Monday, April 1, 2019

To Speak the Truth

The Problem

The recent secular and religious news demonstrates one of the flaws in our society: people prefer our version of reality to what the truth turns out to be. So, when the truth comes out, people invent reasons to argue that the truth isn’t true but their opinions still are true. What this means is sobering. It means that we are no longer a people who seek out and follow what is true. Instead, we are ignoring what is true when it threatens us.

The Symptoms

This behavior is easy to spot in others. We shake our heads when the people we disagree with start making excuses. But we behave the same way. The person who supports something automatically discounts anything that could undercut the assumption it is good. Those who oppose it automatically discount anything that could undercut the assumption it is evil. If we were honest, we would recognize that our opinion is either true or false. Recognizing this, we would do our best to investigate the facts and determine whether they fit or contradict our opinions. Then we would abandon those opinions that went against the facts and determine what conclusions did fit the facts.

The Examples 

But instead of doing that, people invented falsehoods and obscure facts to deny what challenges them. For example, to deny the fact that abortion is an act aimed at ending a human life, abortion supporters try to reframe the issue as women making “a choice,” but not saying what choice a woman is making. They say that the unborn child is “just a blob of tissue,” ignoring the fact that we could define an adult human being as “a blob of tissue” as well. There is no attempt to ask whether whether the opposition is right in saying that the unborn child is alive. They simply say “we can’t know,” without asking... because if they did ask, they would be forced to realize that the “choice” is to decide to kill another human being.

Another example would be anti-Catholic attacks. The basic issue is whether the Catholic Church is the Church established by Christ or not. If the Catholic Church is that Church, then all refusal to obey her and remain in communion with her is to act in opposition to Christ (Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16). That is what all who are outside of the Church must investigate. Anti-Catholics refuse to investigate this issue and justify their refusal by making claims against the Church: The claim that we worship statues or think Mary is a goddess, the claim that we think we can earn our way to heaven, the claim that we tried to hide the Bible, etc. 

The people who claim these things have an obligation to investigate if these things are true before using them as a reason to reject the Church. The fact is, Catholics do not believe any of these things. Therefore, using Aristotle’s definition of truth, these anti-Catholics are saying of what is not that it is and do not speak the truth. In fact, they are bearing false witness against the Church and these claims are not valid reasons to reject the Church.

I could also mention the attacks against Pope Francis, where he has been constantly accused of promoting heresy during his pontificate. Every so-called scandal has turned out to either be a sentence wrenched out of context or an absolute falsehood.

The Obligation 

Bearing false witness is a sin. Since what we hear and say is either true or false, and since we either know it or we don’t, we have the obligation to investigate whether these things are true. If they are true, we must follow them. If they are not, we must reject them. But what if we aren’t sure?

In that case, we have the obligation to see if there is any merit to them before repeating them. If we discover they are false, or we cannot find evidence that they are true, we must not repeat them as if they were true. Some things we will never know for certain. We must not spread something that is unproven, even if it benefits our ideologies or people we support. Nor can we use ignorance as an excuse to do whatever we prefer. We have the obligation to seek and carry out the truth.

One thing to be aware of here there is the “gotcha” question where someone tries to set a trap based on a claim we don’t know the truth about. The “gotcha” tries to force you into thinking that if A is true, Church teaching B must be rejected. That’s an attempt to abuse the obligation to follow the truth by presenting something unproven as true.

In such a situation, you need to discover what Church teaching B is before determining if it is related to A. That doesn’t mean, “I can’t find any refutation, so it must be true.” It means, “Given the Church teaches with the authority given her by Christ, I must understand what teaching B is before accepting the word of someone who tells me it is wrong.” In this case, we need to remember that just because we don’t know the answer, doesn’t mean the Church doesn’t have one. In the meantime we are not obligated to abandon Church teaching on the say so of someone who attacks it.

One example of this kind of challenge: it was popular to argue that the Church teaching on contraception could be changed because the Church had changed her teaching on usury. I was extremely doubtful of the challenge, but for years, I could not find an answer. The matter was solved when I discovered the Papal document Vix Pervenit by Pope Benedict XIV. In it, he continued to condemn usury in lending money at interest to people in need, but called for a study distinguishing how investing differed from usury. The challenge used to argue that Church teaching had been changed before was false.

The Conclusion

Ultimately, our obligation is to search for and live according to the truth. We cannot knowingly speak what is false, and we cannot simply spread assertions if we don’t know if they’re true... something popular on the internet today. As Christians, we recognize that Christianity is true. As Catholics, we recognize that the Catholic Church is the Church established by Christ. So we have an aid in discerning truth from falsehood. Because of this, we have even less excuse than the average unbeliever. 

Let’s remember that the next time we’re tempted to use what benefits us—but is false—over what is true.

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