Sunday, October 3, 2010

Pilate said to him, "What is truth?"

Remember when I said that my blog had two purposes? That I want it to be a teaching blog and a learning blog? Well, this post covers both.

First, the teaching part:

One of the most dramatic moments in the Gospels is the exchange between Jesus Christ (who is on trial for his life) and Pontius Pilate (who ultimately orders Jesus' execution). Here is John 18:37-38:

Jesus [said]...."For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice."
Pilate said to him, "What is truth?"

Thus we see the two main worldviews regarding truth: One is Jesus' and one is Pilate's. The two views are irreconcilable. Choose a side.

If you want to be a Christian, you must choose Jesus' side. The secular world increasingly chooses Pilate's side.

Now, let's be clear: I am not talking about subjective truth, such as whether you prefer red wine to white, or what you think of grandma's new hairdo.

I am talking objective truth. Truths that are true no matter what you or I think. Truths about who we are and who God is. Truths of "faith and morals".... back to that Deposit of Faith I was talking about here.

Truth cannot contradict itself. So, it's either true that killing innocents is wrong, or it's not. It's either true that rape is wrong, or it's not. It's either true that God exists, or it's not. It can't be "your truth" or "my truth" -- objective truth exists outside of ourselves and will remain true even if the whole world doesn't believe it. Truth is not ours to determine, it is ours to seek and find.

Think about it:

The whole world once believed the earth to be flat. That belief didn't make the world flat. The earth was as round as ever back then, despite public opinion to the contrary.

Believing doesn't make something true. But, if something is true, it is right to believe it. I remember a great line from a Peter Kreeft book: "The only reason to believe something is because it's true." If I have cancer, what good is it for me to believe that I don't have cancer? If it's snowing outside, what good is it for me to believe it's scorching hot? If the light is red, what good is it for me to believe that it's green? We should believe what is true, not what we wish to be true.

Truth is what is real.

Truth would exist even if we didn't. We don't decide what is true or not, we receive what is true (this is known as revelation). We are not the arbiters of Truth, but we hand down what we have received (this is known as catechesis).

We live in a world that increasingly rejects the idea of objective truth. Instead, we are surrounded by Pilate's worldview: "What is truth?" You have your "truth" and I have mine, and it doesn't matter if these "truths" contradict. In fact (and ironically), the only "truth" is that there is no Truth! Pilate's words are conventional wisdom today, but we Christians must understand that Pilate's worldview -- the worldview that all truth is subjective -- is incompatible with Christianity.

Now, on to the learning part of the post, because I really want to know:

To those of you who hold a worldview of "you have your truth and I have mine," please explain the difference between your truth and your opinion.

Thanks, and I look forward to learning how you reconcile the two concepts.


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  2. Thanks, Paul!

    The quote was a little more nuanced, though: "The only reason to believe something is because it's true" not "if you know it's true." I think that little nuance might open up a whole new post idea!

    I was going to add, "It's either true that a new human life begins at conception, or it's not." ;)

    I really enjoy your comments, and I am glad you found the Bubble! You will keep me on my toes.

  3. I'm not of the "other" worldview, but I do have an idea of how to answer this from their perspective. Someone can correct me if I'm wrong.

    I think the secular view of "truth" is an evolving one, as we as a society continue to learn and evolve ourselves. So, today's truth may be different from tomorrow's truth. And I think a major truth right now is that the rights of the individual to do what they please when they want needs to be upheld at all costs, as long as it does not infringe on someone else's right to do what they want when they want. (This is a gross generalization, but I do think a very strong idea for those who subscribe to Pilate's "truth.")

    It's interesting, because I imagine if that conversation had continued between Jesus and Pilate, it may begin to mirror the conversation we had on this blog between the Christians and non-Christians in regards to what is Truth.

  4. "Believing doesn't make something true. But, if something is true, it is right to believe it." That is a quoteable quote Leila!

  5. all I have to say is that I actually remember this vividly from The Passion.....Omgosh! Poignant! You could see him battle it, yet Pilate still chose as he washed his hands.....

  6. Last Sunday I did a blog about G.W.F. Hegel, at my blog about how people like Obama buy the Hegelian notion that truth is mostly subjective, and morality is only what benefits whatever system comes out on top. Not only is the Hegelian system amoral, it is also totalitarian.

  7. I used to be a relativist. Back then, I would have said 'what is true for me may not be true for you'. At the time what I actually meant was that believing "A" made me a better person...but believing "B" might make you a better person. We should believe whatever makes us a better person.

    I see now that my brand of relativism was completely irrational, and I was using justifications to avoid being others have stated.

    Great post.

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  9. The relativist abandons the beginning of wisdom by declaring that his opinions, however uninformed, are the truth. This hastens the decline of all other virtues as well as reason to the point that a man can even declare, "It depends on what the meaning of Is is" without choking on the words.

  10. Great post, Leila! I remember being in high school, and a student survey asked us if we believed that killing someone was always wrong. I had a very difficult time with this as I kept thinking about different situations like self defense and other difficult situations that seem like gray area.
    I look back now and realize how my years in public education were very good at cultivating a relativistic attitude. I am so thankful for the Holy Spirit guiding me to understand the truths of the Catholic Church!

  11. great line from a Peter Kreeft book: "The only reason to believe something is because it's true." If I have cancer, what good is it for me to believe that I don't have cancer?

    Agreed, but I wonder if there is a good in believing you will successfully battle the cancer even if in the end that is not true?

  12. Wild Bill, ha! You are so right.

    Estase, that is a great point. I almost put this in the post: "If there is no objective truth, there is only power. The side with the biggest guns gets to decide morality."

    TCIE, TW, lowly and Megan, do you think, then, it is fair to say that "truth" and "opinion" are interchangeable words for the relativists? Would they agree? What would their distinction between those two words be? I hope I am being clear. I truly want to know (hope to hear from Gwen, or Sophie, or Mai).

    Sew, that scene was so powerful....

    [Paul, re: your blog, my daughter, a Classics major, read the Illiad in Greek... she loves that book. They had to memorize the first fifty lines of the Greek.]

  13. Joy, yes, because there is a possibility of being cured. When one gets cancer, it is not true to say that one will definitely die of cancer. That is an unknown, and we can hope, pray and think for the best outcome.

  14. Great post! And great passage of Scripture to illustrate this concept. I'm so glad you're covering this- since so many commenters complain of your truth/my truth. Love that quote from Kreeft, to!!

  15. Leila ~ Thank you, I really liked the quote but how it applied to the as yet unknown was nagging at me.

  16. Joy I'm glad it makes sense now. In fact, to deny the truth of having cancer (my example in the post) would make it impossible to fight and beat the cancer. So the objective truth is: "I have cancer" and then we can face reality and fight the best we can to beat it. :)

  17. I find it interesting that one of the "truths" that you list is the existence (or not) of God. From that truth comes a number of corollaries. As in, "God exists, he tells me this, or he tells the Catholic hierarchy this, and therefore ...". It is a truth to me that God doesn't exist, and so all of your corollaries must be re-examined based on a different set of "truths".

    Also, I am enjoying reading how you think we simply have opinions, as if we pulled them out of some cloud - that we don't think about how our opinions affect other people (the rape case). Or, how much we are all like Babbitt and get much of our opinions from reading or hearing other opinions - after we read them, we either agree or disagree. I am not "dreaming up" my opinions in a vacuum. For example, my opinion on evolution is based on examples of scientific evidence from the millions of scientists who study this. I do not say I "believe" in evolution, but I agree with the scientific theory. I will also not say that evolution is a "truth", because as we all know it is the best theory around but scientists are good at finding better theories that build on old ones (and discarding or modifying those old ones when a new discovery is found).

    I am particularly amused by the Tridentine wife describing such a time as "not believing in anything". I certainly believe something -- to quote Penn Jillette, I believe there is no god,, and my life is better for it.

  18. Mai, I think you totally missed the point of the post. I said, "It's either true that God exists, or it's not." Meaning, both of those statements cannot be true. It cannot be that God exists "for me" but at the same time he doesn't exist "for you". It has nothing to do with us. The truth of it is outside of us.

    In other words, for the sake of argument, let's stipulate your point that God does not exist. That still makes one of us wrong and one of us right.

    Do you see?

    Truth is truth, and what we believe about it doesn't matter one whit. I hope you will go back and re-read this post, because I don't think you understood it.

    I don't mind if we disagree, but at least let's be clear about what my point was.


    (If someone can explain this to Mai better than I can, please do. This post had nothing to do with proof that God exists, or that he doesn't.)

  19. By the way, I am getting from your answer that "truth" for you actually does mean "opinion." And don't get me wrong, opinions can be correct and they can be based on lot of good research, experience and evidence.

    But the word "opinion" and the word "truth" are not synonymous to me. Sometimes our opinions are true, and sometimes not. But are those words synonymous to you? That's what I am trying to ask. Can you tell me (with definitions, if you would) what you think the difference is between "your truth" and "your opinion". That is what I want to learn from you. Thanks, Mai

  20. Mai - you point out a common issue when discussing with those who disagree about what is true. But like Leila said, the post isn't about those issues but about reality beyond our own personal perspectives. God either exists or God doesn't exist. You say no, and I say yes. But our beliefs (which conflict and that may feel uncomfortable) don't change the reality that he either does or doesn't. It sounds like you would agree that it is irrational to say God only exists for some and not for others.

