Monday, November 4, 2013

Exaggeration as Truth

We all have friends that exaggerate the truth. Unless you are that person, then everybody diminishes the truth. They are the ones who tell you why today was the best day or the worst day in all of history. They are the ones who imagine and retell yesterday’s events as if a hidden camera should follow them around to catch every instant on national television. They are the ones we roll our eyes at. They are the ones we sometimes disbelieve. And yet… exaggeration can indeed be true, or rather truth.

You see, Hyperbolic Hannah and Apocalypse Adam understand something about communication that we often forget. The conveying of truth isn’t simply a matter of relaying defensible data. It’s about something more. The conveying of truth strives to give the effect of the truth. So while you and I might be more precise with the history of an event, by exaggerating the details Hannah and Adam are attempting to make you feel what happened. Compare:

I ran a marathon.
I almost died running around the entire city!

Most likely they didn’t almost die. And most likely they didn’t traverse the city limits. But with their statement you get to feel a portion of what they did. Which one is more true? Both. It simply depends on how you look at it. And it might do some good for Christians to remember that truth involves effect and feeling: "If you're going to bore people, don't bore them with the Gospel. Bore them with calculus, bore them with earth science, bore them with world history. But it is a sin to bore people with the Gospel" (Howard Hendricks).

Something is true or genuine if it is accomplishing its intended end. So a reflection in a mirror is a false you but a true image—at least that’s what St. Augustine says. A joke is a false reality but one which highlights what ought to be true reality. An exaggerated story is a false history but a true experience.

Consider for example sections of Scripture that include hyperbole or exaggeration: will the trees actually clap? Maybe… but do people actually have a log stuck in their eye? Probably not. Of course, you could deny that these fit into the category of exaggeration, and you could deny that exaggeration is a form of truth; you can go on criticizing everyone who speaks thus as liars. Just remember to condemn yourself for the last time you said, “I’m starving.”

Exaggeration isn’t boy crying wolf.

Exaggeration is the little old lady swallowing a fly.

Humor as Truth