Most readers would perhaps be confused as to why I would choose to “conform” to an “intolerant” and “institutionalized” religion. If not the “enlightened” atheism, why not choose something more “accommodating”, like Buddhism, Hinduism, or the New Age, or simply remain an agnostic? Something less “dogmatic”, and more “tolerant”?
Well, firstly, our choices ought not to be about our social trends or what that pleases the individual the most; it’s about truth. I, for one, live within a culture where “tolerance” seems to be the highest virtue, where (ironically) talk about religion is almost frowned upon. I believe that the unspoken assumption behind this is that truth can not be known and therefore all views are equally valid, and any claim to otherwise is not only a delusion but a cause for the sin of intolerance. This view also means that people no longer see the need to seek the truth in right conduct, meaning, purpose, and the reality and nature of life.
Nothing is quite as demoralizing and depressing as an apparent meaningless in life. In this sense, this false sense of tolerance contributes to apathy and indifference, which are perhaps the most wide spread vices in New Zealand. It’s no wonder then, that the youths are so without zeal, and without hope for the future. Every human being has an innate need to know some sort of worth, that their life is not an accident without meaning, without purpose. Apathy then, I believe, has to be one of the biggest cause of youth suicide in this country – New Zealand has one of the highest rates of youth suicide in the world. Deprived of the pursuit of truth, they can only pursue the closest thing they can see in front of them: pleasure. For pleasure, in itself, is a very good thing (especially the sexual – it’s really the closest thing to Heaven, but we’ll talk about that some other time ;-)), but as soon as truth is displaced from the centre, and pleasure is placed there in its place, the culture becomes a hedonistic and self-destructive orgy fest’, which gives people fleeting pleasure and illusionary happiness but ends up killing the soul.
It may come as a surprise to some to know that the so-called “tolerance”, the highest virtue in this nation, is not tolerance at all. True tolerance can not exist where one does not hold fast to his truth. A person who believes in one thing yet loves another who holds a conflicting view exhibits much greater tolerance than a person who believes that all views are equally valid. The latter really isn’t tolerance; it’s subjective relativism (that is, belief that truth doesn’t really exist, but individuals and societies make them up) – If one believes that all beliefs are equally valid, what really is there to “tolerate”?
Anyway, I could not accept that all views are equally valid, because I believe that truth is an objective reality. It exists whether or not a person or a society believes in and/or agree with it or not, and one needs to constantly pursue it in order to conform ever more to it. I guess I was destined to hold fast to such a view, ever since my earlier experience of sense of justice, of right and wrong, and also in an insight into beauty and truth in the music of J. S. Bach. I also believe that everyone on this earth knows and experiences the same to some degree, and so are in some ways in search of the truth. I would say that all of us, to some extent, do know the truth by means of natural revelation, since morality is an aspect of the truth, as is aesthetics (beauty – Peter Kreeft cites this as an argument for God. “The music of Bach exists; therefore, God exists. You either get it, or you don’t”).
Before we even try to discover the truth though, there are at least a couple of questions which need to be asked: “Can we know the truth?”, and “what is the nature of truth?”.
For the first question (“can we know the truth?”), I think there are two answers. The first is, as I mentioned earlier, that everyone is capable of knowing the truth to some degree by light of reason, experience and natural revelation. In fact, this has been the long standing Catholic view; among its biggest proponents are St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-74), perhaps the greatest theologian/philosopher in scholasticism, and know as “the Angelic Doctor”. The second answer is as C. S. Lewis suggested in his “Mere Christianity”, which goes something like the following: If there exists a God, the difference between man and God must be greater than the difference between a man and a snail. In which case, it would be impossible for us to know the truth (who is God) by ourselves, since only God could know it objectively (Note: by the way, Stephen Hawking’s quest to discover the theory of everything has been demolished by a proof of impossibility of such a theory [as described in “Hawking’s quest: a search without end” by John Cornwell, in The Tablet, 27 March 2004], so it seems this statement may in fact be conclusive). That is, impossible unless it is revealed by the greater to the minor, in ways understandable by the latter. So it is that I believe in a revelatory religion, where God (the greater) revealed Himself to human beings (the minor), in ways we would understand Him (through God becoming man in the incarnation, and through use of matter, human language, concepts and relationships), and through the light of reason, experience and natural revelation.
For the second question (“what is the nature of truth?”), the thoughts of Ravi Zacharias (a Christian philosopher) was imparted to a group of us by one of his students. Truth, by its very nature, is exclusive. Let me explain:
– We know that not all views are false (because it would include that statement itself).