    To even function in everyday life, we must accept that there are some objective realities... it's just out of fashion right now to deal with issues like "Does God exist?" In our culture, we're much more comfortable with dealing only with "Is the light red?" (Although, being a lawyer's daughter, there are many out there who want to create their own realities by saying the light was green when it was red ;)).

    I personally don't think you just pull opinions out of thin air any more than I think Catholics just repeat what the Magisterium tells them. I think it will be easier to discuss various issues and seek out "what is true" if we set those assumptions aside.

  21. Sarah, thank you. That is well put, and more clear than what I said. :)

    Mai, maybe the other confusing thing was that the first ("teaching") part of the post was written to teach Catholics some basic concepts. That is why it contained some terms like "revelation" and "catechesis". I wasn't trying to prove anything to non-believers, so it wasn't directed as a statement or message to atheists. However, I certainly have no problem at all with you reading and commenting, and I am glad that you do! I just wanted to make that distinction, so that the purpose of this post is as clear as possible to every audience. (Please read "The Purpose of My Blog" at the top of the page.)

    The second, "learning", part of my post was directed at anyone who objects to the concept of objective truth. This may or may not be you. If you believe that truth comes each individual, then you reject objective truth. If you believe that truth exists outside of us (truth is a reality not dependent on us at all), then you believe in objective truth.

    This post was not about whether or not God exists. It is about whether objective truth exists.


  22. I don't think for relativists that "truth" and "opinion" are synonymous. Let's take something less philosophical than God and talk math. The truth is that 2+2 = 4. This was a truth eons ago, it is a truth today, and it will likely be a truth forever. BUT, who knows, there may come a day when mathemeticians discover that our ordering of addition was flawed in some way, and in fact there is a way to add 2 = 2 and achieve 5. So, while the truth is concrete right now, there is always ROOM for new information to become known and ALTER that truth.

    That's how I see it. I'm pretty sure most relativists would agree. It's SIMILAR to opinion, but it is based on solid "facts" as we understand them in our current environment and place in history.

    I do see where it is easy to start interchanging the two, though, when the word "truth" is always followed by the words "to me." For the sake of the argument here, Mai, I think we need to all subscribe to the fact that there IS objective truth. Not my truth and your truth, but truth, with the "either/or" option. (Either this is true or the opposite is true.)

  23. TW, I think Mai should read this post, about why generalizing is not always bad:

    TCIE, I think I get what you are saying. And I am curious to see if Mai thinks there is any objective truth (even in math). I know of some relativists who would argue that nothing is true (except, ironically, that statement, which negates itself).

    You are right that when they use "that's your truth" and "this is my truth" they are basically using "truth" as "opinion" (even a very, very, very strongly held opinion).

  24. Leila and Joy, just a quick return to say that I am a lung cancer survivor and I won because I believed (and stated as truth) that I would beat it if God would give me the strength. He did and I did. All the glory goes to the cross - I receive every breath as borrowed and precious.

  25. Wild Bill, praise God!

    My mother-in-law is battling lung cancer as we speak.

  26. Objective truths can be demonstrated and replicated - and even then, everyone must start with a common set of assumptions. In things like math and the rest of the sciences, it is not difficult to start with a common set of assumptions (that we are using numbers in base 10, that we are working with real numbers, or in the sciences, that carbon dating effectively gives an age range for a material, etc).

    The statements used in your example cannot be demonstrated or replicated, so they are not objective in my book. However, if you think they are, then we are back at "You think of truth your way, I think of it my way." Which is not so very far from your truth and my truth.

    When I follow your logic in this post, I get: "The answer to every question is either yes or no, not both. I consider the question 'Is God real?' I am a Christian, so I select that God is real. By my previous assertion, if God is real, then he cannot also be not real. Hence, people who do not believe as I do are wrong."

    This shows in your dialogue with non-Christians/non-Catholics - they are wrong. I submit that relativism, or "your truth and my truth", or subjectivism, or whatever you want to call it, actually shows more respect for the person on the other side of the argument. I respect that your opinions are based on your answer to the question about whether or not God exists - you and I have different answers to that.

    We could call this answer an assumption - since the (presumably objective) "Does God exist?" question cannot be immediately answered, we all must make some choice about what it is so that we can move forward. We answer the question to the best of our knowledge, what we have, right now. Once we've answered it for ourselves, we move forward with that answer (or assumption, if you will).

    I still hold that it is valid that I say "your truth or my truth". Above, you've answered the God question for yourself, and decided which of those answers is true. However, I would be happy with "assumption". Your assumptions and my assumptions do not match.

  27. Mai, I totally get what you are saying as far as it goes, but let me ask this, because I still don't quite know for sure how you would answer this in light of what you just wrote:

    Back when no one could do any repeatable, demonstrable experiments which showed that atoms existed, did they still exist?

    In other words, was it objectively true, even in the year, say, 1,000 B.C., that atoms existed, even if not one person on earth believed that they did?

