Weaponized Orthodoxy Is Far From The Truth

Duccio_di_Buoninsegna_EmausSophism and rigid fundamentalism represent two extremes in regards in truth and goodness, and following either will end up creating great personal and social harm. Sophism makes all considerations of truth and goodness so relative that it becomes argued there is no real objective standard of right and wrong. Rigid fundamentalism, while capable of being seen as the opposite extreme of sophism, has two separate but equally significant problems. First, it assumes what is believed is the pure, objective standard, and secondly, it forces all to conform to that assumed standard so that the personal, subjective engagement of that standard is lost and the world and human life becomes one of pure objectivity.

Subjective and objective dimensions of personal existence are both important, and they must be properly balanced out. We must never confuse our subjective engagement with the truth as the fullness of the truth; we must not confuse our expression of the truth with the objective truth itself. We can point to, experience, and indeed, unite ourselves with the truth, but we do so as relative subjects. The more we open up and experience the truth, the more we should understand our potential and the limits of our understanding of the truth so as not to try to force others to conform to our subjective engagement with the truth as if it were the absolute. On the other hand, because we do not define the truth and only subjectively engage it, this should not serve as a way to reduce the truth to non-existence, to make all relative assertions as if they were equally valid.  It is clear, there are things which are not true; if someone were to say “rabbits necessarily have horns,” what they said is false and can be rejected.

As we grow in truth, we will find ourselves conforming to the truth, but not in a way which denies our subjective existence. We will take what we gain from the truth and use it to develop ourselves, to become greater in our personal being; this is why free will is affirmed, not denied, in the assimilation of the truth. Indeed, the greater a subject has embraced the truth, and let its wisdom integrate with them in their life, the freer they will find themselves to be. Proper engagement with the truth sets people free, not conforms them to a life of mere objectivity limited to the portion of the truth which they have acquired.

Engagement with the truth brings the realization of how difficult it is to obtain. Perhaps, at the beginning of our pursuit, things will come easily, but the more we acquire, the more difficult it will become to gain more and assimilate it to what we know We will end up realizing that there are many more dimensions to the truth than that which we have encountered, which will help us understand why the simple objectification of what we know as the absolute truth must always be seen as a lie. What we are not aware of, the hidden dimensions of the truth which others might possess that complements what we know, can radically change what we understand of the truth once we become aware of it; the more we experience this radical change and shift of understanding, the more we will become aware of other subtle dimensions of the truth which we do not have, which we might never have, and so the more aware we will become of how difficult it is to present to others an adequate map of the truth. This will make it difficult for us to establish purely objective statements which can be said to be true. This is not to say we will not be able to do so, but we must do so with many caveats, recognizing the limit of the value of what we can say (negative theology is a good corrective for any attempted reification of human knowledge as the absolute truth while showing that we can speak of the truth nonetheless).

If we understand how difficult a process it has been for us to attain the level of awareness we have today, we can then respect the shape and pattern of such development in others, realizing that hasty interference through a domineering spirit can hinder their development and cause them to turn away from what good we have to offer. This, then, is why fundamentalists who confront and attack all who do not hold their same understanding and opinions to be heretics are spiritually quite dangerous. For the one who holds such a spirit, they trap themselves in what little of the truth they have attained, making it difficult if not impossible for them to grow and move in to a better relationship with the truth. Likewise, they begin trying to make all things reflect their own objective standard. They become controlling and abusive, undermining others wherever differences of understanding exist; the notion of objective truth is used not for the sake of truth but as a coping mechanism. An over-fascination with an “orthodoxy” that does not internalize the transformative nature of truth ends up creating destructive individuals, who, once they do not get their way with the expression of truth, become vituperative, seeking to use what little objective truth they have as a weapon to attack the world. They seek to dominate and control; it is of no little surprise that they end up becoming predatory in the world, in one fashion or another: some will seek to control the world through economic means, using their supposed orthodoxy as justification for their avarice; others might become sexual predators, engaging further the will-to-dominate-and-control in a destructive interpersonal form. So-called heresy hunters, likewise, seek to affirm themselves in the world; by thinking they define they truth, they think they are on top of the intellectual ladder, taking away the rungs of those beneath them so no one can take them down in the same way.

This must not be read as to suggest orthodoxy, or the desire to know the truth, is itself bad; the problem is thinking the truth is something to be grasped and objectified by the human intellect. Idolatry which sacrifices the other for the preservation of the idol is the end result of such rigid objectification. Certainly, he truth is good and pursuit of the truth is important because it can transform us, make us better people, but the key is to understand the infinite transcendence of the truth to that which we attain, and to understand, likewise, there will be others with differing understandings of the truth with their own conventions to express the truth which they have attained, and being different is not in itself a demonstration of error. What we obtain is good for us so long as we remain open to the difference between our subjective engagement with the truth and the truth itself. It is good so long as we let what we learn truly shape us to become better, to become more charitable, more self-giving. If we try to hold to the truth to ourselves and limit it what our intellect is capable understanding, then even if what we offer on some level is capable of being said to be true, it is not the truth but only its simulacrum which veils the truth through its similarity to the truth.

Now, this is not to say orthodoxy is itself a bad position. There are several kinds of people who seek it out. Many, if not most, are just trying to understand the truth and want to share what they have discerned of it with others. When shown how they are mistaken, they will change their view to conform to the truth, even as they will then work to change themselves to conform to the truth of being. But others only enjoy orthodoxy for the power and control they get from it. They like to lord it over others, showing off how superior they are because of what they think they know, and so use it as a way of satisfying their vainglory. The worst, of course, are those who have no real concern for the goodness of truth, and so seek not to conform themselves to it, but in the power of its simulacrum; they will engage debates of truth with the appearance of caring, but the point is to show themselves as superior to others, not only for the sake of glory, but for what they can get out of others as a result. This last group is the most dangerous, true wolves in sheep’s clothing, who will be found near those seeking the truth, appearing to be one with them, and yet slowly taking on and picking off those sheep one by one as their prey. These predators must be stopped and shown for what they are, lest they harm many others through their abusive personality and destructive tendencies. The truth does not lie with them: what they have of it is stolen from others, like bandits robbing pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem. They might appear to be like the rest, but their true self is not what they put on to hide themselves from the world, but the person underneath the clothing seeking to take advantage of those closest to them.

Orthodoxy, then, is not enough. It is easy to display it, to state what others have stated, and appear to be good and true. Charity, love, as Paul said is necessary. Without it, the truth contained in the formulations of orthodoxy is lacking the vitality of the spirit which is necessary for it to accomplish its goal, which is to help transform the world so that the kingdom of God can be revealed from within. Orthodoxy maps out the kingdom, but only those who have taken the transformative journey and entered into it truly represent the orthodox faith in its fullness.

 

[Image= Christus erscheint zwei pilgernden Apostel in Emmaus by Duccio di Buoninsegna [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

 

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