The question

« What is truth? » Despite appearances this is an answer, not to a question, admittedly, but to one of the last sentences that Jesus Christ pronounced: « You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice”

And the one who formulated this famous answer-question was Pontius Pilate. In my opinion, this governor of Judea during the first century, who had the great honor and the heavy task of being the official presiding over the trial of the most famous man in the world – and at least in all Judea then, was an intelligent man. His role as governor and his membership in the equestrian order, that is to say the order of the Roman knights, already suggest that this Roman citizen was an educated man, even an erudite one, and mostly intellectually capable of managing the affairs incumbent upon him in all the territory of Judea. But the intelligence I suppose in him is more subtle than that. In fact, unlike the impression of an empathetic and even kind character that can be left by the reading of the Gospels, Pilate was a provocative, tough, and even cruel man. And it is these personality traits that lead me to see in him this form of intelligence that is often found in a specific category of people: tyrants and torturers.

But even more, what makes me think he was smart is this answer-question. The answer first shows on one hand that he was quick-witted: Jesus’ assertion would have destabilized more than one, and on the other hand an advanced analytical mind: because the key element to understand Jesus’ sentence is indeed this « truth » that the latter mentions twice. Then the question, because I am convinced that as the Gospels convey it well, despite his rigid and intransigent management as one of the harshest governors that Judea has known, Pilate wavered. He did not only find himself facing Jesus but also facing his own existential questions, which every human being asks himself when he lets go and give free rein to this subtle intelligence that I believe we all possess – for better or for worse.

Indeed, I think his intelligence led him to ask this question so deep and yet so simple. Probably weary of his role and the reality in the field: recurrent opposition demonstrations by the Jewish people, followed by the violent and systematic repression of the Roman authority; most likely intrigued by the ancestral spirituality of men and women whom he doesn’t really mix with but from whom he observes daily, by necessity, both fervor and resignation. Pilate must certainly have been thirsty for more, he must have had the curiosity to discover something other than the cold and brutal reality which he lived in, even if this very reality was to his advantage.

However, the question that does interest me as I write this article, is not Pilate’s one, or not completely. His question which remains and will always remain universally relevant, I also asked it myself. And I deeply believe that I have found a response through the Bible and my Christian faith.

But today, I must ask myself a slightly different question. As if by a transposition mechanism, Pilate’s question is transformed, projected into a new frame of reference: a transposition from the time of the Roman Empire and Stoicism to the era of globalization and digital technology in which I live, transposition from Pilate’s role of Roman governor to my status as a mere citizen of a Western country, European in particular. In my context and with a specific focus on the period from 2020 until today, the question that resonates with me is rather: « What is reality? »

One might think that this is the last subject of the philosophy exam for high school diploma, but this is sincerely the question I have been asking myself for some time now.

It must be said that like Pilate, sometimes weary and often intrigued by our society and its values – or lack of values, by the tragic but cyclical events occurring in our world, I ask myself existential questions; questions about myself, about the people around me, or even about « fundamental » notions, such as reality. If I put quotation marks to fundamental, it is because in my opinion the recent technological advances, and the social issues that accompany them, have slightly cracked or at least shaken the rock that represents the concept of reality as a pre-reflective and irreducible experience or indisputable self-awareness, which some philosophers like René Descartes have defended.

« These new technologies offer an infinite number of possibilities, both likely to help us live better and worse »

Virtual reality, augmented reality, and lately metaverse, are words that today perhaps only make us think of fascinating video games, funny glasses having us looking like members of Daft Punk, or a new land of milk and honey for the giants of the web 2.0 industry. But in fact, it is about much more than that. These are the beginnings of what tomorrow will be an integral part of our everyday lives: work, leisure, shopping, … These new technologies offer an infinite number of possibilities, both likely to help us live better and worse, by analogy with the Internet and social networks today. And another analogy with the latter that can be deduced quite easily is the questioning of legal, social, economic, and political principles, among others. Because, if recently we have found ourselves dazed and helpless in front of leaks about manipulation during presidential elections from large data analysis companies via social networks, how will we react, for example, to electoral campaigns of candidates who will emotionally influence voters through virtual insecurity and racial violence completely made up in the metaverse? Or, if it is already so difficult for some parents to help the no-life their children have become, completely cut off from the world of the living and addicted to the virtual, what will happen to the parents who will undergo the first waves of « virtual re-births » – a kind of definitive and wanted artificial coma where the mind would leave the carnal world to remain only connected to the metaverse? And finally, if it is still so difficult to legislate regarding incitation to violence and harassment on social networks leading to crimes or suicides, what kind of legal puzzles will have to dissect our courts while dealing with murders committed in the real world but in reprisal for rapes committed in the metaverse? You may find I am pushing a little too far and that my fertile imagination is taking me into extreme sci-fi scenarios. On the contrary, I think I do not go far enough, and for two reasons. Firstly, writer Mark Twain could be quoted here, he said that « reality surpasses fiction, because fiction must contain plausibility, but not reality « . In other words, whatever we can imagine, reality free from the shackles that unconsciously restrains our minds is always able to surprise us, to make the wildest dreams or nightmares come true, and even, to go beyond them. Secondly, it is some famous authors of a genre that I like very much who can justify my attempt to glimpse a disturbing but probable future: George Orwell, René Barjavel and Aldous Huxley, among others, have written dystopian novels (also called anti-utopian) filled with fantasies that are sometimes naïve, but they are nonetheless considered today as prophets whose art has been able to warn us precisely against serious abuses of our society – unfortunately without us succeeding in avoiding all of them.

By the way, I do not even have to look so far to conceive that the notion of reality, as certain and tangible as it seems to us, is already questioned in our everyday lives. Actually, I ask the question wondering « what will happen to reality, to the proof by experience that what we are experiencing is real”. But already today, how do things stand for this reality of this world surrounding us and that we are supposed to capture through our screens more than ever multiplied? Indeed, at the dawn of this real-world technological revolution, another revolution that has lasted for several decades now – I think at least since 9/11 – is about to climax: the information revolution. And yet with the hindsight of the last two decades, I do not even know if we can really speak of a revolution and not simply of an evolution, Darwinian, mechanical, inevitable, brutal mutation of information in every sense. From the creation of the Axis of Evil in 2003, to the imbroglio on the anti-covid vaccines in 2021, by way of the subprime crisis in 2008 and the revelations of Edward Snowden in 2013, we can see that now the action on information of only a handful of people, or even a single person sometimes, in a relatively limited and local way, is enough to profoundly transform the reality of hundreds of millions of others worldwide with a speed, intensity and dispersion that had never been observed before. Whether in the form of a vial of anthrax confirming the imminent threat, of a vaccine passport mandatory to access all or nearly all of what makes up social life, of a triple-A rating given to North American financial products despite their toxicity, or of a highly sensitive documents disclosure from US intelligence agencies, the flapping butterfly wings triggering tornados are there and more and more effective. With a certain polarization on the United States, globalization, ubiquity of media and the immediacy of Internet and social networks have made inevitable the evolution of the information system towards an information ecosystem, where information and their vectors are comparable to a community of interrelated beings acting in an environment governed by the might-makes-right principle: the mediatic, political and of course financial might.

I will at least speak for myself. When I look behind, when I think back to my reaction in front of this TV screen, alone, one afternoon I had returned earlier from middle school, when I remind myself that at first I thought it was a movie and not a TV news special looping scenes of panic, of blended dust and smoke, of crashing steel and glass, of planes and human bodies with uncommon and fatally horizontal or vertical trajectories; it is as if since that strange and yet so real day, I had finally entered a movie, a Hollywood blockbuster, with villains and heroes of course, a movie with an ending that we unfortunately suspect, yet a movie which as in The Matrix can sometimes abruptly change scenery or villains – however never heroes, at the occasion of a reprogramming by the cynic « architects », always thirsty for more power, or at the rare occasion of a flaw created by some rebels disenchanted to this reality that is forced into their minds and fighting in the name of truth.