    So, do truths exist outside of what any individual believes? Or, do we really "make our own truth"?

    Maybe it's only in the material world that you believe in objective truth? In your philosophy, nothing other than physical, material, scientific truth can be real, yes? And then you would consider that objective truth, correct, even if it exists but no one knows about it yet (like atoms back in the day)?

    If that makes sense?

    Thanks. I'm just trying to learn. Everyone can decide for himself what they think of this dialogue, since this isn't a post where I want to "prove" anything. I was defining things only.

    It just seems like your answer keeps talking about what "you believe" or "I believe" -- which is all subjective stuff again. What I'm trying to get at: If we don't concern ourselves with what either one of us (or anyone) believes, then is there still truth that exists that does not depend on us or what we believe?

  28. PS: Of course I believe that people who don't believe in God are wrong, but that is irrelevant to this post. I am trying to define objective truth, not prove God's existence. Sorry if I am being unclear. Maybe this post-partum brain of mine needs a boost. :)

  29. If we don't concern ourselves with what either one of us (or anyone) believes, then is there still truth that exists that does not depend on us or what we believe?

    I guess I'm more of a pragmatist, similar to not seeing much point in debating about sibling marriage because the chances of it coming to a vote are so slim. Or, a little more trite, if a tree falls in the woods does it make a sound? It does make a sound but nobody is around to hear it.

    Similarly with the Atom. I can't even now say that this is absolutely true (agreeing with TCIE), because we might come up with a better explanation soon. We thought we had pinned down light - it was particles, and we could prove the particle theory, but then we discovered it was actually waves. But then we discovered it was particles and then waves! There is probably an absolute truth about light (is it a particle, a wave, or something else?) but I don't know what it is.

    I keep thinking in my head, once I declare absolute truth, then I'm not open to the fact that I may be wrong. THAT bothers me more than actually being wrong. Completely shutting my mind off to another explanation is distasteful to me. I'm happy to be wrong, if the new evidence is better.

    Evidence how long it took the Catholic Church to apologize to Galileo. Such dogmatic adherence to "the absolute truth" is laughable at best, and detrimental to the people who follow it at worst.

  30. Okay, I think I understand your point of view now, Mai. Thanks for taking the time.

    Would it be fair to say that there is also no objective moral truth in your mind? For example, I would say that rape is always objectively wrong (no matter if an entire society decides to adopt it as a practice). Would you agree, or would what you wrote above apply? I'm not trying to trap you, I'm truly curious.

    As for Galileo... I guess someday I will have to do a post on that one, sigh. ;) Meanwhile, there is plenty of info/history out there which explains what really happened (which is not quite how the Church-bashers describe it).

  31. One more question, Mai: Are you saying that the Church was wrong and Galileo was right? (On the science, I would agree with that statement, so don't get me wrong...) And if so, doesn't that go against your principles? How can one be wrong and one be right if there is no way we can know absolute truth in science (as you said)? Or can you say (as I do) absolutely that the earth revolves around the sun?

    The fact that you do say there is "probably an absolute truth about light" means that in some cases you do accept objective truth.

    I think I'm just thinking out loud now.

  32. Still thinking out loud:
    Mai, it seems to me (correct me if I'm wrong) that you are saying this: "There is objective truth, but we cannot know what it is."

    If so, then it would be accurate to say, "You have your understanding of what the truth might be, and I have mine."

    To me, that is like saying, "You have your opinion, I have mine."

    Does that make sense?

  33. i think your comments are sometimes more interesting than the original post! (not to bash your posts, its just you really do get an interesting comment train going!)

    and thanks for writing about this. when i realized that truth exists, whether i wanted it to or not, those were an extremely humbling few days/weeks and the beginning of my journey to faith. before i acknowledged that there was an entire objective truth out there beyond me i was completely unable to entertain it. i get chills still thinking about that night that my world crumbled and i finally *realized*.

  34. Flannery O'Connor once said, "The truth is the truth, regardless of our ability to stomach it."

    I think that sums it up nicely.

  35. "There is objective truth, but we cannot know what it is."

    That's close. My feelings are more like "If there is an objective truth, I don't know what it is. I only know what I have at my disposal at this point, and I must act on that."

    Also about Galileo and the Church. The prevailing theory (and it has been prevailing for 500 years) is that the earth revolves around the sun. While it is unlikely that any better explanation will come up, science still allows for that small possibility. This, BTW, is a major argument over evolution - EVERYTHING in science is held as a theory, even the best running theory, even gravity.

    Whether or not I judge the Church as wrong for holding their opinion, that's a good question. The earth revolving around the sun is demonstrable, and there is a lot of evidence that says that it does. The church rejecting all of this evidence can be judged by me (and so I pronounce: they were wrong). However, whether or not God exists or whether or not rape is right or wrong doesn't have any observable evidences, so the question is more open, and right or wrong cannot be so easily judged by me.

