met him.


This is true equally true within Islam. Islam is divided into three major groupings: Sunni, Shia, and Kharijite. The three groups disagree with each other, and they differ within each group even though all three groups affirm that Muhammad founded Islam.


Regardless, all those questions about the leaders of those four religions millennia ago or more remain. How do they determine the truth of their faiths? Let’s pretend that we are living two millennia from today. Suppose that today is October 23, 4020.

We read about some archaeologists who have discovered some writings about some person by the name of Donald J. Trump who was alleged to have lived in 2020. There is enough documentation to prove that this guy existed. However, there are two groups of people who have mentioned his name.

The first group is called, I think, the Trumpers, which is an odd name for that group of supporters. They seemed to adore him. They also agree with him on a litany of items. They see global warming is a Chinese hoax. I know; why would the Chinese create a hoax?

Another belief is that COVID-19 isn’t a big deal. Many of the archaeological findings mention the Donald J. Trump must have been in a hospital for several days due to COVID-19. Nevertheless, he survived it due to him being almost divine. They also believe that had Trump not done a great job of addressing the pandemic, the death toll could have been over twice what it was at that time.

Beyond the numbers, they buy into the concept of herd immunity of COVID-19. If 60-70% of the population get the coronavirus, those that didn’t die would have immunity, which means that they weren’t spreaders. For some reason, the Trumpers were dissing both global warming and COVID-19, because those in science and/or medicine are lying and foolish.

Supposedly, Donald J. Trump said that COVID-19 will go away like some miracle. It sounds like the story in the NT about the healing of the leper. It just went away.

This group called the Trumpers are also into males telling females how women should deal with their reproductive rights. Additionally, most of the disciples of Donald J. Trump are males, which seems that males are the boss in that society.

Also, these male Trumpers are into white males being in charge of society. They believe that whites are better than all the other races. They reject the notion that all humans came out of Africa and call that belief another hoax.

As for the economy, the Trumpers maintain that their leader has created the best economy ever in the country. Actually, their leader is a type of messianic savior for everything in America. They seem to wish that blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, Asians, etc. would go home to where they belong, which isn’t America.

As for a deity, it seems as though Trump is the founder of the religion and the deity is Dow Jones. What Dow Jones does in the world proves Donald J. Trump is correct. When Dow Jones gets mad at the sinners, those that aren’t Trumpers, that deity somehow reduces numbers. When everyone adores the leaded, Dow Jones rewards America with numbers.

There seemed to have been another group called Never Trump. That is all that has been discovered in archaeological digs. We can assume that they weren’t enamored Donald J. Trump. Aside from the name of the group, they did find this one photo. Apparently, you will have to decide what the truth is about him from this photo.

Trump is pondering.