I recently watched The Crucible, a movie about the Salem witch trials. The core issue of the story is, how do you track down the criminal in an untraceable crime? The people of Salem believed that witchcraft could be performed by anyone, anywhere, with no outwardly visible evidence.
Convinced of the reality of witchcraft, and unwilling to accept that nothing could be done about it, the Salemites’ solution to the issue was to allow “spectral evidence” — testimony based on dreams. A person who had dreams of his or her neighbor as a witch could prosecute the neighbor solely on the evidence of the dream.
Of course spectral evidence requires two great leaps of faith: first, that dreams are reliable indicators of witchcraft, and second, that the people who claimed to have these dreams were being honest. The people of Salem recognized these risks, but ultimately had to ignore them. Regardless of whether or not spectral evidence was true, they needed it to be true. Otherwise their society would be defenseless prey to the perceived threat of witchcraft.
What are some similar “truths” we use today? Principles that, while perhaps dubious, we need to have be true in order to keep our society functioning? One example I can think of is the concept of “jail fixes criminals”. In my youth, I was taught that crimes are caused by criminals, and that criminals need to be incarcerated in order to learn to function correctly in society. I think that decades of research have since shown that our prison system is an ineffective approach to rehabilitation. Nevertheless, lacking any other solutions to crime, we need our prison system to be true, just as the people of Salem needed spectral evidence to be true.
In our sidebar on the right side of the screen, you’ll see that James linked to an article showing that most Utahns believe that same-sex attraction can be changed. This is unsurprising — with the church’s views on homosexuality, we need this to be true. Otherwise we’re left trying to answer Pres. Packer’s question, “Some suppose that they were pre-set and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural. Not so. Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?”
So what are some truths you have discovered we hold onto in society or in the church, not so much because they are true, but because we need them to be true?