Affirmation of Truth

S: Bounded set theologians believe that there are people who will be saved, and people who won’t, and they categorize people in terms of this “truth” that they define in order to tell the good people from the bad people. Centered set theologians believe that it is more of a three-dimensional sphere in which all people are being drawn towards the center; namely, Jesus Christ.

Usylvus: But there is a distinction between what is true, and what is not, correct?

S: Yes, but that is between what has personally been revealed to me and the One who revealed it. It’s not my job to judge the fruits of someone else’s belief.

Usylvus: But this still presumes there is truth.

S: The truth I know is what I believe based on my circumstances, my past, my environment, and so forth. My truth is not the same as your truth.

Usylvus: But that would imply that all truth is subjective.

S: All truth is subjective.

Usylvus: Is that true?

S: What you just did was paint me into a corner, and then demand I respond to your question on your own terms.

Usylvus: But that response only evades the question. Is it true that all truth is subjective or not?

S: Everyone filters the world through their particular lens. The idea that “truth exists” is based on your Western Judeo-Christian background, and most of the rest of the world does not see things in that light. Many Eastern philosophies, for example, are exercises in holding one belief in one hand and a completely contradictory view in the other, and deciding never to resolve the paradox. It’s only the inability of the Western mind to hold paradoxes in tension, and their subsequent desire – which stems from a Fundamentalist worldview – that all things be made known, that makes them decide one view is “right” and another is “wrong.” But you cannot have faith without first having doubt, just as you can’t truly know what light is without first being in the dark.

Usylvus: So if a Fundamentalist were to say, “objective truth exists,” would that make their statement wrong?

S: No, but you’re missing the point that your truth is coming from a filtered reality.

Usylvus: I agree we see the world through a filtered reality. That is why we have to be vigilant in determining what is true as opposed to merely what we’ve come to accept as truth.

S: I say there’s no difference.

Usylvus: Again I must ask: Is that true? Isn’t that statement itself an absolute? And if it isn’t, then it’s false, or else everything is reduced to absurdity. Can I look at my face in the mirror and say, “I exist”? No, absurdity! Can I say child rape is wrong? No, absurdity! Is two plus two equal to four? No, absurdity!

S: It’s common for people from your position to jump automatically to the extremes in every question, such as “Is rape wrong?” or “Is murder wrong?”

Usylvus: That’s often because these questions are rarely answered.

S: What about God, then, the great moral Lawgiver? Didn’t He command the Jews to murder the Canaanites? Wasn’t that wrong? But then isn’t he breaking his own law?

Usylvus: But that would imply it’s wrong to break your own law. Why not believe it’s morally good to make a law for everyone else and then not follow it yourself?

S: I’m not saying it’s good or bad, I’m just saying you can’t know.

Usylvus: But that’s precisely the point. If you can’t know, you have established an absolute – namely, that you can’t know – which refutes your own argument. The reason for the extreme examples is to demonstrate that there are in fact some things in this world which are objectively true. Evading them does not answer them. If we can agree, for example, that two and two make four, then it follows there is at least one objective truth in the world. And if one, then maybe more. Thus, it may be objectively wrong to break your own law, and thus a perfectly good (or, at least the Christian) God cannot exist. Or, there may be other pieces of that story that mean His existence is not actually refuted. In any case, if two and two do not make four, but five, then you do not accept that (1) truth exists and (2) it can be attained. In affirming truth’s subjectivity, you have agreed to the absurdity of all things, and therefore we can no longer even have an argument, for an argument presumes there is something being spoken about. But clearly that cannot be true, or even false.

Usylvus: The real trouble lies in your inner agreement to hold up two mutually exclusive views, and never question if perhaps one hand refutes the other. This is contradiction, and one cannot be speaking the truth in doing so. But, nevertheless, it is done, and even has a name: “doublethink.”

“To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself – that was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed.”

-Orwell, 1984

Usylvus: To ascribe to this viewpoint, finally, means the end of civilization. To believe that moral truth is “decided upon” by a society or group of people who live together is to give up the whole game, for in this case the loudest, the most popular, the “intellectuals,” the cultural betters and moral superiors to whom the vast majority of this society’s populace will naturally look, will be the deciders of what is right and wrong; what is truth. And if man’s heart is so desperately wicked, as history has shown it to be; if his nature is barbarity, as Thucydides recognized; and if truth lies ultimately in their hands, then does the French Revolution murder the innocent; then do the Maoists purge Red Jiang; then do the Aryans confessors of the German church turn the truth of Christ into a lie.

These, then, are the steps of the argument:

  1. Truth is subjective.
  2. If truth is subjective, then truth is determined by the individual.
  3. But the individual cannot be divorced from the society in which he lives. Therefore, his truth will be affected by the collective society.
  4. Furthermore, individuals are more likely to agree to what is popular, and less likely to agree to what is unpopular, especially if truth is relative.
  5. Since what is popular is often determined by the leaders (cultural, political, moral, spiritual), the leaders in that society will have the most influence on what is and is not true.
  6. If the leaders of that society have sufficient influence, the truth they decide will be the truth generally accepted by that society.
  7. Man’s heart naturally tends toward abuse of his neighbor, especially for his own gain.
  8. Thus, the leaders of such a society will naturally tend toward evil, and the society as a whole will tend toward totalitarianism.

Corollary: In order to maintain the possibility of a society not marked by evil and injustice, (1) the objectivity of truth must be affirmed, and (2) sufficient influence (absolute power, control of the flow of information, etc.) must be restricted from being attained by any one discernible source, where a discernible source is any individual or group which can influence others by means up to and including coercion.

In order to accomplish Corollary (2), such methods are employed in economies and governments which assume the inherent selfishness of man from Argument (7) such as free-market economies (which decentralize means of production and incentivize creativity) and separation of powers and elections (which increase the probability that no one Party holds all political power), respectively.

In order to accomplish Corollary (1), one must simply affirm it. In the old language, this is referred to as “the leap of faith.” And besides, whether one chooses to affirm or deny it, or forget the question altogether and run to the arms of a hedonistic oblivion, one cannot escape Truth. As certainly as two and two make four, Truth must exist, in some way, in some degree. If it does not, then the words in this discussion are meaningless. Everything is absurdity. If the Party controls the Truth, then does it any longer exist? That is the great struggle. Who knows which side shall prevail while time yet constrains us.

But I choose to have faith that Truth exists.

“You would not make the act of submission which is the price of sanity. You preferred to be a lunatic, a minority of one. Only the disciplined mind can see reality, Winston. You believe that reality is something objective, external, existing in its own right. You also believe that the nature of reality is self-evident. When you delude yourself into thinking that you see something, you assume that everyone else sees the same thing as you. But I tell you, Winston, that reality is not external. Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes: only in the mind of the Party, which is collective and immortal. Whatever the Party holds to be the truth, is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party. That is the fact that you have got to relearn, Winston. It needs an act of self-destruction, an effort of the will. You must humble yourself before you can become sane.

-Orwell, 1984

The Fundamental Commonality, Part I

It has been a common practice of the present day to speak of our brothers and sisters by terms consistent with what separates them from ourselves, though this is by no means a novel revelation. For, in the days of Saul, king over Israel, the Lord knew Saul had “rejected the word of the Lord” (Samuel 15:26) and because of this sent Samuel to look among the ruddy sons of Jesse’s house for a new king. And when Samuel beheld them, he thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord” (1 Samuel 16:6), as men are apt to do in the presence of natural strength.

But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

-1 Samuel 16:8

And so it is with us. To appraise a man’s worth for his appearance is like to consider a beaker of liquid good for drinking if it be clear; not only is this the folly of apathy, and a scornful rejection of healthy scientific inquiry, but if it is consumed with the same irreverence it has the potential to kill. Thus the settlers of Jamestown met their fate, and so also the student of chemistry if he is not sufficiently cautious.