  36. To Paul Zimmer:

    If it is not a "human life" that is present at conception what is "it?"

    When does the "it" become a human in your opinion?

    We were all, once, at the stage of an "it" at one point. That's the only way to become an adult person.

    Needing time to develop and/or being vulnerable or dependent upon another should not make us non-human. That's crazy.

    If this were true, then even those of us who are alive/already born (who either still need time to develop, or perhaps re-develop after an injury or set back, or those of us who aren't as independent) would be less of a person in your world view.

    My grandma needs help to survive but this doesn't take away her personhood/humaneness.

    She actually needs the help of several people to get through her day.

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  38. Truth, what is it?

    The definition of 'truth' is 'opposite of error'. Truth means it is conformable to fact. It is correct.

    Truth in action, is when the human conscience agrees with the intellect. Truth is 'ONE'. There can be only one truth, (John 17:17-23).

    JOHN 17:17-23:

    17 Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth.
    18 As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world.
    19 And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth.
    20 "I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,
    21 so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.
    22 And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one,
    23 I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.

    Any variation in the one truth is not truth at all, but error.

    So how do you test for the truth? I have already given you the answer in the first paragraph. You have to look for error, and you have to see if the truth is conformable to fact. Here are some guidelines. Consult your conscience as you follow these pointers...

    1. Have you felt uncomfortable (conscience speaking) with some Bible verses that do not seem to conform to the teaching of your Church? All of Scripture is harmonious and it all should fit together like a giant picture puzzle.

    2. When you do question some teaching, do you get definitive answers every time?

    3. Do you get meaningless or nebulous answers that don't make sense?

    4. Are you absolutely sure that you are in the Church that Jesus Christ founded? He only founded 'A' Church in Mathew 16:18. That verse does not say 'Churches'. I am reminded of 1 Cornthians 10:12, "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall."

    5. There are over 33,800 different Christian sects in the world today. How can you be sure you have chosen the right one?

    6. Remember, 'TRUTH IS ONE', so how can there possibly be 33,800 different Christian Churches, all teaching that ONE TRUTH?

    7. If all those Churches taught the same truth, then there would not be 33,800, but only one. What does an examination of conscience say now?

    8. That means there have to be 33,799 Churches teaching error. If that is the case, then there are 33,799 Churches on the 'wide path' and only one on the 'narrow'. I don't like those gambling odds of 1 in 33,800. Does that bother your conscience?

    9. Most all Churches claim to be the Church of truth. Who do you believe? Which one is right? Which Church does the Bible say is the Church of truth?

    10. The Church of truth is spelled out in the Bible. It is the only Church that was given the authority, the one in whom the Holy Spirit dwells forever, John 14:15-17.

    11. "But he who does the truth comes to the light that his deeds may be made manifest, for they have been performed in GOD", John 3:21. This verse says it all.

    12. If you haven't found truth then you haven't found GOD.

  39. Hi Leila,

    Finally got a chance to look at the old posts you linked.

    I have to be honest and say that the idea of "truth" isn't something I've thought about too much in my life, so I can't guarantee that my position on it will be very clear. I'll give it my best shot.

    I think truth is objective. This might be surprising to you. I truly think that there are things that are right in the world, and things that are wrong. The distinction between my viewpoint and yours, however, is that I don't think I know for certain what these truths are. I don't claim to know what is objectively right, nor do I claim to know what is objectively wrong.

    Over the course of my lifetime, I have been exposed to a lot of different things. Each of these things has led me along the path to my current view of what is right and what is not. I gather all of this information in my brain, and assign right and wrong values to things as they come. This is where subjectivity comes in.
    My current view of what is right and wrong was formed by:
    -observing the world around me and collecting evidence
    -thinking long and hard about each issue
    -coming to a unique conclusion for each one (is it right? is it wrong?)

    As far as I can tell, for Catholics, the ways your right and wrong are defined are similar to the way I defined mine with one obvious distinction:
    -receive church doctrine about what is right and wrong
    -observe the world around you and collect evidence
    -think long and hard about the issues and about the church's teachings on these issues
    -come to a conclusion for each one
    I absolutely do not feed into the belief that Catholics just willy-nilly decide to agree with whatever the Pope or the Church sets out. Any Catholic worth their salt will have thought about these issues and come to their own conclusion just like I did with mine. The difference (in my mind--correct me if I'm wrong) is that he or she will most likely assign right and wrong in line with what the Church believes is right and wrong, as for him or her this is very important evidence.

    So, while I believe there ARE objective truths out there, I don't think I will never know whether or not I am right. I try my very best to gather all of the evidence, and live my life based on my OPINION as to what is TRUE (yes, I'm admitting that my truths are just opinions!).

