Today more than ever, we need to be reminded of the bond between faith and truth, given the crisis of truth in our age. In contemporary culture, we often tend to consider the only real truth to be that of technology: truth is what we succeed in building and measuring by our scientific know-how, truth is what works and what makes life easier and more comfortable. Nowadays this appears as the only truth that is certain, the only truth that can be shared, the only truth that can serve as a basis for discussion or for common undertakings.
Yet at the other end of the scale we are willing to allow for subjective truths of the individual, which consist in fidelity to his or her deepest convictions, yet these are truths valid only for that individual and not capable of being proposed to others in an effort to serve the common good. But Truth itself, the truth which would comprehensively explain our life as individuals and in society, is regarded with suspicion.
Surely this kind of truth — we hear it said — is what was claimed by the great totalitarian movements of the last century, a truth that imposed its own world view in order to crush the actual lives of individuals. In the end, what we are left with is relativism, in which the question of universal truth — and ultimately this means the question of God — is no longer relevant. It would be logical, from this point of view, to attempt to sever the bond between religion and truth, because it seems to lie at the root of fanaticism, which proves oppressive for anyone who does not share the same beliefs. In this regard, though, we can speak of a massive amnesia in our contemporary world.
The question of truth is really a question of memory, deep memory, for it deals with something prior to ourselves and can succeed in uniting us in a way that transcends our petty and limited individual consciousness. It is a question about the origin of all that is, in whose light we can glimpse the goal and thus the meaning of our common path.
Lumen Fidei, 25
Reflection – The Year of Faith ended and we were not quite at the half way point reading through this encyclical. It’s so full of fine, clear teaching that I thought I would just periodically revisit it on the blog.
It seems to me that Pope Benedict (and yes, this is clearly his work here) is touching upon a key point here, one that is factually a serious impediment in our efforts to proclaim the Gospel and the Church’s teachings, especially when those teachings are a bit hard to take for many in the world today.
For example, just a few days ago I had on the blog a little post about abortion, which I don’t really blog about very often, in reference to how Mary’s motherhood shows the deep structure of human freedom and how the claim that freedom requires severing sexual choice from reproduction actually is a terrible misunderstanding of the nature of freedom.
Well, you can take it or leave it – the post, and my argument, that is. Whatever – I’m doin’ my best here! But on my Facebook page, where I always post a link to the blog posts, a friend almost immediately left a comment that “Yes, but I don’t believe, though, that women who have abortions are going to hell.”
To me, this shows that something has gone awry in our ability to hear truth claims made on these hard topics. Because there was nothing—not a word indeed—in my post that would suggest that I would think women who have had abortions are going to hell. That would be a very strange attitude for me to take, given the number of post-abortive women I routinely minister to as a priest.
But the statement ‘x is wrong’ today almost automatically gets translated as ‘those who do ‘x’ are damned.’ Truth is then seen as a bulldozer running us all over roughshod, and I suppose those of who claim to ‘have the truth’ are seen in this metaphor as having climbed up into the cab of that dozer and are using truth as a weapon of mass destruction, essentially.
In other words, truth is utterly, completely, and almost unconsciously separated from love. To insist on a hard truth is to be unloving; caring, compassionate people are those who let people decide for themselves, without offering an opinion, whether arsenic is a good martini ingredient or whether ‘just keep going straight’ is a good driving direction when you’re parked at the edge of the Grand Canyon.
I’ll carry on with this tomorrow, as it is too much to address in a day, but the whole notion of truth has to be united with our understanding of love, or else both are mortally wounded. Or rather, millions upon millions of people are mortally wounded as love becomes unable to serve and truth does become a club to beat people with. Truth and love together are the healing of the world, but this is a long journey indeed. À demain.