So what are the things of the heart which God sees, and we are to see if we are to look beyond mere appearance? If we ask God in humility, He will be sure to show us. In an instant, the sheet is pulled back, and we reel in horror and shame. The effect of this revelation and swift demolition of our pride is what the Puritans called the “gift of tears,” or in the current vernacular, repentance. For what we are first shown is not some noble hero, stark against a world swirling with uncertainty, authentic, progressive, wielding a voice of truth against a nameless power, but a blackened tumor pulsating and growing with the passage of time. Here is the first shared bond between all of humanity:

We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God…’

-Romans 3:9-11

To a sensitive conscience two-thousand years displaced from these thundering words of condemnation against humanity, indignance might be the first order of business. Who is this Paul to condemn myself, a perfectly decent fellow, whom he has never known, and would never harm a soul? Am I a racist, like some, or a bigot, like others? And anyways, how does a collection of outworn documents apply to the human condition today?

But these objections are easily met. If we recall the First Affirmation:

that values exist, in whatever form; that they are fixed and unchanging with respect to human argument; and that they appear to impress themselves upon humanity from without,

then we readily see the fallacy concealed in these objections. For Paul was a human being, as we ourselves are, and he spoke according to that ideal or standard which transcends Nature and therefore does not change with argumentation or passage of time. Therefore, in making this pronouncement against the baser nature of humanity, he affirms a truth that is undeniable to any student of history and itself has not changed since it was first penned: that we do not measure up to this standard.

At this point, it is necessary to augment the First Affirmation with the following: that the intrinsic moral worth of human beings is both equal among all beings, and fixed with respect to time. Thus, human beings are not malleable in the sense of their moral worth being modified, or else due to the irregular distribution of influences throughout the earth – whether cultural, geographical, academic, or otherwise – some would progress differently or more rapidly than others, and their intrinsic worth would change with respect to those with whom they still share the same biological species. In doing so, those “more equal” than others would help the less equal along by virtue of their societal duty to mankind. This is the primary fallacy behind Oceana’s “Ministry of Love,” in which one man more equal than another – O’Brien – raises the lower – Winston – to the same state of righteous exaltation as he, by medieval arts of torture:

We control life, Winston, at all its levels. You are imagining that there is something called human nature which will be outraged by what we do and will turn against us. But we create human nature. Men are infinitely malleable.

-O’Brien to Winston, 1984, p. 269

But if men are malleable, then would it not follow that at the birth of every new babe, the collective gap between our baser nature and the Image we perceive would close? I am assuming that this Image is either rightfully perceived as transcendent, or else designed by the more righteous engineers of society. Would it not be the experience of all men to observe deeper affections and greater comraderie with the other, and to see that civil body of which they are part grow in solidarity and progress toward righteousness and maturity? How greatly is this not the case! How greatly do our passions war against us daily, and how feeble are the admonitions of treating others with public kindness. Even by the image made by the art of man, we discern the gap between the ideal and reality. Man cannot even achieve his low expectations.

This is the response to the objection, that since men do not change, then the words of Paul apply not only to the Romans, but to the Americans, and to the Chinese, and to the British, and to the Portuguese, and so forth. Surely Thucydides pronounced rightly that civilization was a “thin veneer” over barbarism. And with every turn of the electrical knob, O’Brien proved that Paul’s proclamation stands: “There is no one righteous, not even one.”

So this is the first bond between one man with another, that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). And if we together are one race of sinners, then we all share yet one more mark of commonality, if indeed we yearn for salvation from this body of death: “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Rom. 3:22). Those who fall short “are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24), and if we all have fallen short, then we all have access to this justification by grace through faith. This justification is not apportioned to an elite few; those peoples or races or intellects or artisans or musicians whom God has picked above all others from the faceless masses of humanity, as the Gnostics once argued. It comes “through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Rom. 3:22).

By saying, “through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe,” Paul clarifies what every adopted son and daughter already knows, what is the yearning of every sick soul desperate for peace from the tense divisions of the identitarian idealogues, and that which this latter hateful crew fully despise: that there is no division at the foot of the Cross. Christ does not justify according to race, but according to faith. Thus, we are all fundamentally bound together by our faith in Christ, and ultimately by our adoption as sons and daughters into the kingdom of God.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

-Galatians 3:28