    Is evolution really the way it all happened? Since it is the best theory that we have at this time, yes, I believe it to be true (i.e. I allow this opinion to serve as close to true in my mind as possible). Will it always necessarily be what I think is true? No, I will change my opinion if new evidence comes along that I find to be more convincing.

    In my quest for OBJECTIVE truths (that I definitely believe there are), I have come up with my very own set of SUBJECTIVE truths, what you would call opinions. I feel thoroughly confident in my opinions.
    Confident enough to call them true, confident enough to put them in place in my everyday life, and confident enough to fight for them.

  40. Mrs. M, thank you! This clears up a lot for me and helps me to understand what you believe. Although I disagree with your worldview, this explanation does not confuse me.

    The only question that still lingers for me, is what is your source for moral truth? Societies often change their standards of what is morally good and bad, so that seems very fluid (whereas Catholics would say that the moral law never changes). How do you become confident enough to fight for a moral truth, let's say, when most people change their minds on that many times during their lifetime? (I had a very different morality in my younger years, myself.)

    I am so interested in your first statement, about the idea of truth not being something you have thought about much in your life. I think that is true in this post-Christian society. I think it's a complete paradigm shift from past eras. Truth used to be the thing that was sought. So, that really is a sad reality that it's no longer that way. I hope you don't mind that I take those words and write a post about that paradigm shift. I might not do it right away, but I will store it away until the Spirit moves me, ha!

    Oh, and I would disagree a bit about how a faithful Catholic comes to determine truth. While it is true that the tenets of the faith stand every test of truth that I (or others) have thrown at them, it is not true that Catholics take every teaching and decide whether they will believe it or not. That is what "cafeteria Catholics" (pick-and-choose Catholics) do. Faithful Catholics come to believe in the authority of the Church (this is where the indepth study comes in... who is the Church to claim authority?), and then there is peace in submitting to a legitimate authority which one has utter confidence in (regarding faith and morals, and the fact that it was founded by Christ Himself). So, we don't have to reinvent the wheel as Catholics. Protestantism is a whole different ballgame.

    The issue of legitimate authority is dealt with in my friend Kim's story. That might help you understand the issue a bit better:

    I am not sure that all of what I wrote makes sense, as I am writing this late at night.

    Anyway, thanks so much for the great information and response!

  41. I'd be happy for you to use my words in a future post (I still stand by them!), as long as your post is respectful of my beliefs and the conversation following is respectful as well. I completely agree with you that this worldview (not searching for truth) is very common in our time, and I think it coincides with the fact that Christianity isn't as prevalent as it once was. Whether the diminishing of Christianity led to a lack of search for truth, or the fact that people felt they no longer needed to search for truth led to a sort of "disinterest" in Christianity (as it obviously provides a lot of truths), is unclear to me, but you probably have more to say about it.
    Either way, I find it interesting.

    About what I said regarding how Catholics determine truth: I didn't mean necessarily that Catholics should pick and choose their beliefs (in fact, I think quite the opposite--if you fundamentally oppose something that Catholicism stands for, why be Catholic? There are plenty of other Christian faiths to adopt). What I meant was more that I don't think you, nor any other faithful Catholic, follows your religion blindly. It is quite clear to me from our dialogues that you have done your research regarding your faith. I suppose (in my mind) BECAUSE you have done your research (the research I referred to in my previous post) and have come to the conclusion that your church is right, that is why you believe in Catholicism. I respect you more for having thought about it, really examining Catholicism, and deciding once and for all that that is for you instead of just going with it because, for example, you were raised that way. Again, so sorry if I misrepresented something, this is just what I have observed.

  42. What is my source for moral truth? The same source as the scientific truth I talked about in my last comment. I will try to avoid discussing controversial topics and speak more generally, because I want this to remain a calm discussion (I feel like when these hot-button issues are brought up, it usually escalates).

    When I was a child and figuring things out for myself (although I wasn't consciously aware of it), the only "research" I was able to do was interacting with my peers and the only "evidence" that was provided to me was my parents' views about things. I determined through playground interactions that it is not right to push someone (this hurts them physically) or steal their toys (it is polite to share) or call people names (this will hurt their feelings). My parents solidified these views for me, so as a child, I did not push, I did not steal, and I did not call names. All of my research and evidence had pointed to the fact that these things were wrong, so to me, they were wrong. No question about it.

    Now that I am an adult and more aware of the world around me, I have many other opportunities for "research" (interacting with people on a daily, friends, coworkers, etc.) and lots of other sources of "evidence" (newspaper, television, internet, books). I've found that what I believe is right or wrong does not coincide with the beliefs of everyone else (obviously!), but I am willing to "live and let live" up until a certain point. However, I am also willing to fight for what I believe in because, although it might be hard to believe, I am certain what I believe is correct.