Yes, when I look behind, I can only resolve to think that reality no longer exists or almost. What remains of it should be destroyed in the coming decades, if not years. I could tell myself that at least I have my feelings, my emotions, but even that I can no longer rely on it: more than my intellect what the new masters of the world, the lords of information, are chasing after today is my affect. The intellect does not sell, it makes you think, that is all, and even if you were taught to go in a given direction, it is far too dangerous and uncontrollable: from a thought comes an idea, from an idea an intention, from an intention an action. « What?! An action?! No, certainly not! It is necessary to influence but without setting in motion, to direct while paralyzing, to move without moving. Manipulating affect is perfect: it draws floods of tears, it makes laughter burst, it outrages, it soothes; yet all that, without moving anybody from his sofa, and especially, above all, without interrupting the streams of cash flowing directly or indirectly from our juicy washed brain. As I realize like the French 80s rock band Telephone, that « my reality has bedridden me » (« ma réalité m’a alité »), I try to wake up little by little, to get up, to throw myself with all my strength, guided by this one and only thing, like a bright star in a dark sky, the truth: the one I found in Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the only one to have ever said « I am the way, the truth and the life ».

The construction

My pastor is often saying that he is like an unfinished house. Out of context, it may sound a little weird, but it deserves to be looked at with more depth. To better understand, it is necessary to visualize the image he uses and clarify a few things. This is certainly a quite seldom phenomenon in some Western countries, but in my country of origin, Côte d’Ivoire, constructions are likely to stop and remain interrupted for years and even in the middle of the city. It is already very particular in itself but what is even more surprising is that in most cases the work resumes after a relatively long time and as if nothing ever happened, once the necessary funds have been raised, the initial project redesigned, or even once the ownership of the land has been « returned » to its true owner.

Once these few prerequisites are established, I think it is already a little easier to grasp this idea of an unfinished house. Indeed, the concept showcased by my spiritual father with this image, and with which I agree myself, is the fact that whatever appearances, no matter how long it takes, what we are called to, God’s plan for each of us will come to pass. Automatically, a whole bunch of questions, even criticisms, rise together like the shields of a Roman legion in front of the barbaric invasion that this concept represents for some people.

« Fate? But what is fate and if there is any, what about our free will?”, or, « If there is a god, and he lets so many tragedies happen on Earth, why hoping in his plan without even knowing if it is good or bad for me? », and even, “That is where all the problems of our society lie! Preference for passivity and alienation of our very real life to an imaginary god, instead of perseverance and rational thought to make things happen”. Maybe none of these sentences crossed your mind but believe me this is the case for many others: I have heard them often enough to confirm this to you.

The first thing I can say while facing such questioning is that once we put aside the idea of an almighty God who loves us above all, it is impossible to understand what I am talking about. It is like two people striking up a conversation in different languages, without one being able to speak the other’s own. In the present case, this language is the language of love, the one that is spoken throughout the Bible, in its darkest passages as its most enlightened, in its most boring chapters as its most thrilling ones. I can always be told that it is easy and usual for Christians to sweep away the question of the existence of our God by this kind of condition. For my part I just consider that this is another issue to which I am not the most qualified to answer and for which I consider having the chance that faith allows me to answer it, perhaps not rationally yet to answer it anyway. In the present days some have chosen to do it rationally, or at least to try, just as many others have done it before. Blaise Pascal, in the 17th century, proposed with his Wager an interesting reflection, based on a probabilistic approach, even related to the gambling register, which allows anyone to get an idea of what one loses and what one gains to believe or not to believe. Indeed, quite plainly, and perhaps even a bit too much, Pascal tried to show that we all have an interest in believing in God, whether God exists or not. For him, if God does not exist, the believer and the non-believer draw. However, if God exists, the believer is victorious because he accesses paradise for eternity, while the non-believer as for him loses because he is excluded from it, also for eternity. Simple but effective, and very questionable. But let’s go back to the main topic, because my idea was precisely not to get involved in that issue, but only to specify that others have done it, in case you are interested.

