He seemed to brace himself for what had become the typical barrage of questioning after stating his occupation. The once unrecognized field of “forensic science” now comes attached with visions of beautiful men and women swabbing for DNA, replicating gunfire trajectories, and piecing together the truth with hair, bugs, and CODIS. The tremendous popularity of forensic dramas has made crime scene investigating a household subject. With a real forensic scientist standing in front of me, I admit it was hard to repress my enthusiasm. Predictably, I asked if he watched any of the shows. Humoring my line of questioning for the moment, he admitted that he did not.
The vast public intrigue with forensic science has been increasing as feverously as the viewerships of crime scene television. In Great Britain alone, the increase in students applying for forensic programs is up nearly 33 percent, attributed entirely to the influence of CSI, NCIS, Bones, and many similar programs.(1) They come into their programs believing they already know a great deal about the job because they have seen it all performed. In a more damaging vein, criminologists note the pervasive misinformation that is powerfully influencing criminal justice systems in various ways, particularly and significantly in the minds and expectations of jurors.(2)
Analysts refer to this global phenomenon of forensic pop culture and its consequences as the “CSI Effect,” though speculation on the reasons for our feverish embrace of the motif is wider ranging. In my own right, I find something compellingly uncomplicated in the movement from mystery and crisis through clues and evidence to truth. In less than an hour, I am taken from dark riddle to conclusive resolution. Truth and justice emerge plainly, even where deception, obscurity, and injustice once reigned. In the rare instance when the suspect does not personally own up to the crime after the facts have emerged, the science and its expert witnesses are so definitive that it hardly matters. The truth is clear.
Of course, I know in reality that mysteries are not typically so easily dissected nor the truth so mechanically laid out for the taking. But in that brief hour, I am relieved at the clarity of truth, presented to me quickly and with watertight certainty. English professor Scott Campbell further speculates on the allure of “a longed-for world where deceit is no longer possible and where language finds a close, unbreachable connection to the events it seeks to describe.”(3) On the nature of truth in such a world he notes, “If we know how to look for it, the truth is self-evident. It will, in effect, narrate itself.”
In a world where the category of truth is often subjected to the murkiness of taste and opinion, the attraction to a self-evident, one-dimensional truth is understandable. All the lofty humility of the abstract pluralist cannot beautify the noise of a million clashing voices and truth claims; eventually, we grow weary of the end product and seek a less polluted scene. In the words of the illustrious detective Joe Friday, “All we want are the facts.”
And yet, we must be wary of simplifying the nature of truth in our attempts to simplify our investigations of it. This is precisely what the pluralist must do to make room for all his claims and voices. But in the world of the Christian, the world of truth is far from flat. Nor is its true song a raucous cacophony. Quite the opposite, Swiss theologian Hars Urs von Balthasar oft reflected on the truth as “symphonic.” Elaborating on this, professor Anthony Baker explains, “Truth is not simply a completed score, but the action of playing it back to God the way it was written. Only by following Christ into the cacophony, by descending into hell ourselves, by actively engaging in the redemption of fallen melody, can the church be alive with the resurrective power of the Spirit.”(4)
In other words, truth is not simply something passive that we intercept, like the outcome of a CSI episode that leaves us entirely certain of “what really happened.” Truth certainly has this definitive element; to be sure, the Logos which became flesh is God’s definitive account of truth. But this is something far deeper and more dimensional than cold, unresponsive facts, as further evidenced in John’s description of Christ as one “full of grace and truth” in himself. There is a corresponding, interactive, participatory quality to truth, which takes longer than an hour to absorb and is best understood by engaging its depth and character within a world of impersonal, simplistic alternatives. For if truth is personal—indeed, a Person—it demands a lifetime of shared engagement with the one who is truth and the Spirit who actively leads us into a discovery of this truth.
Without any doubt, the mystery of the Christian religion is great—mystery not in the hidden CSI sense, but mystery revealed. Paul’s description of Jesus is as full of inscrutable truths as it is compelling evidences: “Hewas revealed in flesh, vindicated in spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory” (1 Timothy 3:16). Evidences of the heights and depths of this divine mysterious truth can indeed be received as factual, definitive fingerprints. But so they are clues that point to a multi-dimensional, inexhaustible Person full of grace and truth.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Paul Hackett, “Want a Career in Forensics? Here’s Some Hard Evidence,” The Guardian, March 28, 2007.
(2) “Forensics and the Media: A 3-Year Project Examining the ‘CSI Effect’ and a Forensic Pop Culture” presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Criminology (ASC), Los Angeles Convention Center, Los Angeles, Nov. 1, 2006.
(3) Scott Campbell, “‘Dead Men Do Tell Tales’: CSI: Miami and the Case Against Narrative,” Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture, Spring 2009, Volume 8, Issue 1.
(4) Anthony D. Baker, “Fiddling with the Melody: Illuminating von Balthasar’s Symphony of Truth,” The Other Journal, Issue 15, May 11, 2009.