Truth and Consequences

Honest dialogue and, indeed, human communication depend on objective truth

I like “Ike,” as I’ll call him. He was a catalyst for the pre-synod “listening session” that my seminary friends of yesteryear recently held. For my part I only “listened in” on the session. Then I offered a critique here, in a blog post. Ike didn’t much like what he read. I wish he had.

Ike calls to mind St. Augustine’s words: “Always grow, always work on, always advance.” By his own lights, Ike does just this. He reads, writes, and publishes books. He flies the progressive flag, not for “wokeism” but on behalf of voting rights. The late Congressman John Lewis’s legacy lives!

But in one respect, as my mother would say, Ike doesn’t have the sense that the good Lord gave little green apples. So take him to task I must. Still, since he is my elder, I aim to respect him in doing so. Such is my aim for two reasons. First, for actuarial reasons, I have fewer and fewer elders to respect. Second, because unlike apples, whether red or green, God fashioned Ike in his own image and likeness. Me, too—however distressingly we might disguise it.

In an opening salvo, Ike emailed me as follows. “You seem to be missing the entire point of the listening sessions. The purpose of these is to find out what ordinary everyday Catholics and others think. They have nothing to do with objective truth or dialogical arguments or debates.” Could I let this pass?

Surely not. Honest dialogue and, indeed, human communication depend on objective truth. So I replied, “We think in order to reach the truth. If what people report merely expresses their feelings, the process becomes self-referential and self-defeating. (Google emotivism.)” To this I added, “To be sure, thinking and feeling are intertwined. Feeling often motivates a search for what is true, and the search often leads us to examine our feelings.”

Ike doubled down. He wrote back, “You are speaking in scholastic philosophy and theology. I am speaking human vernacular. I believe this is at the heart of the division in the Church and society.” Golly. How was I to know that scholastic philosophy was so pervasive and pernicious? I was hesitant, though, to say more since Ike also bemoaned my “verbiage.”

But there was more to our email exchange. Ike had further thoughts about truth. He wrote, “My goal in life is no longer to achieve objective truth but to embrace the love of God and share it with the world around me. How I do that is different than how you do it, but both are ‘true.’” And he closed by extending an olive branch of sorts. Ike asked, “Are we getting any closer to speaking the same language”?

Sadly, I don’t think that Ike and I are much closer to speaking the same language. Maybe, though, I have a better understanding why he speaks as he does. Sometimes he confuses regard for objective truth with the charlatan’s silly claim to have complete knowledge. Not all of us together, Aquinas says, know everything there is to know about a grain of sand.

There’s a deeper problem, though, that Ike and I face. Truth-seeking is hard. Today’s gain can be tomorrow’s loss. We get frustrated in the struggle. There’s always the temptation to settle for “my truth.” But we don’t measure truth; rather, truth measures us. If we love God with our whole mind, we will see the splendor of truth. In doing so, we will find that He who accompanies us tells us, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Light.” Therein lies the Good News.

 

Jim Hanink is an independent scholar, albeit more independent than scholarly!

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