A Problem with Truth
As a Catholic who often ends up debating social issues, I’ve often thought, in frustration, that some people have a problem with the truth. Now, that’s a pretty prideful thing to think when it’s born out of frustration. This person isn’t listening to me, so they must just not like the truth!
But there is a real issue here. It’s not just me; anyone who has ever tried to debate with someone about a moral issue recently has likely experienced it. It’s clear that at a deep level, whether they realize it or not, a lot of people actually don’t care about truth at all. And I don’t think that’s because they’re stubborn, stupid, or intellectually lazy. Rather, it’s the influence of the philosophy of post-modernism.
“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.”
– Pope St. John Paul II in his encyclical letter, Fides et Ratio (1998)
In its most basic form, modernism is a rejection of the use of faith as a means to know truth, and therefore the elevation of reason as the only way of knowing truth. This philosophy was very common in the early 20th century, and many parts of it still remain common. For example, over-emphasis on science and neglect of philosophy and theology, and the assertion that science is opposed to religious belief.
This philosophy is and was a colossal failure, both in effect and in substance. Shearing off the wing of faith from the human spirit, modernism leaves us tumbling from the heights of truth to crash in the dirt below.
Modernists believed that the use of reason alone would lead ultimately to a greater understanding of truth, and to a better, more just future for humanity. But in fact, it lead to the opposite: the rejection of previously known truths to be replaced with nothing but confusion, and the most violent, brutal and unjust century humanity has ever seen.
Modernism could never be a long-term success, nor lead to progress toward truth, because it rejects faith. As John Paul II pointed out, faith and reason are complimentary, and to a large extent, dependent on each other. Without reason, faith can become blind. It can become gullible and prone to error, and it doesn’t allow us to properly understand the significance of revelation. But without faith, reason has no basis, no axioms to proceed from. Reason becomes worthless and ultimately leads to arbitrary answers. And it is largely the frustration with this inevitable failure that leads into post-modernism, which is where so many people find themselves today.
Post-modernism is modernism taken to its inevitable conclusion. Reason alone cannot find any truth, and modernism relies on reason alone. What, then, is a modernist to conclude, but that truth cannot be known at all? This is post-modernism, at its core: the abandonment of all hope of coming to know truth.
The poor one-winged bird that is the modernist human spirit, deprived of faith, incapable of flight, quite naturally decides to rid itself of its remaining wing: reason. After all, it is no more than dead weight without its counterpart.
Tragically, instead of realizing the mistake of modernist philosophies, our culture has doubled-down on its error, and spirals further from sanity every day.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
All hope is not lost for our culture. As Catholics, we always have hope, because our God is not only capable of anything, he has already done everything for us.
The fact is, post-modernism and the lifestyles that result from it do not lead to God, and they do not lead to happiness. They lead to despair and depression, and thus, the human spirit will begin to long for what it was made for. As St. Philip the Apostle famously asked Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.”
This is where it becomes important for us to evangelise through our lives, as well as our words. Because, even when argument fails to convince the skeptic, the hope of a life lived for God is an undeniable light in the darkness. And just as a physical light becomes more obvious the darker the surroundings, our lives will diverge further from those of our neighbours, as the culture moves further from God.
This is painful, and sometimes even deadly for us, but we can take comfort in the fact that it also makes us a clearer sign pointing to Christ.