Truth and Lies: Understanding Reality
At a recent Halloween party, my fourteen-year-old son met some kids who did not share his view of life. Somehow they ended up in a discussion of abortion. His new acquaintances made two principal arguments – arguments which pretty well encompass the entire philosophical content of the pro-abortion movement, and which also reveal a fundamental misconception of the nature of truth.
It’s About Me, Stupid!
One teen-aged girl argued that if a woman who was not prepared to care for a child brought the child to term, she would undoubtedly have a strong emotional attachment to the newborn baby. Therefore, it is unfair to ask her to give the baby up for adoption. Far better to kill the child early than to break the mother’s heart by giving it away later, especially after all the trouble of pregnancy.
This is as neat a summary of the motivation of the pro-abortion movement as can be framed in 25 words or less. In the final analysis, the abortion movement is about feelings, specifically the feelings of whoever is talking at the moment – that is, my feelings. In a single act of denial as gargantuan as it is continous, the proponents of abortion bestir themselves mightily to ask, “What about me?”
Who Is It Right For, Anyway?
Me-ism, however, is difficult to sustain as a serious argument, and as a mere attitude it is forbiddingly unattractive to others. This doubtless explains why its proponents seldom express their attitude so nakedly. Rather, they find it necessary to clothe it in the robes of philosophy. In my son's case, this became evident as soon as he tried to explain that the anticipation of one’s bad feelings on parting with a beloved child cannot justify killing the child before love can develop. Obviously, he argued, taking the life of the baby would be gravely wrong.
This compelled the young lady to resort to philosophy: “Oh, but if I disagree with you and hold a different view of the matter, then it would be right for me.”
In the pro-abortion camp, the watchfires burn with the uncertain and variable light of relativism, flaring up here and dying to embers there, controlled entirely by mood or whim. For relativism is the philosophical cloak of me-ism. Its great utility is to make true whatever I may want. It does this by locating truth in my perceptions of reality rather than in reality itself, thereby legitimating at any given moment whatever it is that I wish to do.
Truth and Reality
In contrast, authentic philosophers share a profound sense of truth as something both outside and larger than themselves. Exactly what this is may be revealed in the following confusion of terms. People often claim that “truth” is relative, but nobody ever claims that “reality” is relative. Or people may claim that they can safely ignore this or that system of “truth”, but nobody claims that they can safely ignore “reality”. Or people may claim that they can make up their own “truth”, but nobody claims they can thereby command “reality” to change into something else.
This strange use of terms reveals that many people fail to grasp what should be inescapably clear: that truth is neither more nor less than the mind's conformity with reality. Hold this thought, for it is vital. Insofar as something is proposed as true, the test is whether the proposition is an articulation of a mind conformed to reality. If so, the proposition will be very useful in assisting less well-instructed minds to conform themselves more perfectly to reality as well. If not, the proposition arises purely from personal confusion or personal desire. It is useless.
Because truth is necessarily conformed to reality, it follows that to deviate from truth is to run a very grave risk—the risk of being harmed by a reality which one has failed to understand, or of missing the opportunities which reality provides.
The Catholic Advantage
It is now perhaps obvious that truth is neither a series of arbitrary or subjective propositions, nor a mind game, nor a word game. It does not and cannot change from culture to culture, age to age, or whim to whim. Rather, truth is both permanent and transcendent. Well-formed Catholics have a great advantage in grasping this point.
An understanding of truth seeps into a Catholic’s bones from the apparent obstinacy of Church teaching, which stands against the changing fashions of the world, and is criticized from a different side in each new secular age. It seeps in too from the lives of the saints, a vast and diverse company of men and women from every time and every walk of life who, somehow, have all reached the same conclusion. It seeps in from our own experience of sin and forgiveness – the healing and wholeness we experience after a personal fall, but only when we are sacramentally restored by something (or Someone) outside ourselves.
For, finally, this understanding seeps in from a knowledge of Christ Himself. He who has identified himself as “the Truth” has also identified himself as the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the same yesterday, today and forever. Ultimately, to know the truth, we must conform our minds to Christ, God the Son, the creative Word of the Father, in whom all reality has its being.
This goal of conformity to Christ makes Catholics wary, as all should be, of theories proposed by the fashionable, of the constantly new and changing ideas offered by the world's illuminati, of the many notions which are so helpful in justifying our personal desires or ingratiating ourselves with this or that social group.
With abortion rights as with so much else, we need to be on the alert for falsehood by keeping the inescapable nature of truth in mind. Understanding the relationship of reality, mind and truth is one of the most effective safeguards against being led dangerously astray. This understanding resolves itself into an astonishingly simple first rule: Only one who speaks from an understanding of reality's transcendence tells the truth. Or, as Augustine so wisely put it 1600 years ago, he who speaks from himself, lies.
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