One Day’s Question, Another Day’s Answer

Birgit - veil

Birgit - veilOnce there was a young homeschooled girl who had a rather inquisitive mind. The problem with her inquisitiveness was that the questions she most enjoyed pondering did not always tend to the subjects her mother taught her out of books. As the girl tried her best to be obedient in learning history and literature and science, she would wonder about other things, while knowing they needed to be saved for after school time.

I understand her particular struggle quite well, for I was that girl.

Day One: A Question

During that time, I was exposed to something that at first seemed to strike me only a little, but would prove to have later significance. I don’t remember what it was about, or even what format it was, though my closest guess is that it was something I read. Either way, what it actually was is irrelevant. The reason that the pieces were still important to me was that, for whatever purpose they were actually intended, they were written so that the agendas and perspectives of the authors were fairly obvious. Naturally, I read the first piece and inwardly processed the viewpoint of the author. Now the second piece, was, I believe, written from a different point of view, possibly even the opposite. Having read them both, I compared the two.

I concluded something vague, such as, “Well, this first author writes the way he does because he thinks this, and the second author doesn’t seem to think that at all.” My epiphany was just an ordinary little thought: “If they’re arguing two different things, can’t somebody else write about that without arguing anything, just talking about it?” I quickly decided the answer was “no,” (after all, according to the way my young mind saw things, such a feat didn’t seem very easy) and dropped it, yet the idea that no one could ever merely describe something without also saying what he thought about it lingered, never entirely out of sight, in the back of my maturing mind.

Day Two: A Mention

Though it was quite a long time, I next remember really taking notice of this concept at a point during my sophomore year of college, when I was talking with a trusted mentor about a personal problem. She gave her own viewpoint, then said something to the effect that “But these are all opinions. And all anyone will be able to give you is their own opinion.” Of course, I understood how true that was as soon as she said it, but I still didn’t realize the full implications of that truth yet.

Day Three: The Answer

However, this pivotal idea finally came full circle in August of 2014, the start of my junior year. My college mandates that all students take core classes for the first two years, thus it was my first time taking specific classes oriented to my major. Additionally, I was a history major, and all the history majors are required to take Historiography, so it was that class into which I entered on my first day. The professor began by explaining what historiography actually was, and that it hinged upon the fact that every man, ourselves included, has his own background, along with two other influences, so when he writes something, those three aspects will, consciously or unconsciously, influence whatever he attempts to say. I, shy and embarrassed at asking the first question (I’m rather infamous among my classmates for the amount of questions I ask), asked if, since the writers weren’t able to write objectively, whether the same factors did not also impair our ability to read objectively. He willingly answered that yes, it was true that we couldn’t read with pure objectivity.

Nonetheless, that alone did not satisfy my curiosity, so I went to his office a few weeks later, wanting to be sure I knew exactly what I wanted to ask. The final (but still inadequate) formulation of my question was something like, “Well, if history, as one field, is recorded in such a slanted way, is it possible for any subject to be objective?” I will never forget his answer, quickly and confidently as he shot it off: “No. With anything human it’s impossible to be purely objective.”

Did I really need the question?

As much as it gladdened me to finally have a concrete answer, I think part of me understood it already, to a greater extent than what I had reasoned years ago. How else did I learn it? Simply, almost to the point of ridiculousness, I learned it by living and seeing. To illustrate this, take one of my other articles, for example, the one on time travel. In it, I posited certain positions I attempted to found on logic and reason. As I tried to make clear at the time, my points seemed reasonable to me personally, due to my own opinions. Having learned and read as much as I have, I now know from observing both how I and others write that it would be impossible to expect everyone in the world to agree with me on essentially anything, even if that were the most trivial of viewpoints. Those with different mindsets, backgrounds, or certain agendas to support would doubtlessly posit something varying from my position, as the only things no one can dispute are pure objective facts, and there can even be dispute concerning those.

What’s the Answer for God?

Thus, I found both from a professor and my own perceptions that men, in and of themselves, cannot be objective. That leaves the question of what exactly Catholicism is, since it might seem as though we are following rules set by groups of people, the Magisterium being one such example. Here’s the fun twist, though: even though it may seem like it, we Catholics know that our faith didn’t come from men at all! Rather, it came from the mind of God. Therefore, the precepts of Catholicism are what God Himself has decided are good or bad. However, His wisdom is far greater than any created thing’s, be it man, angel, or monkey. Therefore, He doesn’t have an “opinion” on good or evil in the proper sense, because He is only one Who can see them for what they truly are. That being said, can God be objective? In the sense of remaining absolutely neutral on issues of morality, certainly not. But, is He objectively good? Of course, because for God not to be good is a contradiction in terms! To paraphrase an argument from Mere Christianity, what we call “good” must be greater in some way than what is called “bad,” otherwise there would be no way to distinguish good from bad at all. Then, the faith is founded on the principle that, thanks to original sin, we, having weakened wills, will commit bad actions for the sake of obtaining the distorted good that is in them. But, God, in His infinite wisdom, has shown us though His church a glimmer of His own wisdom, namely, the objective good and evil of actions.

Day Four: My Final Answer

In the end, this matter that started off long ago as a child’s idle pondering left me with a momentous truth that fits into Catholicism perfectly. We are humans. Our viewpoints distort things. It’s merely a part of life, and it’s not necessarily bad. Most joyfully for me, this new knowledge put a final end to my question. Yes, little Cecily, the answer is indeed “no,” just as you thought. Everybody looks at something a little differently, and so will they write or talk about it. It’s basically impossible to look at something like a book and not form a personal opinion on it.

To my reader: do not fear your own inability for neutral objectivity. After all, Catholicism itself is hardly “objective” in that sense. Therefore, we should all use our human subjectivity wisely. Most of all, we should order it toward God, as only in His teachings can we find the best and truest kind of “subjectivity!”

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