Since faith is one, it must be professed in all its purity and integrity". Pope Francis/Pope Benedict

Sunday, 24 November 2013

My Story, Your Story, and The Truth

In today's global civilization, we are confronted with a Walmart of worldviews. We find ourselves in an entangled and sometimes toxic web of ideologies, religions, nationalisms and ethnicities. We generally resolve this cognitive dissonance by doubling-down on our own prejudices in opposition to those with whom we disagree. We tend to pathologize and demonize the other. We frame these conflicts as zero-sum and negative-sum competitions. And if we are right and they are wrong, then we also had be sure that we have the might in the coming battles. Is there some other way to adjudicate between the competing metanarratives that shape our lives and identities, determining how we think and act, what we hold to be true and good, and even which facts and evidence we recognize as relevant to our disagreements?   William Grassie
Each of us has a story which forms our own personal worldview. This narrative becomes increasingly important to us the older we get. It grows out of our experiences, the things we learned at our mother's knee, the traumas and pain we suffered, the joys we felt and so on. It forms the basis of what we believe about God, the world and other people. This narrative may be at odds with those of other people, other groups and in some case at odds with truth itself. Sanity requires that we continually adjust our own personal narrative to the demands of truth.
We have all seen what happens when someone tries to conform truth to their own personal narrative. They become so invested in their personal story that all conversation, no matter how innocent or remote, eventually turns to their favorite topic. I spoke this morning to someone who has a serious grudge against doctors and pharmaceutical companies. No matter how hard I tried the conversation returned to the same "all doctors are bad" narrative. Becoming enmeshed in this sort of story blinds us to the truth. In this case the truth is that there is a fundamental difference between a doctor who sets a broken limb and one who prescribes anti psychotics. Not all doctors, or all people for that matter, can be painted with the same broad brush however tempting that might be.

This world of competing narratives has infected certain Catholic groups as well. We have seen how traditionalists and liberals mutually demonize each other. The enemy is no longer human, no longer a precious soul for whom Jesus died on the cross. Unfortunately this tendency to demonize and dehumanize those with competing narratives has led many to abandon  self reflection and self-criticism. Publicly shedding light on our faults and shortcomings often places us in the position of being seen as traitors to the cause. We are seen as offering ammunition to the enemy.

This is an especially difficult problem for Catholics because we really do believe that there is an objective truth that transcends all subjective narratives. Moreover, we believe that we can know something about this objective truth through revelation and the teaching of the Church. The real problem begins for us when we confuse our own personal narratives with all their inherent human flaws and weaknesses with that objective truth. We may end up proclaiming our own personal narrative with an air of authority it does not warrant. Personal failure or disagreement becomes an attack upon truth itself.

Truth is. It does not depend upon our poor, frail ability to grasp it. We see these things through a glass darkly but our hope is that one day we shall look truth in the face and see clearly in that light. This is often quite difficult and the cognitive dissonance often leads to a temptation to give in to anxiety. We have hope and faith to sustain us. Nor are we the only ones tempted. Some see the failures of Catholics as evidence that there is no such thing as truth. This leads us to attempt to hide those failures and cover up scandal. However, in doing this we unwittingly accept the demonic lie that because Catholics are sinners then there is no truth.

Jesus, in his parables and sermons, gives us many clues that the way he sees people is quite different. He tells us to love our enemy and that flies in the face of our logic. He tells us to pray for those who persecute us and that seems madness. We try to hedge our bets by loving and praying in the most confrontational way possible, justifying it by claiming the most loving thing we can do is confront people with their sins. Even to our limited view that seems a cheat. We would like to throw stones while Jesus says "Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more." Could it be that he wants us to look into the face of our enemy and see him as He does? Could it be that He wants us to look into those eyes and see, not a demon or even an enemy but a person whom God loves every bit as much as he does us?


Barona said...

Excellent post. Subjectivity is part of being human; yet, in a world of relativism, objective reality has become a victim of an excessive and false subjectivism. It is a danger that also includes so-called "traditionalists". When you see the Fellay-Williamson squabble, one may be right, both could be wrong.... someone is subjectifying....

Lawrence and Susan Fox said...

That's right Freyr. He wants us to look with His eyes, not ours. And when we read Scripture, we see God does not think like we do. In fact, I often tell Him. You know what, You think like an alien. What do you mean love my enemies? The first will be last and the last will be first? What kind of logic is that! Don't step on what bug? I know you made it, but what planet do You come from? He didn't come from a planet. He made them. They are all His delightful creation, and God saw it was good. God bless you. Susan Fox