There is a problem I have found within the climate of American Catholics (I’m sure it’s not just us, but still). It’s everywhere. Sooner or later, anywhere there has been a discussion, it will appear. It shows up in articles and comboxes, lurking in the dark underside of the comment thread, where few care to continue reading, waiting to pounce on it’s prey like a pit viper. It’s prey: the unsuspecting reader. It’s venom: cruel and unbridled absence of charity. This is a real issue, since they are most often quite correct in what they’ve said, thus you don’t really feel compelled to argue against them, but you also don’t feel compelled to get to know them.
This phenomenon is precisely what Matthew Warner railed against in his article for the National Catholic Register. And while I agree with most (if not all) of what Mr. Warner has said, I think that there is more still to be said on the subject.
All of this seems to raise a few questions.
Q: Why are those who have truth so often such giant tool bags?
It would be easy just to say that it’s an inherent character flaw that some people have; yet while this is might be true, it doesn’t really seem to explain the phenomenon in its totality. One may also easily say that the cause of the problem is the absolute anonymity available to denizens of the internet that allows them to speak more crudely, thus forming a wall of jerkiness around what might have otherwise been meaningful truth. But this can’t be it, since people who write proudly under their own names are some of the worst perpetrators.
So, what is it?
Christ refers to himself as the Truth, and he is also, as God, Love. Therefore, one who possesses the truth should also posses charity. And yet there are many who don’t. It is in this that the cause for the douche-baggery is seen quite clearly, it is a false relation to truth.
Q: What is their relation to truth?
There is a common, and reasonable enough, tendency to think of truth in the way that we think of just about everything else, an object. This is however a problem with regards to truth, since truth does not behave like other objects. To quote a good friend, and professor of philosophy(I hope he won’t mind…)
“When I teach, it is not the same as if I had brought a bottle of wine to class. If I bring a bottle of wine, I pour into each of your glasses until you are all full and I, the bottle, am empty. But when I teach, it is not that you are full and I am empty, but that we have shared and have both left full.”
No object behaves in this manner. Objects have quantities, and thus can only be doled out in equal measure to how much was there in the first place. Truth on the other hand, can be found within a relative void of understanding.
This is the problem for many of us. If truth is an object, a commodity, then it is a pride to have it. If I have truth, then I have worked hard for it, or just been smart enough to see it, and it is thus a tool, a weapon of my eagerness to be superior. This kind of relation to the truth bears no real implication upon me. I am the all-knowing subject, and the truth is juts one among the near infinite objects around me, over which my knowledge gives me power. Thus, no matter how much valuable truth I know, I’m almost necessarily doomed to be a jerk about it.
Q: Is there a better way to relate to truth, and avoid making everyone hate you?
The answer should come as no real surprise. Humility. Humility is the key to avoiding the arrogance and rudeness of object-centered truth-relation. However, humility is a hard thing to strive for, since as soon as you think you’ve got it, you’ve failed. Thus, there needs to be a way to humility within our truth-relation. And there is, subjective truth-relation.
Q: How is it possible that subjective truth-relation brings humility?
In the objective truth-relation the knower is the all powerful subject, gaining objective knowledge like a ten yearold collecting trading cards, but not allowing them to truly impact them. The impact of truth upon a person, which is in certain sense humility (or at least leads to humility) is hindered in this objective relation because it is a relation of the subject which does not relate to itself (hehe, Kierkegaard jokes) but in all seriousness, that’s what it is.
An objective relation to truth has two terms, the subject/knower and the object/truth the knower knows the truth, and has lordship over it thereby. The problem here is that there is no self-relation. In the objective truth-relation, the knower doesn’t reflect upon himself, since truth is just sitting there naked and cold before him, a completely unfeeling object. Thus, this object has no effect upon one.
Truth however, is not an object, in fact, Christ says that He IS Truth. Thus, truth, as not-an-object, is relating to the knower. If truth is relating to the knower, then one must relate to themselves.
A similarity is plainly seen between this and the timeless truth of the Oracle which Socrates came to understand, “Know thyself.” And in this subjective relation, where the truth itself looks back at us and thus may judge us, we are forced to realize our own failings by comparison to the truth. In this, we acquire humility with regards to the truth, and through this humility, we may learn, slowly but surely, to stop being an ass.