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

Affirmation of Values

There exists among the shared experience of those civil, rational, and nobly inclined persons of the earth a comprehension of values without which the happy haze of a good life would not daily exist, and if denied by all its members the civilization within which they reside would utterly fail. While the values may subtly change in degree or description from person to person, and to a greater extent from culture to culture, what is not often denied is that these values change in kind from one to the next, and never that they do not exist at all.

That these values are shared is implicit in the set of persons who partake in a civilized society; that is, they are its builders and defenders at best, and are neutral with respect to its flourishing at worst. Such persons recognize the intrinsic value of truth, being able to deter the stirrings of emotion for the benefit of their own powers of reason, and are thus inclined to consider a wealth of perspectives and evidences different from those they themselves hold. From such an explication, we may divine a deeper maxim from this set of persons: theirs is an aspiration to an image of civic nobility. This maxim does not require that those who hold to it are themselves the perfect bearers of such an image, but rather in striving toward it the ideal of civilization is obtained: not perfection, but progress toward perfection. This is the essential message of the apostle Paul to the Philippians when he wrote:

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

– Philippians 3:12-14

In this way, the argument for striving toward the noblest ideal of mankind is made, and the daily struggle of civilization toward the image which its individuals bear is described in the broadest of strokes. But often now, as in times past, the good intentions of broad political philosophy for the purpose of individual study and meditation have been corrupted precisely in the exploitations of those ambiguities in which the “better angels of our nature” once played their mystic chords (Lincoln, 1st Inaugural Address, Mar. 4, 1861). This is the danger of modernity: where once there might have been consensus on the definitions of common English words as “perfection” or “civic nobility”, we must now dissect with excruciating precision those terms, or else at the end of the pilgrimage of perfection face the guillotine for the betterment of society, and while the blade shrieks on its rails to sunder another wrecker of society, quail under the massive cry for “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite!”

Before defining the image impressed upon all men, and for which all who desire the better civilization over its present form strive, let us consider an example of how the ambiguity inherent in simple terms can be corrupted to a state far from the original intent of its author. The impressionist Claude Monet, a man who interpreted the world through the strokes of a brush, painted a woman holding a parasol. The woman wears a white dress and stands in a field, her scarf like the colored grasses around her fluttering in the breeze, a red flower or clasp pinned near her waist, her hair a combination of blues and greens reflecting the subtle shades of the parasol; a moment caught forever on canvas. Much might be said of the painting, as in through swirls of color the sense of Nature in movement is evoked, but in moving it remains fastened to a deeper stillness around which all points revolve, and which itself does not move – T.S. Eliot’s “still point of the turning world” (Eliot, 1st of Four Quartets) – or the fashion in which the woman is in some way like the clouds in the background, or the grasses in the foreground, or further how the absence of definition in the face renders her identity intractable, and yet acquires the identity of all who behold her, as they become the woman in that moment in the field.

Woman with a Parasol, Monet, 1886

That the painting is of a woman with a parasol, may be in question, though the title of the painting ought to put it beyond doubt. That deeper themes cry out from their simpler forms, requires a trained eye. But that the painting is beautiful, should be evident to the apprehension of all who can still perceive the beautiful things of this world. This was almost certainly the original intent of the artist; to make something that is beautiful, and can be appreciated as such in its own right. Yet beauty is a simple concept, and yielding as the petals of a lily under a brute’s finger.

Extending this example, we consider next such a brutish pressure. Among the academic circles of today exist many collections of persons whose ultimate objective, cloaked though it might be behind such virtuous words as “progress”, “equality”, or “social justice”, is the disintegration of such values as should be plainly affirmed by all mankind. From this perspective, one might imagine the painting to be, not of a woman, but of an ideological construct, presented as simplistic and unidentifiable, yet rife with elemental discord. The painting in fact revolves around the unnatural color of her hair, a symbol of social rebellion in which the binary nature of sexuality is discarded, or the redness of the clasp, evoking implicit bias against the character of the woman, much as Hawthorne’s scarlet letter had done, and in so doing reveals the social oppression of womanhood within the beholder.

