So, as mentioned previously, I am charting a new course in my blog posts. Trying to stay away from writing about sayings and doings and opinions of others, which are unverifiable, and ultimately unknowable by myself. I am trying to avoid every attitude and word likely to cause unjust injury … and to take a page from my grandfather, namely: “If you can’t say something good about someone, don’t say anything.” Or as Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen said:
As a result, I find myself momentarily with a dry well, since I am finding that a lot of my motivation for writing was personal angst about the goings on in the world and in the church. For now I am going to focus on sharing sources of insight I have found and sharing where I found them. None of this new approach is rooted in my own brilliance in self assessment but rather in the discovery, feeling serendipitous, of useful books by other greater writers and thinkers. The challenge has become “How do I apply their insights to improving myself?”
The last couple of posts were from a book by Archbishop Fulton Sheen, this post is drawn from Ulrich L. Lehner, “God Is Not Nice: Rejecting Pop Culture Theology and Discovering the God Worth Living For”.
“In particular, the conviction of absolute or objective truths is almost universally seen as suspicious or symptomatic of bigotry. Can the Church survive without belief in truth? If I believe in absolute truth, such as the truth of my faith, it does not follow that I must treat others badly or support religious persecution.
In fact, every statement of truth states something absolute, because the nature of truth is that it is absolute. The claim that truths are “relative” is philosophically not coherent, because it is itself a truth claim: the person who says there are no objective truths is nevertheless stating that her sentence is true.
You could ask a relativist: “And your belief that truth is relative, do you think that is the right approach to things? Are you convinced of your approach?” “Well, yes.”
“Well, then, why do you push your truth claim onto me? How can you be convinced of your truth if truth is relative? If it is relative, your truth is relative, and thus you should not be convinced of anything at all because that would mean that there is something better than relative truth claims.”11
Believing in absolute truth does not mean fundamentalism or intolerance or forfeiting the search for truth—quite the opposite: if I am convinced of a truth, I will not enclose it in a shrine but seek to understand it better, especially if this truth is a person, Jesus, as Christians believe. When I speak about truth claims, I am thinking specifically of these: “Jesus Christ is God and Savior” and “God exists.”12
Both are truth claims, and many Americans would respond, “Yes, I agree, but it’s true only for us.” Again, such a statement is self-contradicting: either it is true or it is not. Your neighbor can say it’s wrong or it’s true, but not that it’s true for you—that statement simply does not make sense.
We are afraid of denying somebody else’s truth claim because we fear being labeled intolerant or bigoted, although it is a sign of tolerance that I accept other views that I know are incorrect. Tolerance presupposes a truth claim: I am tolerant of Aunt Lucy’s conspiracy beliefs because I love her, but I think she is utterly wrong.
Disagreeing with somebody is not the same as hatred or bigotry or intolerance. A relativist, it should have become clear, cannot hold strong convictions and hold them to be true, if she does not want to contradict herself. Yet most do not see this contradiction because they have stopped contemplating the world. If I am a relativist, I will not easily see the intellectual weakness of my stance: I believe in being tolerant, but I do not know that I have given up the idea of truth and thus of tolerance itself.
Truth claims and convictions do not mean that we have to go at one another’s throats. Truth does not preclude prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance—the cardinal virtues are only possible because there is truth, and without truth they are mere chimeras. Without having roots in reality, humans have no truthful convictions but mere opinions.
But what is a person who is not planted in truth and reality? Max Picard saw this in his little book “The Flight from God”.13 We modern men and women, writes Picard, are no longer in real communication with our neighbors, not even with those we love. We uphold external relations, but we run away from the big existential questions, such as, “What is the meaning of life?” that point to God. We tend to exchange the quality of things for mere quantity.
Consequently, nothing has value in and of itself. Only through the realism of faith can we regain trust in reality and see it as it actually is. Yet if we keep running away from God, we cannot give up the enslavement to “having things” and to viewing everything from the selfish perspective of its use for us.
Only with realism do we have truth, and only with truth do we have conviction and imagination. Realism teaches humility, which means, literally, “closeness to earth,” and thus prepares us to accept the notion of asceticism. The latter entails giving up goods that we are entrusted with, such as food, comfort, and the like, and doing things we do not normally want to do.
Pope emeritus Benedict XVI has compared asceticism to physical exercise: we have to do it frequently to prepare our soul for God. We empty ourselves and surrender our will to receive God’s. Asceticism plows the soil of the soul so that it can be fertilized by grace: one dies to oneself so that Christ can live in oneself.
Christian asceticism, however, is also the utmost realism there is in the world: it perceives that the highest value is God, takes him most seriously, and sees everything in the order it was created or is connected. It aims at keeping mind and will connected to reality and protects us from falling into the trap of viewing God as a vending machine, as the eternal, faceless “principle of the universe,” or as a mere set of moral guidelines.14
Ulrich L. Lehner, “God Is Not Nice: Rejecting Pop Culture Theology and Discovering the God Worth Living For” (pp. 14-17). Ave Maria Press. Kindle Edition.