“There are two kinds of people in the world: the conscious dogmatists and the unconscious dogmatists. I have always found myself that the unconscious dogmatists were by far the most dogmatic.” G.K. Chesterton
Before venturing out on the Via Apologetica, its important to add a little more here to beef up the case for the attainability and desirability of our target. Many consider the search for truth futile (and thus wasteful at best… arrogant at worst.) If they manage to clear that hurdle, they might still get tripped up by the old canard that somehow seeking transcendent Truth is what drives tyranny and violence, and so not desire it.
Let’s tackle “attainability” first. In my previous post I discussed Truth as “food and light” and alluded to it’s freeing effect. But there is a visceral objection to contend with that manifests itself in a variety of ways.
One is the characterization that it is “arrogant” to aspire to truth. Pausing upon this notion might lead to some serious head scratching: How can looking for something that by definition would supersede you be “arrogant.” But, assuming truth is found, it’s really the “audacity” to suggest that it be communicated to others that drives the reaction. Here it seems there is an exaggerated view of free will operating behind the scenes. Does freedom mean deciding what reality means to me? Or is it the ability to act in accord with reality? Strangely enough the first definition leads to ossification of the very self that is being asserted over and against the outside world. The second leads to increasing virtue and facility of action over a growing set of capacities. The first view effectively (if tacitly) claims truth is intrinsically constitutive of our nature, consequently fueling the aversion described… yet another symptom of the Fall. On the second view though, it is easier to accept the communication of this good as the passing of a baton in a relay race, where the order of participants is incidental, giving the passer no reason to boast in relation to subsequent runners… in fact the anchor leg (who has no one to pass to) is often the best athlete on the relay team. It would be an error to conclude that there is any superiority in the baton passer, even (and especially) if they themselves harbor such an illusion.
“…What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?” 1 Corinthians 4:7
Other objections usually exaggerate the context around the truth, leading to suspicions that it either is “unknowable”, that we could only ever perceive “features” of it, or that it is “relative.” Again, if we are discussing anything else (like a court case, or the financials of a public company), we would vehemently reject any of these notions, and rightly so as it can often be a matter of justice that they be rejected. If these are matters of justice, how much more would the pursuit of the Truth itself be? Despite this incongruence, not to mention the self refuting nature of these assertions (as they are themselves “truth claims”), there is still one matter left to address. Namely that of the prospect of transcendent truth not being compatible with our limitations as finite beings. In other words, even if unconstrained immutable Truth exists, how could a constrained ever vacillating mind ever come to know it. The main point to clear up is that it appears that “knowing” is being confused with “comprehending.” Why it’s impossible even to fully comprehend another human person, let alone the God of the universe, but we may potentially come to know either when they “reveal” themselves. Further discussion is planned on this topic at the “necessity of revelation” waypoint. For now the takeaway is that the pursuit of transcendent truth is not, a priori, an illogicality as the goal is knowing… not comprehending.
“The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.” Orthodoxy – G.K. Chesterton
With these alternate perspectives on “attainability” having been roughly sketched out, we can turn our attention to “desirability.” The supposed intolerance associated with the upholding of absolute truth has achieved today the status of an unquestionable truism. Yup, there’s another one of those self contradictions… funny how error tends to do that. Usually, historical events like the Inquisition, Crusades and “persecution of science” tend to form the support for this kind of claim. Aside from the caricaturing that takes place (because primary sources are largely ignored,) there is a tendency to evaluate these things in a vacuum. We have an anachronistic view of them and tend not to compare them to the “alternate hypothesis” of a secular / relativistic worldview… one responsible for crimes against humanity that dwarf the scale of anything that came before. Intolerance then is not the handmaid of Truth… if anything, to the degree it has been diffused, it has been able to contain and restrain intolerance. Such a thing should be evident, as a mutual acceptance of foundational truth acts an intermediary between human wills, buffering and arbitrating claims between them. Without it, only a violent Nietzschean power struggle can resolve conflict.
“Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness to the wrong; but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” John 18:23
This absence of absolute truth is the actual basis for the “fascist attitudes” it usually gets blamed for. This may appear counterintuitive to many, but is clear upon further examination. If none of this convinces you of the dangers of relativism, you may be swayed by the prospect of being in company with an infamous dictator who also extolled its “virtues:”
“If relativism signifies contempt for fixed categories and those who claim to be the bearers of objective immortal truth, then there is nothing more relativistic than Fascist attitudes and activity. From the fact that all ideologies are of equal value, we Fascists conclude that we have the right to create our own ideology and to enforce it with all the energy of which we are capable.” – Benito Mussolini
The “creation of ideology” expressed in the above quote leads to a caricature of morality. In following this approach, we must suppress the truth about ourselves and the voice of conscience. When we do that, it doesn’t go away, it just rises up in a distorted form. This is how we can fall prey to vices masquerading as virtues. New “enlightened” causes must be virtue signaled with adherence swiftly mandated. The process repeats itself because we are trying to placate (unsuccessfully) the very thing suppressed and are never able to find peace.
“When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was shattered at the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage.” – G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
Only truth can unify and bridle passion. If we want to hold off both violent chaos and “dispassionate indifference” (the latter arguably more insidious than the former,) we do well to take seriously this pursuit. So if one does not desire the target by virtue of what it is, the imperfect motivation of avoiding the consequence of lacking it will be sufficient for now. Few who have embarked on this journey with sincerity have ended up regretting it. Many have reached the same surprising realization that the Truth Himself was the initiator from the start, encouraging, binding up, strengthening and guiding the whole time:
“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Revelation 22:13
With that we have completed the first step on the Via Apologetica… getting off the couch. The next step of our journey is to examine “The Limits and uses of doubt.”