Restoration

Restoration

Posted November 16, 2011:
The Beauty of Truth (Relativism - Part 2)

by Fr. Denis Lemieux.

Last month I started talking about relativism—the air we breathe in this post-modern world—the belief that there is no truth, or at least no knowable truth, and no binding moral law. In other words, the belief that there is no universally held good to be attained.

Last month, I talked about the incoherence of this position, a position that states: it is true that there is no truth; we know that we cannot know; it is always wrong to say that any human action is always wrong. Clearly, each of these statements is self-contradicting, literally non-sense.

Why are these ideas so persuasive to so many people? I think it is because the alternative seems so ugly. Truth is so often seen as a club to beat people up with, goodness and the moral law a scourge to whip and lacerate the other who does not live as I live. Better to cling to nonsense that makes us feel good or seems to help us live in peace with one another than enter this permanent battlefield of truth and goodness, a perpetual state of attack and defence.

This is why it’s not enough to criticize the incoherence of relativism. It is a rare person who has such a passion for intellectual integrity that he or she is willing to brave the dangers of the quest for truth and goodness. Most people just want to live peaceful lives with some measure of joy and beauty.

And this is where we need to go, both in our own understanding of truth and goodness and in our presentation of these realities to others. The beauty of the true and the good—this is what we need to present. Truth and goodness without beauty are hard slave masters.

So what is this beauty that redeems truth and goodness from such a dreadful fate?

This month, I want to discuss the beauty of the truth; next time, we will talk about goodness.

I will need to wax philosophical a bit here.

Don’t panic! I promise I won’t drown you in technical terms and gobbledygook. And for those of you who have some training in philosophy, I apologize if the following is a bit over-simplified.

The medievals looked at the word, "truth" quite a bit. What is truth? Where do we find it? What is its origin? What does it do? Along with oneness, goodness, and (for some) beauty, it became known as a "transcendental."

What does that mean? When we call something a transcendental, we mean that it can be applied to every existing thing, to every being, up to and including a suprime being, Being Itself, our Lord and God.

So for example, everything that is, is "one"—that is, it has an interior principle of unity, coherence. If it did not, it would not exist. And everything that is, is true.

But how does this help us through the quandary of relativism?

To say that everything that is, is true means that every being "speaks" its own name continually. In other words, it can be understood by us, although perhaps not without difficulty or effort.

The technical way of saying this is that truth is the "adequation" of the mind to the known thing. This simply means that everything that exists can find a home in our minds, our understanding.

This is so important. We can feel, we poor little post-moderns, very alienated from the universe. Very disconnected, very fragmented.

If we see all the particles of reality—some as tiny as quarks, some as vast as nebulae—only as things floating around us—unknown or unknowable (as we are to them)—then there is no relationship, no communion, no connection.

If that is how it is, everything becomes a matter of power. Am I strong enough to force my will on the quarks and nebulae, on the grizzly bear who wants to eat me, and on my next door neighbour who annoys me?

If we’re all particles of reality rubbing up against each other, the only relevant question is, "who’s stronger."

The transcendental, truth, liberates us from this horrible dynamic.

To assert that everything that is, is true, means that every being in existence is presenting itself, himself, herself to me in such a way that I can receive it (you) and affirm the reality of its (your) being.

There is a space in my mind that you can fit into—the real you—not my concept or agenda or projection of you. To affirm that there is truth, makes it possible for you and me and God to know one another, to be in communion.

Instead of a naked power struggle, we can enter into a relationship of mutual receptivity.

From this starting point of truth, and the beautiful communion it opens us to, we can consider the goodness of all things.

But that’s enough philosophy for one go. Stay tuned until next time.

to be continued

 

 

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