Truth: Not What You Think


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A FaceBook friend recently posted this:

What I fear has become the new “progressive” orthodoxy is this, that there is no such thing as truth. And if there is no truth, there can be no love of truth. And if there is no love of truth, our civilization collapses, for it was built, both in philosophy and religion, on love of truth.

To which I replied, “If there is no truth, the statement there is no truth is not true.” And that is absurd.

So, obviously there is such a thing as truth, but what is it? Here is a scenario to consider:

The man was very thirsty and found a glass filled with a perfectly clear liquid. He wanted it to be water, not rubbing alcohol, or vodka, or kerosene. He really, really wanted it to be water so he could sake his thirst. But regardless of what he wanted, what was in the glass was whatever it really was. His desire for it to be water could not affect the liquid. Even if he believed it was water, his belief could not affect what it really was, and so, what it would do to his body.

What this liquid really was is the truth about it. So, what exactly is truth? Truth is what is. Everything is what it is no matter what we think about it.

But we are conscious rational beings who can make judgments about reality. So for us, there is an additional note in the definition. For us, truth is the correspondence of our minds with things themselves. If the liquid in a glass is water and I think the contents of the glass are water then I have the truth about that liquid.

Philosophers tell us that truth is a transcendental. That is to say, it is part of the identity of every real thing, because everything is something. Everything is what it is.

Loving the Truth

Do you love the truth? Do you think it is better to know the truth than to be in error? Even if the truth is painful?

Divine revelation teaches us that the truth is a person, the person of Jesus Christ. He said about himself, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6).

Jesus also said “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:31-32).

Our Lord has created and continues to sustain everything  in existence. He knows the full truth about everything.  Thus by drawing closer to him we come closer to knowing the truth ourselves.

Jesus is of course referring to the truth about God and human life. Do we know these truths? Do we accept them? Do we love them?

Promoting the Truth

While there are fascinating and practically useful truths about the natural world which men have been uncovering from the beginning of human history and which modern science is unlocking at an accelerating rate, the most important truths are religious: about God, the Church, Our Lord, man, society, vocation, and family. What are some of them?

  • God is one and triune: within the one God are three persons united in truth and love. God created the universe and sustains it in existence. He has created everything to share his blessedness with creatures, especially man who can consciously thank and praise God.
  • Jesus Christ our savior is true God and true man and he has united himself with every person in some way.
  • The Church is the instrument founded by Christ to bring the Gospel of the salvation of Christ to the world. She transmits God’s grace to man through her sacraments.
  • Man is an ensouled body or an embodied soul. Our reason, free will, and interdependence, with the help of God’s grace, give us the capacity to make of ourselves a sincere gift and so find fulfillment.
  • Society exists to serve man, not man society.
  • God calls each person to a specific state in life. Our particular vocation helps us fulfill our universal vocation: God’s call to join him in eternal blessedness in heaven.
  • The family is the original human institution, the place where we learn the most important things about life, and the bedrock of civilization. The family is made up of a man and woman who freely, permanently, and exclusively give themselves to each other, and who welcome and educate any children God entrusts to them.

We all need a deep, on-going intellectual formation so we can know, live, and promote these truths.

Defending the Truth

All of these realities are denied by some today. In America, by and large, the mass media, academia, and government deny them. Many individuals harbor hatred against anyone who holds to fundamental truths about God and man.

Besides an intellectual formation in the truth, a person also needs courage and prudence in defending it against error. We need to know when to speak and when to keep silent and to have the guts to stand for these realities when we should.

Part of this defense is apologetics, that is, rational arguments to show that these things are true or at least reasonable to believe.

In addition to our own often feeble attempts to defend it, we should not forget that the truth has its own attractive force. The truth will set us free. It will also vanquish error. Christ said to Peter, “On this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18). In other words, the truth will knock down the most formidable defenses evil and error can erect against it.

Two Keys to Promote Truth

If we wish to promote the truth, we better actually live it as best we can. This is a silent but powerful witness.

It is mostly the people around us—family members, co-workers, friends, neighbors—we are trying to help. To do this we can always improve how we communicate. Here are two key ways.

First is to learn to listen. A great way to listen is to ask questions. Find out why this persons thinks the truth is what he thinks it is. It is usually because he his trying to defend something he thinks is of value. Usually the thing he is defending is a good of some kind.

The second is to speak charitably. Assume good will in the other. Don’t get angry. Don’t use sarcasm. Rather, “speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15).

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7 thoughts on “Truth: Not What You Think”

  1. Kevin,
    I’ve debated you a number of times in my saying that Catholic school has become affordable only for those who can 1. afford the tuition and 2. have only one or two children (as pricing is based on the number of children.) Whereas you’ve responded that you’ve “never seen anyone turned away”.
    Do you still think that the reason 90+% of Catholic school children are not Catholic schools is because their parents didn’t ask?

    1. Thomas, if your 90% number is correct, the reason that 90% of catholic school-aged children are not in Catholic schools (less the homeschooled children, the special needs children, and the children in areas in which there are no Catholic schools) is that their parents do not want them in Catholic schools. I have been both a Catholic school principal and have never seen or heard of a student turned away due to finances. I have also been out of Catholic education and been so poor we did not have a pot to piss in but my kids still attended excellent Catholic schools due to the inclusive policies of those schools.

      To support my claim about parents not wanting their kids in Catholic schools I would have to ask you why in a parochial school with 200 students there are not 1800 students enrolled in the parish CCD program?

  2. It used to be that people respected believers in the truth and would give us credit even when they knew they could not embrace the truth themselves. Now religious bigots freely tell us how wrong (and “evil”) our religion is in their eyes. Nothing like learning how to coexist! Believers just want to be free to believe. Pray for us all.

  3. Great article!

    Do you love the truth? Do you think it is better to know the truth than to be in error? Even if the truth is painful?

    Yes I do! And I wandered for many years in search of it and found Him in the Catholic faith.

    Such good points under Two Keys to Promote and ones I’ve been trying to implement in this new year.

  4. Birgit Atherton Jones

    The money quote, “Everything is what it is no matter what we think about it.” Society today tries to deny this but it is what it is – opinions can’t change truth.

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