Indeed, as for me, I rather accepted to give in, without any rational proof or scientific guaranty and despite my rather formal professional background and personality, to this God who according to his word has always loved me and that even before I came into this world. People often speak about a leap of faith; I would rather call it a love story. Even though it is comparable in some aspects, I don’t think of it much as a romance but rather as a filial love, this for different reasons that we can mainly find in the Bible. Indeed, there we can read a definition of faith that is both precise and disconcerting: « Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see ». For a long time, those few words disturbed me, blocked me, even lost me, yet it is something altogether quite simple, and it is still in the same book, a few pages before, that Jesus gives one of the most important clues that allows to unravel the mystery of this sentence. « Let the little children come unto me, and do not prevent them from doing so; for the kingdom of God is for those who are like them. I tell you in truth, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a small child will not enter it, » he firmly said to his disciples. It is when we finally accept, to return to this infant state of trust, dependence and even vulnerability that we can embrace all the meaning of this definition and at the same time begin the wonderful journey that God proposes us to do with him. The one through which he actually makes us stronger, less dependent on the things of this world, and ever more assured of his benevolent presence.

It is no longer a question of the absolute importance of our choices, our desires, our will, but of something greater – and much more beautiful.

Nevertheless, a journey is maybe not the right name because journey means a point of origin and a destination, while here both the point of origin and the destination are the same: God. It is more about a project in fact, the project of a lifetime, even a construction project. A construction where the work, the building, is each of us. The client, the original contracting authority and the one who will receive the finished project, is God. The general contractor, who carries out this project, is still God. Far from being at the center of this endeavor, we are only its material, which may seem somewhat simplistic and frustrating at first. It is no longer a question of the absolute importance of our choices, our desires, our will, but of something greater – and much more beautiful. Yes, when we understand that it is indeed God who is at the center, both for his greatest glory but also for our greatest happiness, we enter into all the power and beauty of this simple idea proposed by my pastor, that of a house under construction that will inevitably be completed to become a perfect, unique and priceless home; even if in the present moment it is far from resembling it, even if the obstacles and circumstances sometimes play all together against its realization. Once again, the key to this project, its starting point, is this love story, between a child, the one who can be found in each of us, and a Father, who has been waiting so long for us to let him build us up, to let him be with us, to let him love us.

The child

Adult? What defines adulthood?

Aren’t we just children marked over the years by joys and sorrows, trials, defeats, and victories molded by the world in which we live and learn to live?

I don’t know about you, but as for me, I’m a child. More precisely, I know that deep inside the man I am, there is and there always will be a child whose dreams, fears and hopes have not changed.

But being a man, in my view, it is to choose among those dreams, among those fears and hopes, which one of them will guide my life, and to fight with all the weapons in my possession to, respectively, overcome and realize them.

The child in me is the man I am.

The airplane

Thousands of meters above the ground, propelled at nearly a thousand kilometers per hour, you could think I am in a rocket bound for Mars. Yet I am only two miles away from home.

Here, in this plane, throughout the flight, I feel like I have been left in a neutral environment from where I can get all the perspective I need to take stock of my life.

It’s quite a strange process, it could possibly be called an extro-spection in which, differently from an introspection, it is not about pondering on your own self and about what is happening inside but, in fact, about the outside, and everything going on in this vastness, with you in the middle, floating in the air just for a few hours.

Realizing that from the sky we look so very fragile, and more abstractly, sensing the vanity of your world and of yourself, on the occasion of this interruption, forcing itself in your frantic pace and far from being trivial.

As if, much more than an airplane, this was actually a spatiotemporal capsule, not made for any time travel or even space ones, but rather for a way out of them, this time and this space, just for a moment of reflection or mere contemplation.

The truth and the reality

The difference between truth and reality.
In my study of the Bible and prayers, I am gradually discovering that there is a great difference between reality, that I live and which is undeniable because I live it, and the truth which, on its side, is absolute, whether I live it or not. With my clumsy words it may seem quite complex, but to try to simplify a little, I’ll refer to a good American block buster: Matrix!

I always have a choice between a blue and a red pill. The blue pill, the reality, that I can swallow to accept obediently more or less revolting things, which yet are facts, tangible things that happen in me and around me. And there is the red pill, the truth, which I can swallow to access an infinite number of possibilities, questioning each of these revolting things and  going so far as to gradually allow me to change them the more I embrace this truth.

N.B. : If any link above is under broadcasting prohibition through blogs, this one would be removed immediately on demand.

