Friday, May 15, 2009

Truth, Faith, and T-Shirts

I was in the security line at McCarran Airport when a young man's bright red t-shirt caught my eye. It boldly proclaimed (as young people's shirts should boldly proclaim things):

Truth
Over
Faith

And too many philosophy and theology classes flooded into my head leaving me speechless which is just as well because I needed to empty my pockets, take off my belt, etc.

In part I wanted to say, "That's so modern, so 1907. It's over." But I rememberd that the current wave of pop atheists means what is over in the academy is still chic at Barnes and Noble.

So then I wanted to at least congratulate him for believing there is such a thing as truth to begin with. I took it that his upholding truth over faith must assume truth is objectively real as opposed to a social construct. Right on to that. Parallel lines really and truly do not intersect -- ever -- even if Euclid is a dead white guy.

But then I would have to point out that his belief in truth is an existential stance; indeed it is a faith claim, a bold trusting of reality. One cannot assert truth without faith, without a basic trust in the core of things. If one does not believe the universe is trustworthy enough to be in some sense true, and that we are blessed with some capacity to apprehend truth and a desire to believe what is true as opposed to what is convenient, then once cannot speak out for tuth over anything -- and all of that amounts to a lot of faith in reality. He had started so brilliantly at the top of his shirt, only to fall into chaos just above his navel.

It just all goes so wrong when we try to put big ideas on t-shirts and bumper stickers. He was trying to say something quite good -- like Galileo did well to look through his telescope and see that Copernicus was right (the solar system is heliocentric, not geocentric) and Aristotle was wrong, taking Thomas Aquinas with him. But he didn't say that. He set truth over against faith.
If faith meant being so fearful of the nature of things that one must wear blinders, then give us truth over faith. But that's not faith. That's willful ignorance.

Faith trusts enough to face the world as it is. And as for truth, St. John's Gospel, Ephesians, and Colossians regard the Divine Logos (compare it to the Logos of Stocisim) to be Truth itself, the urTruth comprehending all lesser truths. Nothing true is foreign to the Logos. Nothing true is foreign to Christ. Jesus came that we might "know the truth" not hide from it behind rigid dogmas. When we learn more over the centuries, we come to know Christ more deeply.

So the ranking of faith and truth, setting them in opposition, is really quite absurd. He should have said something to the effect that faith dares to embrace all truth, that truth without faith is just another dogmatism, and that faith without truth is really not faith at all but its opposite, fear. He would have to add something about how shifting theories (remember ether) must teach us humility in our certitudes and the limitations of epistmology, a bit of Heideggerian hemeneutical cirlce, to remind us that what we think we have discovered is true depends on a lot of what we already assumed was true, and "it ain't necessarily so" -- a touch of Gershwin for good measure.

That would, however, be hard to put on a t-shirt. So perhaps for a young guy, the shirt was just fine. I just hope he changes it before he's 40.

1 comment:

Susan said...

Scientific truth over religious faith.