My colleague from three companies ago, Anthony, lives near Atlanta making his living as a “storyteller, speaker, humorist and writer.” When I first encountered him as a professional trainer, he was (and presumably still is) engaging, funny, warm, articulate and full of insights he was most eager to pass along to us; he was good at what he did. We engaged in a brief exchange of ideas as comments in last week’s blog, in which we went back and forth with a fundamental divergence of opinion – would that all opposing views could be discussed so genially. Later in the week Anthony published the current edition of his “Waypoints – Guideposts for Fellow Travelers” entitled “The Truth Fairy.” It is herein attached; please give it a read. Link to Waypoints. Back arrow to return to this post. Sign up, and he will add you to his email distribution list.
His ideas, so amicably held and voiced, when juxtaposed to mine, lead us to what I believe is the crucial divide of our times – a rift that cannot be reconciled, but can have mutual understanding and respect among people of good will. Religious and agnostic; progressive and conservative all distill down to this: utilitarian positivism and moral relativism in stark contrast to the concepts of revelation and natural law.
Postmodern ideals and ethics evolved through the Enlightenment and later the Nihilism and “God is Dead” philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, the Existential writings of Jean Paul Sartre and many others. Perhaps the positivist roots go even deeper into thirteenth and fourteenth century scholastic writings and Father Wilhelm of Ockham of “Ockham’s Razor” renown. These seminal ideas developed parallel with the ascendency of the scientific method as the sole arbiter of truth like a robotic meshworm boring through the ear and into the brain of Western Civilization until it insinuated itself into the synapses and impulses, unhinging us utterly from any absolutes, and as Waypoints would have us say, “Are there any truths or are there merely facts? To say that a thing is true is to definitively and confidently declare it both undeniable and incontrovertible.” Just so.
The argument of the positivist is that without empirical evidence nothing can be known as true. In the beginning, those like Father Wilhelm would exempt the unknowable complexities of God and miracles from the strictures of positivist dogma because revelation and faith are by definition of a different nature of truth. As all ideas have consequences, fledgling positivist thought eventually overran all that Creator folderol and pontificated loudly “Gott ist tot! – if indeed He ever existed – and He is therefore irrelevant to the discussion.”
“Ultimately, the problem with militant neo-atheism is that it represents a profound category error. Explaining religion – or indeed the human experience – in scientific terms is futile. It would be as bizarre to launch a scientific investigation into the truth of Anna Karenina or love.” Bryan Appleyard writing in the New Statesman
My contention is not that Waypoints expresses the thoughts of a dyed in the wool positivist, clearly Anthony chooses an alternative faith, that of Emerson and Thoreau and “The Little Prince”, but only that positivist thought inculcates our culture and fashions our perspectives. If we wandered through most of what passes for education since the mid twentieth century, it is the sea in which we swim and the lens through which we see.
My objection lies in the dismissal of those who are of a different faith as “blindly giving all that I have to you” and foolishly relying on “an anthology of ancient stories, screeds and scriptures, all of which are subject to great debate and drastically differing translations,” and thus to Anthony ”both silly and pointless.” This seems to me superficial and smug, unworthy of such an intelligent mind.
“Don’t lay no boogie woogie on the King of Rock and Roll!” Long John Baldry
As an aside, the utopian visions of Emerson, which have their foundation in transcendental principles not provable or disprovable in physical experience, were tried and found wanting in the communes of the nineteenth and twentieth century, and the gulags of the Soviet Union. Emerson and Thoreau were among the guiding lights of Brook Farm, but only visited; they didn’t live there, being far too bright for that. No utopian society existed that did not deconstruct into discord, chaos, tyranny or dystopia. As for the “Little Prince”, unless one reads Antoine Saint-Exupery in the original French, we are relying on one of dozens of translations.
The library we call the Bible, the meticulous translations from the original languages and the tens of thousands of books written about it and the faith it represents are among the most comprehensively analyzed, discussed and thought about subjects in human history. Thomas Huxley, the famed agnostic biologist of Victorian times, put it this way, “Take the Bible as a whole; make the severest deductions which fair criticism can dictate for shortcomings…, and there still remains in the old literature a vast residuum of moral beauty and grandeur.”
Is truth exclusive? In other words, if two things are posited and are exactly opposite, is it only my truth and your truth with no objective judgment possible wherein one position is right and the other wrong? Or is objective truth itself a self evident impossibility outside the laboratory?
For the ancients of Western Civilization, the existence of a Natural Law of incontrovertible truths set deep in the DNA of human kind by its Creator was a given, far before the amazing body of Christian literature on the concepts by the likes of the brilliant Aquinas and Augustine. No lesser light than Aristotle put it this way, “There is in nature a common principle of the just and unjust that all people in some way divine, even if they have no association or commerce with each other.” As C.S. Lewis wrote, there are sometimes differing interpretations of what “fairness” means across cultures and times, but there is universal agreement that the concept of “fairness” is of high value to a healthy society. No one contends that a culture rooted in injustice or unfairness would be a good one. Or for that matter one rooted in cowardice, lies and the murder of the innocent.
So, dear friend, we can disagree about the mores and morals of our current culture, but please don’t admonish us to “think about it”. We do.
Law is “the highest reason, implanted in Nature, which commands what ought to be done and forbids the opposite.” “Right is based, not upon men’s opinions, but upon Nature.” Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC)