A Crisis of Truth

Issues of social justice are not at the forefront of the problems we confront. It is, rather, for want of truth that the world suffers.

“It is easy to find truth, though it is hard to face it, and harder still to follow it.”
—Fulton Sheen

Despite the noisemakers telling us otherwise, it is not the need for justice that is the burning issue of the day. Apart from the ideologues of inclusivity, who continue to garner a great deal of undeserved media attention, most of us are not suffering for want of receiving, say, our just sexual deserts. Transgenderism is not the issue of the hour for normal people. We do not see our happiness as somehow dependent upon social justice warriors ensuring our right to self-identify however we please. Promiscuously scattering our pronouns about turns out not to be all that self-actualizing after all.

And, really, for all the challenges facing married couples and their families, I am not aware, at least not in the circles in which I move, of lives so fraught with misery and frustration that the option simply to walk away is always there on the table. In fact, for a great many of us, it is never an option since the ties that bind are not matters of contract but of covenant, of a sacred oath which would amount to a desecration to break.

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The point is, if there are dark forces operating at large in our cities and towns, threatening to unweave the domestic world so many of us have chosen to inhabit, it’s certainly not because the laws of nature or of nature’s God are being enforced.

And so, once again, issues of social justice are not at the forefront of the problems we confront. It is, rather, for want of truth that the world suffers. For without truth, there can be no justice. Truth, simply understood, is conformity to what is real, not woke imposition of the unreal. The truth, for example, that to an extent we’ve heretofore never dared to interfere with: anatomy really does equal destiny. It is not that a child’s future must remain wholly dependent upon the sex he or she is born with, but rather that being one or the other is one of those biological givens, the acceptance of which confers great and lasting benefit. Not to know this is to insult not justice, but truth. 

Nor does one need to have read Thomas Aquinas to know this. Anyone with half a brain can intuit the principle laid down by the Common Doctor seven centuries ago; indeed, it is so perfectly self-evident that the judgment required is as obvious and axiomatic as the opening of an eye. “Truth is the correspondence of the mind and reality” (Veritas est adaequatio intellectus et rei). That, quite simply, is the basic connection, and there can be none more natural. In other words, between what is real and the awareness we have of its being real lies the truth. The period spent between naps, as some wag once put it.

There can be no advantage, therefore, in anyone having the right to be wrong. To insist that two plus two equals five is not a right the exercise of which any sentient human being ought to defend. To believe otherwise amounts to a deliberate stupidity, which is how the late Bernard Lonergan, S.J., once described sin. No civil society rooted in right reason is obliged to subsidize willful stupidity. 

Sin, as the inimitable G.K. Chesterton would say, is nothing other than “calling green grass grey.” In short, it is a lie. Even non-theologians should know that. Why else do we call Lucifer the Father of Lies?

But have you noticed that more and more people no longer see things as they are? Which means the end not just of truth in making distinctions about good and evil, but of any lingering sense of guilt when we fail to honor the connection. What does that mean? In a word, the end of hypocrisy, which is what happens when people, failing to keep the moral law, nevertheless observe it in the breach. Thereby they opt, as it were, to exercise what that sly old cynic Oscar Wilde described as “the homage vice pays virtue.”

C.S. Lewis, in his superb study of The Problem of Pain, put it this way (I’m forced to paraphrase, I’m afraid, not having the text before me). There are two things about human beings, he says, that remain infallibly certain and true all the time. One, that there is a moral law written in the human heart. And, two, that we invariably break it. In doing so, however, we necessarily feel guilt. (“Blessed be sin,” as Georges Bernanos would say, “if it teaches us shame.”) 

What follows from all this, of course, is that the truth of the moral law, along with its imperative character, is not inconvenienced or invalidated by our failure to practice it. “We sometimes get our sums wrong,” I’m quoting him from memory here, “but that hardly calls into question the tablets of arithmetic.” 

Not so long ago, that axiom was taken as a given among both the learned and the unlettered. Would-be converts, for example, drawn to the Catholic Church were, almost predictably, moved by reason, along with a generous infusion of divine grace, precisely because they became convinced that, upon the truths proclaimed by the Catholic Church, they might repose an ultimate confidence. Who wishes to sign on for something whose truth value you can never be sure of?

Hilaire Belloc, not a convert himself but an inspiration to many who were, clearly had the sense of it when, raising the stakes to the highest metaphysical plane, he declared: “The Catholic Church is the exponent of Reality. It is true. Its doctrines in matters large and small are statements of what is.” 

And if, heaven forbid, the soul were to doubt, what then? To the timid and wayward of mind, his response was immediate and resolute: “I discover it to be false: a mood: not a conclusion. My conclusion—and that of all men who have ever once seen it—is the faith. Corporate, organized, a personality, teaching. A thing, not a theory. It.” 

It is this quality, it seems to me, which, please God, not a few of us continue to find endearing and persuasive, that needs rediscovery amid the confusions and distortions of today. Otherwise, the darkness, I fear, will close in upon us completely, and we shan’t even know or remember that there was once something called light.

[Image Credit: Unsplash]

  • Regis Martin

    Regis Martin is Professor of Theology and Faculty Associate with the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. He earned a licentiate and a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. Martin is the author of a number of books, including Still Point: Loss, Longing, and Our Search for God (2012) and The Beggar’s Banquet (Emmaus Road). His most recent book, published by Scepter, is called Looking for Lazarus: A Preview of the Resurrection.

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