On Sunday I was super lucky to attend an event hosted by my former thesis advisor Gina Nahai. It seems that back in July when the book Zealot was released, Gina and her husband, in support of the Los Angeles Review of Books, hosted an event to celebrate its release, but the author, Reza Aslan, was obliged to rush home and help his wife with a sick toddler before he really got a chance to say much about his work.
So this was their do-over event. Gina had already planned to have an alum event on the same day, so she just invited all of us (her former students) to attend. It was awesome.
This guy is one of the most well-spoken, thoughtful, and interesting authors I’ve had the pleasure of hearing speak.
The afternoon began with a discussion of this Fox interview wherein Lauren Green asks why he felt he was qualified to write a book about Jesus (as he is Muslim), and he lobs a response so far over her head intellectually that she is forced to simply continue reading from her teleprompter like and idiot. (It’s a fun 10 minutes if you can spare them).
Anyhow, back to Sunday’s event. Once we got past the Fox thing, someone asked a question that sparked a discussion of truth versus fact. He explained that up until about 200 years ago, it was truth that mattered. People told stories to impart truth, and that, more often than not, fact had little to do with it.
This is why so much of the bible contradicts itself. He made the point that the four gospels of the new testament were chosen from about 20. They were chosen because they were believed to be the most truthful.
Now we look at the bible, with our microscopes and carbon dating, and we look for fact. The way Aslan described it, the question of fact would have baffled the theologians of old. It makes sense really. Without all the scientific resources we have these days, the thing that would be the most important would be the truth, not the fact.
And actually, one could argue, that the same holds true today.
The literary world is always bickering over how much fact there is in any best selling memoir. But isn’t it the truth that matters most?
When we gather around the campfire and tell stories about our grandparents, or other lost loves, the details may get exaggerated, the facts may be distorted, but the truth is passed on through generations. Did Uncle Art have five girlfriends at any given time? or fifteen? The truth is, he was a bit of a scoundrel, and we loved him for it.
Now, don’t quote me as saying fact doesn’t matter in non-fiction. I’m just saying, I love the idea of separating truth from fact. The words even sound like they mean different things. Truth, with it’s soft, soothing taper. Fact all hard and concrete.
Personally, I chose truth. But then again, I write fiction.