    I am certain what I believe is correct.
    Keep in mind, when I say this sentence, I say it with the unspoken antecedent "Although I admit that there are other possibilities for the absolute truth out there, and that mine might not necessarily be the right one, I have thought long and hard about it, observed the world for the past thirty-some years, seen how people are affected by different actions (resulting from different beliefs), and....."

    Just as certain as you are about your truths (set out by the Catholic Church), I am as certain about mine. While mine might not have a higher authority telling me they're so, I am as sure as I can possibly be that I am right. Which is why I am confident enough to fight for my moral truths. I "know" I am right.

  43. Mrs. M, I understand what you are saying as far as it goes, but let me ask one other way:

    You said: "So, while I believe there ARE objective truths out there, I don't think I will never know whether or not I am right."

    I put the part in bold that I am most interested in. I guess my question is that if there ARE objective truths "out there" then what is the source of those truths? Not, how do you determine if something is true, but what is the source of the truth that is out there? Even if you didn't exist, those truths would still be out there, right?

    So, I hope I am being more clear. There may not be an answer that you feel you can give, and that's fine, too. I just thought I'd ask one more time.

    Thanks! You have been a great person to dialogue with. When I write a post and use your words, I will only use them as part of a larger post. I have some other quotes to use, too. I never censor my comments (unless there were to be something really ugly... only one person has ever called me a bad name and I didn't delete it, as it could have been worse), but I will call out anyone who is rude or out of line.

  44. For anyone interested, here is a great post today, and I particularly love #5 as it pertains to some of our recent discussions.

  45. What is the source of those truths?
    I don't know. Is there a source? Again, I don't know. Does "truth" come from a source? I don't necessarily think so. The only thing I have determined about this particular question from the "researching and experimenting" in my life is that I don't think it comes from a higher being.

    If you didn't exist, those truths would still be out there, right?
    I have no idea if the "truths" are still out there. I'd say that these truths are specific to our race (as humans), so once the human race is extinct do I still think humans shouldn't kill each other (for example)? It doesn't matter. Whether or not the truths are still out there, they really don't matter at all once we've all gone poof, so I haven't really put much thought into that. It doesn't seem to be of great importance since once I'm dead, that's it anyway.

    Another thing to think about:
    The fact that I think there are objective truths out there is really just a conclusion I've come to based on my years of research and experiments. On this I could be completely wrong, and I admit this freely!

  46. Mrs. M, as an atheist, you might find the source of that truth in something called Natural Law. You should look into it. There is no "need" to believe in God to subscribe to Natural Law arguments. It's fascinating, and it used to be accepted quite broadly (until relativism started to take hold).

  47. I'd be interested to look into it, Leila.
    Any sources you might provide? (Keep in mind that I will not be able to maintain the attention span necessary to read very scholarly articles!)

  48. Mrs. M, I totally understand about not having the attention span to read scholarly articles! I can't do it these days, either. :)

    I have asked my Natural Law expert friend to give me some resources and when he gets back to me I will post them here.

  49. Anyone who is still reading this thread, I just had to put this out there, from the late Cardinal O'Connor:

    "We have what we believe are the moral absolutes. If we abandon them, we are not the Church. We don't provide an anchor, we don't provide a rock, a foothold for people. Yet when you're confronted with the individual difficult situation -- this particular person in this particular marriage, this particular women confronted with all of the pressures that a woman can be confronted with today, to have an abortion -- whatever the issue may be, that's when, for that person, it is terribly difficult to look at the church as anything but a grim, forbidding, dictatorial, authoritarian, near monstrosity.

    And yet, if the Church changes, if the Church is not counter-cultural, then what is it? What does the Church have to offer to anybody expect what we believe to be the truth. We believe it. We don't make up the rules, and consequently, all we have to offer is the truth, and we really betray people if we compromise that truth."

    ~His Eminence, John Cardinal O'Connor, 1994

  50. Mrs. M, here is a quick article from, of all places, Wikipedia! If you want quick, you can just read the first section and it's got a quick overview:

    A couple of books on Natural Law that might be helpful:


  51. Surprisingly, that Wikipedia article was actually pretty helpful!

    While I still am not 100% sure about my stance on this (it takes more than a few weeks to develop a sound position on something like this), after reading that article, I'd say that yes, the objective truths to which I referred and what you call Natural Law could be one and the same.

    However, I still maintain that while each individual in the world is seeking objective truth, I would venture to say that no one has found it yet (and it might very well be impossible to find).

    So I believe that you and I both are searching for the same objective truths (universal truths). You feel like you have found them, as set forth for you by the Catholic Church. I am not, and probably never will be, convinced that I have found them (or that they can even be found).

    Hope that makes sense.
    I'll put the books on my Christmas list!

  52. Mrs. M, that makes sense, and I am glad the links were helpful!! :)

  53. The paragraph that begins "Believing doesn't make something true" goes all over the map! I disagree with its points.

    1. Belief can make some things true--for example, emotions, attitudes, and outcomes. If I believe I'm happy and successful, I'm probably more likely to become happy and successful.