The erasure

To be indifferent to the suffering of others, well, is it really possible? For me, human beings are too human for that. I mean, even if we would have been brainwashed with a 90°C intensive cycle — with bleach, it couldn’t erase the minimum of consciousness we have enabling us to know when others are suffering. Firstly, because it is the consciousness of the Other that feeds the self-consciousness — without you no me. Also, because we automatically understand the suffering of others, in the best-case scenario for us, as an opposition to our own well-being and, in the worst-case one, as an association of their suffering with the one we go through ourselves. Alright, before I get lynched by real philosophers, I will just stop there and go back to my original point.

I don’t believe in indifference to suffering. While the erasure of suffering…

Brace yourself, I explain!

Crossing the street to avoid passing a homeless begging, zapping the harrowing news of the famine in Yemen to replace it with an entertaining talent show, making a monthly donation to support a charity in Africa, sharing on social networks to spread the drama of a drowned migrant child… At first glance these are actions that have nothing to do with each other, yet they have one essential thing in common: there is actually only one person at the center of attention in each of them, me.

Whether with our whole body, our senses, our intellect or just our emotions, we have the tendency and surprising ability to erase the suffering of others. When I turn myself away from the one who reaches out, when I hide from my eyes the images and voices of whole countries in distress, when I mathematically clear myself of the injustice done to the poorest with a little more money, when I shout my indignation on the web in reaction to the most tragic stories, the only person who motivates these actions is me, not others.

My aim is neither to shock nor to criticize in anyway here. It is not about judging the good or evil of these distinct attitudes, but merely about trying to make an objective and unusual observation.

At which point do I linger over the suffering of others? At which point does my discomfort, my mood, my reasoning, or my emotions, simply make way for the Other and his feelings to be at the center of my attention, and as a result, of my motivation? Too often, whether in action or inaction, I turn down this suffering, which, however, needs to be heard, understood, in order to be relieved.

We can probably not all go to a far-off country in order to rescue thousands of people who do not even live above the subsistence level, neither spend nights in the cold streets of our city in order to bring tangible and human warmth to those who lack them most cruelly. Whether it is the solution to the Other’s suffering or not, unfortunately, not all of us can embark on such personal sacrifices. On the other hand, what we can all do, and which seems to be a necessary condition whatever action we choose, is to give ourselves truly to the Other who is suffering, to forget oneself even for a moment in order to put him at the center of our life, so that we can hear, understand and, if possible, share his suffering.

Maybe that’s what loving your neighbor as yourself is all about, maybe that’s Love.

And then, once we have taken this first step, small, certainly, but still one step towards the Other, even with the smallest action we can succeed in alleviating the most devastating sufferings.

I believe that, just with a glance, if it is filled with this Love, one can communicate to another a relief that speaks for itself.

The 3 princes

Once upon a time, in a kingdom at peace but with a more than unpredictable future, a king was feeling his time had arrived and was worried about the succession to the throne.
Indeed, having three sons, seemingly identical triplets but with radically different personalities, he was forced to choose which of the princes would be able to defend the kingdom in front of the adversities looming on the horizon. Such an important choice had to be objective, but the idea of choosing according to his fatherly preferences was tempting. Each of them of course had his own qualities and defects, but, like any parent, the king had in his heart an order of preference.

The first, the prince who loved the hard facts, just like his father. He was gifted with his hands to build all kinds of things. From a piece of wood, he was able to shape a weapon, a tool or even a child’s toy. He was definitely a down-to-earth, sometimes cold, for him the strength of man lied in his hands and, if well used, with it he could overcome anything.
The second, the prince in love with nature, like his late mother. He was a hearty eater, knowing how to make the most delicious dishes from the fruits of the land. He was an optimist of all hours, a little naive, who believed in the power of nature and its indulgence, knowing how to respect and tame it, one could receive from it anything that man needs to live.
The third, the prince passionate about words and of whom the king did not know what to do. He did not get either from his mother or his father, his love of the beautiful poems that he spent days writing, and that he would then read in the streets of the city. He was a dreamer, a little lazy, he contented himself with taking life as it came, as long as he could share his poetry with others.