– We know that not all views are true (because that would include the view of the previous sentence, which is demonstrated to be false).
– So, the only possibility is that some views are truer than others. Thus, truth is “exclusive”, as opposed to “inclusive”. In other words, some things are true, other less true, and still others untrue.
So, when Jesus says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6), He’s only being honest about the nature of truth. Indeed, He goes so far as to say “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword”. Truth is divisive, because it excludes.
Statements “God exists” and “God does not exist” cannot both be true, although both require faith to believe in them. Jesus can’t both be divine (Christianity) and not be divine (Atheism, Judaism, Islam). One cannot both be reincarnated (Hinduism, Buddhism) and not be reincarnated (Christian: Hebrews 9:27). A cow can’t both be a god and a non-god at the same time and so, also, while for a Hindu it would be immoral to eat beef, it would be immoral for a Christian to prohibit its consumption (1 Tim 4:1-3). More universally, abortion and euthanasia cannot both be morally neutral (as society seems to say) and be gravely immoral (Catholic view) at the same time. It matters whether you have sex before marriage, or after. It matters whether you live according to your conscience or not. Heaven and Hell either exist, or they do not, and it matters terribly, since Eternity is the greatest stake; more whoppingly ginormous and humongous a stake than anything else in the entirety of this life.
So, in reality, there is no such a thing as an “inclusive” perspective. As soon as one makes a judgement, a statement which assumes a truth, one excludes something else. The all-inclusive nature of New Age and Hindu religions are, in reality, exclusive as well, since they exclude the “exclusivists”. In other words, they can’t accept the Christian claim to the exclusivity of monotheistic, and specifically trinitarian, view of God; one which claims that Jesus is the only way.
A thing the average New Zealander would do well to note, in my humble opinion, is that there is no such thing as a truely neutral stance. Many would claim that religion, and particularly Christianity, is arrogant, and intolerant, and that it is prone to “forcing one’s opinions onto other people”. What they do not seem to realise, however, is that they are being bombarded by a society which indoctrinates the masses with *its* values and opinions and theories, particularly through the media. I’ve heard it said that one needs to be freed from the idiot box for at least three years before one can start to think independently. I think that’s a reasonable assertion. This is why the company you keep is of critical importance, whether of people or of sources of information.
Truth is not democratic. As Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed (as Cardinal Ratzinger), “truth is not determined by a majority vote”. Indeed, truth is a Monarchy, for its authority is absolute, and its subjects seek to serve it in reverence. Due to its absolute authority, we’re obligated to live in accordance with the truth. So when Jesus preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17), He is demanding conformity to the truth, to the King in His Kingdom.
By now, it should be clear that truth itself is in fact God. God is the truth, and truth (and therefore true morality) cannot exist apart from God. In fact, for Christians, love is truth itself, since God himself is love (1 John 4:8). If there is no God, there is no absolute truth or any right or wrong actions, because to love or not would not matter. Nazi morality would be as good as that of Mother Theresa. The morality of rape and murder would be equal to that of going shopping for a pair of socks. Of course, the previous two examples would seem ridiculous to any sane human being. That is because each and every human being has a built-in homing device – one which longs to seek out the truth. You and I have a Divine obligation to make use of this homing device, and continue to seek and find (Matthew 7:7) the truth, because the time that is given to us is all that we have. To quote Pope Paul VI, “Somebody should tell us, right at the start of our lives, that we are dying. Then we might live life to the limit, every minute of every day. Do it! I say. Whatever you want to do, do it now! There are only so many tomorrows”.
My appeal to you, the reader, then, is to start today. Start your searching, and never stop. Examine the moral, philosophical, historical, and scientific (yes, scientific) case for the one who claims to be the truth, the way and the life. Speak to the good people at Catholic Answers forums (forums.catholic.com). Read books by good Christian/Catholic apologists (apologists are those who “defend” and explain the faith), including “Mere Christianity” by C. S. Lewis, writings by Peter Kreeft (www.peterkreeft.com). Read biographies of saintly people such as Mother Theresa, St. Theresa of Lisieux and St. Maximillian Kolbe. Listen to beautiful sacred classical music. Appreciate the beauty of creation around you. Be curious at the right things. Ask questions. Look for meaning in life. Love your neighbour without seeking returns. Pray (“if you’re there, God…”). Attend an RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) at a local Catholic Church. Speak to a priest there. Grow in virtues. Live without regrets. Do what’s right. Be courageous. Seek wisdom. Humility conquers all.