    2. We shouldn't necessarily believe something just because it happens to be true; we should believe it because we have evidence for it. If I hide a teapot in a box and systematically plant a great deal of false information to rationally convince another person that there is a wristwatch in the box, the person should develop the false belief that there is a wristwatch. It is right for them to do so because their belief derives from the evidence with which they are presented. They are blameless in being misled. Given the information with which they were presented, they reasoned correctly. This demonstrates how we work indirectly off evidence, not directly off truth.

    3. Asking whether it is beneficial for someone to have false beliefs is another matter altogether. We could easily come up with scenarios in which a false belief is beneficial.

    - Positive thinking (as I mentioned in #1 above): I believe I can run a mile in ten minutes, which might not actually be true the first few times I try it, but the only way it will ever become true is if I keep practicing it. It's logically possible that I could improve my speed while underestimating or merely realistically appraising my own ability, but on a psychological level, it's the people who overestimate their ability who tend to increase their ability.
    - Coincidence: I falsely believe I dropped my cheap pen, so I retrace my steps and find a $20 bill.
    - "The Noble Lie": Many people all over the world follow different monotheisms. Obviously, not all of them can be correct. However, their religions can be a source of community, identity, comfort, ethical teachings, and so forth. On the whole, it may be better for them to falsely believe in a benign but fictional god than to embrace some other version of theism or atheism that may happen to be true but would have a less salubrious effect on their lives. Similarly, people in desperate situations (prison, illness, etc.) are often fed "noble lies" to keep their spirits up.

    I'm not saying that Positive Thinking, Coincidence, or Noble Lie hypotheses are general rules describing life. I'm only showing that it's quite easy to generate examples of some false beliefs that are beneficial. So it isn't correct to imply that they are never beneficial.

  54. Stone Dead, I think you are confusing some things. First, "positive thinking" doesn't mean one is believing an untruth. If I have a positive attitude, I am much more likely to achieve (an achievable) goal. Of course. That is "true". A positive attitude will help one achieve. That has no bearing on my post.

    Second, I am talking about objective truth and our obligation to seek and find it. That is our goal as humans. That is even the goal of education (or it used to be). Truth-seeking is hardwired into us. We seek higher, transcendent Truths which are outside of us, not determined by us, but which are essential to who we are and Who God is.

    It's different from the things you are implying. For example, if a person with cancer visualizes that she is cancer-free, that is not a "lie". That is a visualization technique. She knows full well that the truth is that she does have cancer, or else she would not have to "visualize" otherwise. This situation is VERY different from someone who is in denial about having cancer. That person will die from the progressing cancer that she is delusionally denying. You can see the distinction, right?

    As for someone who is "fed" a bunch of misleading information to get them to believe something that is actually untrue (even though they used right reason to get there, i.e., your teapot scenario), then the person is not responsible for being wrong, even though the person is objectively wrong about there being a teapot. However, the one who misled the person to believe the untruth would be culpable for the lie. (Assuming it's a moral issue of some sort, not something innocuous like a teapot, which could be part of a game.)

    Hope you can see that there either is a God or their isn't. There either are moral Truths are there aren't. What you think or what you tell yourself does not touch those Truths. They are objective and transcendent. Not determined by you.

    The "power of positive thinking" is a subjective way of reaching a subjective goal. It is true that it's an effective technique, just like it is true that eating well will make me healthier. It has nothing to do with eternal Truths.

    And by the way, even something "beneficial" to me here on earth (I could hoard my money and live in the lap of luxury with my husband and my cat, eating healthily and exercising, not associating with any perceived unpleasantness) would not necessarily be beneficial to me in the end. The ultimate end.


  55. Someone said to me the other day, in light of the same sex marriage hearings before the SCOTUS, "I think it's great how we've evolved over the last 30 years!"

    This statement made me cringe inside. It's incredibly arrogant. Have we had technological and scientific advances in the last 30 years? Absolutely. But have WE as a PEOPLE EVOLVED??? I dare say not. I am not a scientist, so I don't know all the ins and outs on the theory of evolution. But, correct me if I'm wrong? It takes more than 30 years? 31? Alrighty.

    Perhaps what they meant was that our thinking has changed. We went from agreeing upon moral principles to making up our own...and by "our own" I mean MY OWN AND YOUR OWN. We are indeed individualists.

    Here is why we can't talk to each other. Liberals can't fathom that we actually care about them...WHY DO WE CARE? You hear it constantly. Why do YOU care what SHE does with HER body? MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS! Why do YOU care what THEY do in THEIR bedroom? MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS! It's not good today to believe in a philosophy that says, "love thy neighbor as thyself". And now these whispers are starting:
    I guess if they can't shut us up they could always start locking us up.


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