In the Old Testament, King Solomon settles a debate between two women who both claim to be a child’s mother by proposing to cut the child in half. In his latest book, “If Truth Were a Child” (Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 253 pages), BYU professor of humanities George Handley uses the story as a metaphor for the way people treat truth.
“The fact that the real mother was willing to give up the child in order to keep it whole tells us a great deal about the importance of our love of truth,” said Handley in an email interview.
In the book’s compilation of essays, Handley sets out to recognize truth wherever it is found and incorporate it into his life. As a believing member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he approaches his topic in a way that creates both feelings of familiarity and unease in fellow members.
“I wanted to make as much room for faith as possible, since I am a firm believer in the restored gospel, while also recognizing the dangers and pitfalls of becoming overly protective and dogmatic in our interpretations of the truth,” he said.
For example, Handley muses about both the strengths and shortcomings of the King James translation of the Bible.
“I love the King James Version. It will always be my favorite and go-to translation,” said the self-professed bibliophile. “But I see no reason to believe that other translations can’t help us. In fact, our doctrine about the status of the Bible described in the Articles of Faith specifically points to the possibility that translation may be erroneous.
“The point is to allow maximum room for the Spirit to instruct me,” he said. “Sometimes when I have read the same passage many times in the KJV, I am struck by how original and new a passage feels when I read it in another translation. That keeps my feeling and love for the Bible alive.
“It also keeps me from falling into habitual reading and clichéd understandings, which are two great enemies to personal revelation and growth,” he added.
Handley personably roams from topic to topic, giving readers a glimpse into his intimate thoughts as he wrestles with the application of basic doctrines and the incorporation of newly recognized truths.
He also ventures into realms where it can be especially uncomfortable to identify certain truths.
“Just watch cable TV or read some Facebook posts!” he said, referencing how common it is for people to angrily divide themselves by political beliefs. “It is an age where we are seemingly presented, time and again, with mutually exclusive choices.
“This is so unfortunate. I don’t mean suggest that there isn’t a line that separates wrong from right or good from bad,” he said, “but when we think every issue has one clear and true perspective and everything else is wrong, we lose any interest in other points of view (and) we cease to learn.”
Handley carefully walks the line of recognizing there are times when certain issues clearly have a single right or wrong answer, while also looking for truth in uncomfortable places.
“I can learn truth from my trusted leaders and friends, but I can learn it from those not of my faith, not of my political persuasion,” Handley said. “I can even learn it from my enemies.
“But this requires charity, forbearing, listening and civility,” he said.
No matter the topic, Handley’s book reads like someone thinking aloud about the best way to live their faith and incorporate truth no matter where it is found.
“If Truth Were a Child” is part of the Maxwell Institute’s “Living Faith” series.