Staying on the human level, without speaking here yet of the testimony of the Gospel directly, we must say that testimony is a way of reaching certitude, a way as valid, in its order, as scientific demonstrations and experiments are in their order. Moreover, this is the only one which affords access to one certain order of reality.
This order of reality is nothing less than the order of persons. Now, if the universe of persons has infinite ascendancy over the order of the natural world, we must declare that the higher we go in the hierarchy of beings, the more does testimony, and not experimentation, become the means of knowledge.
Jean Danielou, The Scandal of the Truth
Reflection – I realize as I begin to write this blog post that once again the media is at its mischief profoundly distorting Pope Francis’ clear, crystalline and deeply Catholic words in his recent interview with America magazine. I think I might sit this round out—I really don’t have a great appetite for controversy, it turns out—and simply say to anyone disturbed by recent blaring headlines to read the interview itself, and not the media spin on it.
The time is long past when any thoughtful, careful Catholic should think to trust what the secular press writes about us. They don’t know what they’re talking about, and are deeply skewed in their perceptions by their own biases and presuppositions. Go to the source, and find out what the Pope actually said, not what the New York Times or whoever says he said. If my blog posts this past week showed nothing else, surely they showed that.
Meanwhile, I want to get back to a more reflective, philosophical tone for a little while on the blog. I have lots of good stuff on my files from my STL thesis research that I haven’t shared yet. This guy, for example, Danielou, and his book on truth and the problem of truth in the modern world.
He is challenging here the notion that truth can only be gotten from scientific experimentation under laboratory conditions, the reductive approach to knowledge that is a product of the (so-called) Enlightenment, and which rules out a priori any chance of metaphysics, the knowledge of God or the knowledge of first and final causes of things. All we can know is what we can measure experimentally, and that is the end of the matter of knowledge.
As Danielou points out, this excludes quite a bit more (in one way of looking at it) than God and metaphysics. It also excludes knowing whether one’s spouse really loves you, whether a friend is a true friend, whether anyone actually has done anything they say they have done—the whole world of personal relationships. If knowledge is only that measured by accurate instruments in laboratory conditions, then we know nothing about one another in our personal beings.
‘Faith is an island in the setting sun, but proof, yeah, proof is the bottom line for everyone,’ Paul Simon sang back in the day. There are real consequences to this shaking of our knowledge of one another. A hardness enters in, a cynicism, a suspicion. When ‘testimony’ is inherently suspect, when that post-modern weariness of competing narratives and the hermeneutics of suspicion becomes a living reality in a person, what emerges is not increased certainty and a surer foundation for life, but alienation, isolation, an atomized humanity where real communion is impossible.
We simply have to take one another’s word for things, and make some kind of leap of faith with each other. Danielou makes the very good point here, so often neglected in our modern day, that this is not some kind of second-rate knowledge. The real stuff is what you get dissecting frogs in the lab, and all this taking one another on faith is a poor cousin barely deserving the name knowledge. There is no scientific experiment that can prove the genuineness of the bond of love of husband and wife, parent and child, friend and friend. There is no way forward to a knowledge of persons and what is inside them but the acceptance of their testimony about themselves.
Ultimately, if we get stubborn about it and insist on the scientific mode of knowledge as the only real one, we are forced to reject the notion of personhood and the self as ultimately insignificant epi-phenomena. The reality of things is the physical, the biological, what can be measured. The person, self-awareness, freedom, reason, emotions, love, hate, dreams for the future, memory of the past—all of that is ultimately either illusory or certainly irrelevant. We are just, in the materialistic notion, hunks of meat animated for a time by electro-chemical impulses that have a shelf life.