How to decide? Was he supposed to know, what his kingdom was going to need in the future and which of his sons would be the best to provide it to his people?
He finally found the solution: a trial requiring wisdom, perseverance and devotion to the kingdom. In the attic of the castle were three large abandoned rooms of identical sizes. Each prince would be given a room and a week to completely fill it with something that would be essential for the kingdom in times of crisis.
The first prince began to fill his room with logs. With the help of his many fellows: lumberjacks, cabinetmakers, carpenters, blacksmiths, he set about the massive cutting of wood in the forest and its transport to the castle.
The second prince began to fill his room with bags of wheat. Supported by his farming friends, millers and traders, he embarked on a major campaign of collection of most of the wheat available in the kingdom in exchange of the various products harvested on the royal lands.
And lastly, the third prince, as usual, continued to go for walks by the water, to tell his poems to passers-by, and to daydream for hours. But his room was remaining empty.

The end of the week approaching, and the hours going by, the void of the castle’s gloomy rooms gave way to an impressive pile of wood and wheat. The king saw with pride and excitement his sons scrambling to overcome this titanic trial and to obtain their right to ascend to the throne. But this was not true for the third prince and his room, which was still as empty as in the beginning of the trial. For the king it was sure, he could not count on this son to succeed him. All the week he could observe him spending idle afternoons in the castle’s gardens to observe in detail the fauna and flora, meddling in the street children’s games until the evening, or listening to the numerous endless memories of the oldest servant in the castle. Yet, not a hair had entered his room.

Finally, the « D-Day » had come. Until the last hour of the night, men and women worked hard to help the princes in their heavy task. But the time for the verdict had arrived and the king would have to give his final decision.
He opened the first prince’s room and found himself face to face with a wall of logs. The prince explained, for him, the strength of man was indeed in his hands but, still, he had to be healthy to use them: the winters being harsher and harsher in the kingdom, it would take wood to heat oneself and in large quantities. The king was conquered, but since he had to be objective and meticulous, he pressed one of the logs, and it went deep, completely dislocating the first pile. With disappointment the king announced his failure to his favorite: he had chosen a useful item, of course, but had not been able to fill the room as requested.
The king then passed to the second room, a bag of wheat fell to his feet as soon as the door opened. The second prince justified his choice: remembering that the last harvests had been meager and his feasts far less successful, he found his solution, people with full bellies meant a kingdom that was doing well. The king was proud of his son’s choice and work, but again he wanted to be sure of it before deciding. He was no longer very fit but found enough energy to remove a few bags and make his way to the ceiling of the room. Once he went down, he announced to the surprise of his second son that he had also failed: indeed his room contained an essential element but it was not full, due to the space left empty between the bags and the ceiling over the whole room.

In view of the situation and his attentive observation of the last prince, the king was already about to decide between the two others with a sword duel or a horse race. Still, he entered in the last room, unsurprisingly, empty and dark, just like his expression was. But without saying a word, the third prince entered in the windowless room where you couldn’t even see what he was up to in there. When suddenly a faint glow appeared and grew until it illuminated the whole room. The prince, whose childish smile was now visible, approached his father to put an end to the confusion his face was betraying. He clarified his decision. According to him, whatever difficulties the kingdom would face, it would need light. The light that makes children’s eyes shine, the light that warms the hearts of all, especially when they feel empty and useless, the light that is everywhere around us and in us, the light which, above all, must be shared. As a king, constantly maintaining this light in the realm would be his top priority, from that everything else would follow. The king, amazed and moved by his son’s words, had to admit that obviously the room once bathed in a thick darkness was now filled with the light projected by a simple oil lamp. He finally had a winner and he had found his successor.

And so, became the poet prince king, to everyone’s surprise but for everyone’s happiness – and for many years. With the help of his brothers, he guaranteed his kingdom peace and prosperity, a kingdom now called the Land of Light.

This article was inspired by a story heard on Jean-Louis Gaillard’s radio show « 365 Histoires ». I could not find the original story, so I allowed myself to tell it with my own words. If you want to find other stories like this, you can access the audio versions on this website for free and translated in many different languages, as well as the videos on this YouTube channel (in French only).