This is not to say that any of the preceding points are necessarily true or false, but rather that such a discussion misses the point entirely. Monet’s ultimate purpose was to create something beautiful, not fashion a weapon. But by exploiting the vagueness of the art form, proponents of certain ideologies well-versed in rhetorical fencing have lured the blank and naïve woman out of the picture, painted upon her an image after their own likeness, and skewered her through the heart.

Here, then, is the first inkling of transcendent values placed within man, and here too the hope for their shared affirmation. For even as closed academic circles sound the death knell of beauty by supplanting it with revolutionary ideology, yet the woman remains beautiful for a future and distant generation unfamiliar with the sophistry of her critics. Beauty remains above and apart from all persons, and does not change with argument, however well reasoned, just as a tree would not cease to be a tree even if Socrates himself asserted otherwise.

The preceding deliberation reveals 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.

The second affirmation follows from the first: that there is an ideal, or image, to which all humanity attempts to conform.

The truth of this second affirmation should be plain to all who have followed the reasoning thus far. Though the curve and form of that image may yet be in question, yet it cannot be denied that there exists this ideal. For just as the woman who applies cosmetics does so to conform to that society’s definition of feminine beauty, and even as this yields a delineation between values of culture and values universally acknowledged, it is the latter that is not disproved by the desire that all women be called beautiful. Similarly, rarely will an employer be confounded by a prospect interviewed with the phrase “I abhor hard work!”, for such would almost certainly deny the interviewee the opportunity for gainful employment at that place of business. That is, there is an image of the ideal employee impressed upon the mind of the interviewer, formed through experiences both successful and adverse, to which the man or woman before him is compared. And this does not begin the procession of representatives from which this second affirmation is divined, for what corporate executive would deny competence in his own field of business? Or what coach would disavow the primacy of victory and his success at producing a team capable of achieving it? Or what few politicians would recuse themselves from office over questions of integrity? – though this last example may border on an exception, however great their protestations.

From these points, we peek through the keyhole and attempt a narrow view of the Glorious Hall beyond. But how can we begin to perceive the Image impressed upon us? What process, or what frame of mind, marks the first step upon the pilgrimage of discerning those values which transcend what can be seen or felt or touched? That their effects are evident in nature is beyond question, and more so in their absence, as a poor navigator of the oceans will quickly find his vessel lost or broken upon the rocks, and everything of value lost, up to and including his life. Thus Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes declared, “The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience.”

We may begin the path by setting our whole selves apart from influences that may corrupt our thinking, that these values which are self-evident may allow their way with us. This is the ancient practice of holiness, one much lauded in the Judeo-Christian tradition and often forgotten in modern times. And it is by this act or practice that one may see the Image within which all values find their source, just as the old saying affirms: “Without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). Practically defined, it means to leave behind the things of man: his cities, his works, and his many words, and seek asylum in the quiet places of the world, without and within, that this Image may make itself known to us. And this is not a single journey or final discovery, for to treat it as such merely reveals the immaturity present within each who first tread these ways, and once upon returning declare “Enlightenment!” and proceed to write books about it and spread their newfound holiness like a stillborn child from hand to hand through the arms of modern television. And thus shall be the fate of all who regard the first fragile steps as itself the achievement, and not the echoes of a new and better direction.

With the knowledge in hand that it is not by fanciful speeches or thundering pronouncements, but a daily following of this Path, that we may know what is the Source of these values, the affirmations which follow are almost certainly beyond doubt for any who honestly seek after truth, and cannot be denied without contradiction by their opposition:

Affirmation Three: that Truth exists, and that it can be objectively known.

Affirmation Four: that Reason is an intrinsic property of humanity above all other known species, and can be used to apprehend truth.

Affirmation Five: that the attitude of one’s life is primarily dictated by influences early in that life, and that there are institutions which positively or negatively affect it.

Affirmation Six: that perseverance, sacrifice, discipline, and individual application to a worthwhile goal will yield success of intrinsic value.

Affirmation Seven: that inherent to the previous six affirmations, those who uphold these truths must of necessity be among those of the living, that they have the liberty to daily walk this path, and that they may possess what they of right earn through efforts of mind and hand.