Lumen Fidei 25

Consider contemporary culture. Is this diagnosis accurate?

25. Today more than ever, we need to be reminded of this bond between faith and truth, given the crisis of truth in our age. In contemporary culture, we often tend to consider the only real truth to be that of technology: truth is what we succeed in building and measuring by our scientific know-how, truth is what works and what makes life easier and more comfortable. Nowadays this appears as the only truth that is certain, the only truth that can be shared, the only truth that can serve as a basis for discussion or for common undertakings.

My sense is that people long for structure and surety. In part, perhaps the long world conflict of 1914-1989 intensified longing in certain quarters for something of certainty, even as war spread across Europe twice and the threat of a third world war was hanging over us. Is it so surprising people wanted some region of emotional confidence, given that political and religious leaders seemed to impotent in the face of mutual assured destruction?

Yet at the other end of the scale we are willing to allow for subjective truths of the individual, which consist in fidelity to his or her deepest convictions, yet these are truths valid only for that individual and not capable of being proposed to others in an effort to serve the common good. But Truth itself, the truth which would comprehensively explain our life as individuals and in society, is regarded with suspicion.

While I easily acknowledge that this is true for some people, in some quarters, count me as a skeptic on it being seriously widespread. I think what this diagnosis is getting at is that cultural authority deeply disappointed many people. I wonder if so-called relativism was more a rejection of the messengers of tradition. Truth was and is less suspect than the people who sometimes seem hypocritical in advocating it.

Surely this kind of truth — we hear it said — is what was claimed by the great totalitarian movements of the last century, a truth that imposed its own world view in order to crush the actual lives of individuals. In the end, what we are left with is relativism, in which the question of universal truth — and ultimately this means the question of God — is no longer relevant. It would be logical, from this point of view, to attempt to sever the bond between religion and truth, because it seems to lie at the root of fanaticism, which proves oppressive for anyone who does not share the same beliefs. In this regard, though, we can speak of a massive amnesia in our contemporary world. The question of truth is really a question of memory, deep memory, for it deals with something prior to ourselves and can succeed in uniting us in a way that transcends our petty and limited individual consciousness. It is a question about the origin of all that is, in whose light we can glimpse the goal and thus the meaning of our common path.

Even if the papal diagnosis is not quite on target, I certainly feel no doubt about the value of faith. Clearly, Pope Francis, more through tone than content, seems able to speak to people and communicate basic truths about mercy, compassion, hopefulness, and to do so in a way that is forthright and clear–some would say blunt.

What do you think?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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One Response to Lumen Fidei 25

  1. To me, the concept of Christianity without religion is contradictory and illusory. Faith has to express itself as a religion and through religion, though of course it cannot be reduced to religion. The tradition of these two concepts should be studied anew with this consideration in mind. For Thomas Aquinas, for instance, “religion” is a subdivision of the virtue of righteousness and is, as such, necessary, but it is of course quite different from the “infused virtue” of faith. It seems to me that a postulate of the first order of any carefully differentiated theology of religions would be the precise clarification of the concepts of faith and religion, which are mostly used so as to pass vaguely into each other, and both are equally used in generalized fashion. Thus, people talk of “faiths” in the plural and intend thereby to designate all religions, although the idea of faith is by no means present in all religions, is certainly not constitutive element for all of them, and—insofar, as it does occur—means very different things in them. The broadening of the concept of religion as an overall designation for the relationship of man to the transcendent, on the other hand, has only happened in the second part of the modern period. Such a clarification is urgently needed, especially for Christianity to have a proper understanding of itself and for the way it relates to other world religions.

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