Truth and Descartes
“The power of judging aright and of distinguishing truth from error, which is properly what is called good sense or reason, is by nature equal in all men; and the diversity of our opinions, consequently, does not arise from some being endowed with a larger share of reason than others, but solely from this, that we conduct our thoughts along different ways, and do not fix our attention on the same objects. For to be possessed of a vigorous mind is not enough; the prime requisite is rightly to apply it. The greatest minds, as they are capable of the highest excellences, are open likewise to the greatest aberrations; and those who travel very slowly may yet make far greater progress, provided they keep always to the straight road, than those who, while they run, forsake it.” –Rene Descartes
There is nothing more intellectually dissatisfying than bracketing the truth in an academic discussion, yet the American Academy of Religion continues to mandate this limited, relativistic, empirical, polarizing, and totalitarian agenda. Why? Well, I’m not entirely sure, but I have a hunch. Truth is scary for two reasons: (1) truth necessitates the rigorous and time-consuming task of logical reasoning, and (2) truth may necessitate the partaker of that truth to change his or her life in accordance with the truth. There may be a third reason that has to do with the influence of postmodern philosophy, but I am not entirely sure that anyone, in good faith, can thoroughly adhere to postmodern doctrine given its internal incoherence and its logical implications. After all, by saying, “There is no truth,” one is admitting a truth–namely, that there is no truth. I challenge a postmodern feminist to live in a culture that practices female, adolescent genital mutilation and to raise her children, if she has any, in that cultural context, which naturally, is just as valid a construction of society as our own. No one has taken me up on that offer yet. Morals are not mere preferences, as if choosing to kill a man were equivalent to selecting a flavor of ice cream at a local Baskin Robbins. Innately, humanity is not relativistic, so the imposition of relativism is the imposition of a system akin to the systems that relativists expressly condemn. Irony. (If you reject my claim that humanity is not innately relativistic, then I encourage you to find a place where it is common practice for one to commit mass murder for fun with no retribution.) It is no wonder that Pope Benedict XVI spoke against the dictatorship of relativism, a tyranny in which the adherents of moral absolutism and objectivity are systematically silenced for their desire to pursue truth, even within the context of a university. We could use a dosage of Descartes, who correctly maintained that a commitment to reason–the distinction of truth from error–is necessary for the thriving of humankind. We are in bondage to relativism. Only the truth can set us free.