Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Truth That Sets Us Free

Trusting another means taking one’s stand on someone else’s intelligence and embracing as true what one has not decided for one’s self… it implies a recognition by the mind of its own limits, an acceptance of dependence, a surrender of my absolute sovereignty…

The rejection of the truth comes down to the choice of self affirmation and rejection of affirmation of God… acknowledging what is, submitting to the real, means acknowledging something that I have not decided for myself and therefore already saying yes to God…

What we get now is instead of acknowledgment of a sovereign Law by which all will be judged, individuals and society, is the arbitrary decision of one particular will, which decrees good and evil, and against which there is no longer any appeal… here at the end of the line the perverse roots of the rejection of truth are stripped bare. The will to power appears in all its inexorableness.
Jean Danielou, The Scandal of Truth

Reflection – The theme of our summer program this week has been ‘Show Me God: Finding God in Truth, Beauty, and Goodness’. We have had a variety of presentations along these lines, many of them leaning rather heavily in the direction of the latter two of the transcendentals, beauty and goodness. We have had some good teachings on the nature of truth, as well, but I have noticed over the years, not particularly in Madonna House but in the world at large, a tendency to shy away from the word truth or the notion of truth.

Relativism of one sort or another seems to be the operative system for many today. It doesn’t make huge amounts of sense, of course. How can it be absolutely asserted as true that there is no such thing as truth? How can we say it is certainly true that we cannot know for certain what is true? The whole thing collapses under its weight before it gets off the ground.

No, it fails as an intellectual system, miserably and utterly. But it succeeds, or seems to succeed, as a sociological system, as a way of ensuring social harmony and peace. You have your truth and I have my truth and it’s OK because there is no actual truth or nobody knows what it is and so everybody dance! Clap along if you know that happiness is the truth! Whatever that means. Who cares – it has a good beat!

All of this put me in mind of this very fine book by Danielou published in the 1960s. It has lost none of its relevance today. Truth does scandalize us; that is, it is an obstacle we trip over (the original meaning of the word scandal), something awkward, in the way, something we would like to do away with so we can do as we please, go as we please.

The rage on the political left in the aftermath of the Hobby Lobby case in the US is instructive in this regard. For one thing, it puts a lie to the claim that relativism is the path to social peace and harmony, and lays bare the inherently totalitarian and dictatorial nature of relativism.

One group holds that it is true that there is an absolute right to free contraception (a strange claim, in my mind, one I have never seen really argued for, but assumed as a dogma, I guess). Some in society believe that contraception, or at least some forms of contraception, are morally evil, and while having no interest in coercing other people from committing those evil acts, do not want to actually be cooperating in them by paying the bill for them. 

Now in a genuinely tolerant society, it would be a no-brainer to work out some accommodation whereby if the government really believed that the first group was justified in its claim, it could meet their ‘right’ without violating the beliefs and conscience of the second group. And, to their credit, Congress in the 1992 RFRA, and the Supreme Court in its interpretation of that law and its present application to the current matter of Hobby Lobby, etc., came to that very conclusion.

And… all hell broke loose among the first group. Strange, that. Apparently it is not acceptable to work out some compromise that respects everyone’s beliefs and lets everyone alone. The second group—people who sincerely believe they would be doing a grave evil if they paid for these products—must be forced to capitulate, must have their consciences crushed, obliterated, wiped out.

And so the will to power shows itself. When there is no greater truth—even the simple truth that people should be allowed to follow their consciences so long as doing so does not harm the social fabric—then what is left is not freedom but rather a naked power struggle in which whoever has the upper hand can ruthlessly suppress those who are in a weaker position.

Well, all I can say to those who are fine with that is, watch out. Those who live by the sword will die by the sword, and today’s winners may not be tomorrow’s. If might is right is the only relevant principle, then nobody’s rights are secure, not in the least.

Meanwhile, a commitment to truth, which seems to limit our freedom and constrain us to what is real, and the quest for a greater apprehension and bowing before what is real, ends up being the surest securer of liberty, human rights, and the dignity of the human person. The truth shall set you free, indeed.  It’s a paradox, but it happens to be true. And that’s all I have time and space for, today.