Sunday, December 29, 2013

True For You But Not Me?

A relative shared a link on Facebook. The article itself wasn't too important, but it had a quote in it that got me thinking. The quote was:

All of us have a terrible tendency toward unwarranted certainty -- certain we are right, certain others are wrong, certain that if our ideas were only adopted all would be sweetness and light to the end of time.

When we find the truth, we often decide that what really matters is that everybody else honor the truth that we have discovered. And when we discover that others don't honor our truths -- that they have truths of their own -- we turn against them in confusion and even horror.

Now, in fairness to the author, he was trying to emphasize the Pope's speaking on the need for love in truth -- very true.  But the problem with this quote is it shows a fundamental misunderstanding on what truth is.

Aristotle once defined truth as "To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true.”

This is too often forgotten. To say "that's true for you," is oxymoronic (and as philosopher Peter Kreeft once mischievously put it, "it's also moronic"). Speaking the truth is to speak in a way that accurately corresponds with reality.

Now truth can be objective (always true regardless of whoever perceives it) or subjective (true for someone who experiences certain conditions but not for someone who not for those who don't experience those conditions).

An example of objective truth is the definition of a triangle. A plane figure with three straight sides and three angles totalling 180°. If you don't have that, you don't have a triangle. If it has 4 sides or if the angles total 190° it is not true to call it a triangle. This is the case regardless of perception or experience.

An example of subjective truth is for a person to say, "my foot hurts."  It's true because that person dropped a cinder block on it. It wouldn't be true for a person who did not drop a heavy object on it or a person with neuropathy.

Once you recognize this, the quote from the article becomes problematic. People may believe different things about how reality works, but if a person believes something contrary to reality,  his or her belief is not true.

For example, either some form of divinity exists or does not.  If there is no form of divinity, then atheists are right and others are wrong. However, if some form of divinity exists, atheists are wrong and the question becomes, in what way does divinity exist.

There are many legitimate either-or questions that must exclude other concepts. Pantheism vs. Monotheism for example. But the point is, the reality is objective truth regardless of what people think. If the reality is that God exists, is triune and the second part of the Trinity established His Church on Peter and his successors (Catholicism) then those who believe otherwise believe falsely -- whether sincerely or insincerely.

Thus the article only partially undetstands Pope Francis. In context, the Pope said:

Here we begin to see how love requires truth. Only to the extent that love is grounded in truth can it endure over time, can it transcend the passing moment and be sufficiently solid to sustain a shared journey. If love is not tied to truth, it falls prey to fickle emotions and cannot stand the test of time. True love, on the other hand, unifies all the elements of our person and becomes a new light pointing the way to a great and fulfilled life. Without truth, love is incapable of establishing a firm bond; it cannot liberate our isolated ego or redeem it from the fleeting moment in order to create life and bear fruit.

If love needs truth, truth also needs love. Love and truth are inseparable. Without love, truth becomes cold, impersonal and oppressive for people’s day-to-day lives. The truth we seek, the truth that gives meaning to our journey through life, enlightens us whenever we are touched by love. One who loves realizes that love is an experience of truth, that it opens our eyes to see reality in a new way, in union with the beloved. In this sense, Saint Gregory the Great could write that "amor ipse notitia est", love is itself a kind of knowledge possessed of its own logic.[20] It is a relational way of viewing the world, which then becomes a form of shared knowledge, vision through the eyes of another and a shared vision of all that exists. William of Saint-Thierry, in the Middle Ages, follows this tradition when he comments on the verse of the Song of Songs where the lover says to the beloved, "Your eyes are doves" (Song 1:15).[21] The two eyes, says William, are faith-filled reason and love, which then become one in rising to the contemplation of God, when our understanding becomes "an understanding of enlightened love". (Lumen Fidei #27)

It's because people fail to grasp that both are needed that we run into error... either a merciless truth or a love that lacks the strength to say "this is wrong. "

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