Truth and the Moral Life
By Rev. Bernard O'Connor, OSFS
I don't know if you have noticed it or not, but several of our old words are returning to everyday action of American culture. Since the nineteen sixties, we have placed both "Truth" and "Goodness" on the bench. Other players seemed to be more valuable in winning games. Quickness, agility, and clever moves racked up points with amazing proficiency. Popularity, ease, and comfort got the crowd into the game with enthusiasm. The academic community helped by presenting cogent reasons why "Truth" and "Goodness" were no longer adequate for the modern games. Some in business and industry rejoiced because they were never really sold on the value of these old-fashioned players in the first place. Many in politics and law relaxed in this less strenuous atmosphere. We seemed to have found a winning combination. Our starting team was on a roll.
In 1993, Pope John Paul II published an encyclical letter entitled Veritatis Splendor, The Splendor of Truth: Regarding Certain Fundamental Questions of The Church's Moral Teaching. This is a letter to the bishops of the world about Truth and Goodness. The Pope argues that our modern culture has lost its respect for Truth in its objective form. We have accepted the Nietzschean claim that there are only subjective perspectives on the issue of Truth. Once we do this, we enter a relativistic world where only opinion matters. The opinion that truly counts is the opinion of the person with power. Truth and Goodness are retired, or at least sidelined to the bench, in the game of life.
This strategy for modern American life seemed to be working just fine. There were none of the old moral laws holding us back from trying new moves on the court. We didn't have to do the hard work involved in figuring out the truth about anything. It certainly was an optimistic and energetic period for the American experiment. Why did it have to stop?
Clinton Sex Scandals. World Trade Center. Anthrax. Enron. Judges At Olympics. Pedophilia Scandal in the Catholic Church.
The American people know that at the heart of each of these disasters is a serious confusion about the value of Truth and Goodness. Without both of these players at the very heart of the team, the game is meaningless and the consequences are not worthy of the human spirit. There are actions that are right and there are actions that are wrong. This is an objective truth. No amount of subjective justification can ever change this objective truth. The Pope is absolutely correct when he argues that moral claims have a basis both in the Truth and Goodness. Not only are we humans capable of identifying the truth, we also have an obligation to do what we know to be true. Goodness is a matter of doing the truth. In every one of the scandals there is a clear truth that human beings should have respected. For various subjective considerations, they chose to deny this truth. All of their subsequent actions were at the service of a falsehood. And they were able to enlist others in their denial. This is called a cover-up. What did Adam and Eve do when God asked them about their sin? They covered up their bodies. Evil always seeks the darkness.
There is an appropriate way for an employer to relate to an intern. There is an appropriate way for a warrior to fight a war. There is an appropriate way for an executive to run a corporation. There is an appropriate way for an angry person to express that anger. There is an appropriate way for a judge to evaluate a skater. And there is an appropriate way for a priest to relate to a child of God. These are basic truths about the nature of human relationships. The human family has worked very hard over the centuries to illuminate these truths and highlight their value. We must make our moral judgments based upon these truths. We are less than human when we allow our own subjective desires, fears, passions, agendas, etc. to cloud the "splendor of truth."
If a person does make a wrong judgment concerning the truth, it is the responsibility of everyone else to point that out. We gain absolutely nothing by trying to cover up a bad judgment. In fact, the cover-up often becomes an evil of greater magnitude. The appropriate anger within the people of the Catholic Church is directed primarily toward the individual bishops who failed to deal adequately with the evil that was presented to them. We are blessed in the Diocese of Allentown with bishops who acted decisively with evil. Evil is a cancer. It must be rigorously treated or cut out of the body. It cannot be ignored. Even if someone tells you that it is in remission, you must keep a careful eye on it, because it can return with a vengeance.
It is sad to see our wonderful pope weighed down with this heavy burden during the waning years of his Pontificate. He has clearly called his people to holiness. The overwhelming majority of laity, priests, and bishops are good and truthful servants of God. We must courageously address this cancer that lives within the body of the church. We must provide example to our world about the proper way to remove an evil. This cleansing will be a great blessing for the people of God and for the people of our nation. Let's together get the key players back into the game of life. There is "splendor in truth."
Press Release: Truth and The Moral Life by Rev. Bernard O'Connor, OSFS | Posted on: 4/3/2002
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