Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Falsehood is bad, right?

Go to the Vatican site and search for ‘truth’. You will get 4194 hits. I quote from some below.

John Paul II to Australian academics in 1986:

By dedicating yourselves to human learning, you declare your willingness to stand face to face with truth – the truth about man as he relates to the whole world, to all creation. In so doing, you proclaim to the world the Author of creation. Indeed the whole of academe is of its nature an acknowledgement of the relationship existing between man – the only earthly being with intelligence – and the Author of truth.

Catechism of the Catholic Church – Living in Truth:

The Old Testament attests that God is the source of all truth. His Word is truth. His Law is truth. His “faithfulness endures to all generations.” Since God is “true,” the members of his people are called to live in the truth.

John Paul II on World Peace Day 1980

Truth, the power of peace! Let us join together to strengthen peace through the resources of peace itself. The foremost resource is truth, for it is preeminently truth that is the serene and powerful driving force of peace, radiating unimpededly by its own power.

John Paul II – Fides et Ratio

Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.

I can’t speak for others but I find it extremely annoying how the Church has appropriated the word ‘truth’ as a synonym for ‘God’ (which is another word it has appropriated). Orwell well understood the power of language when he wrote 1984. The Catholic Church has been using exactly the sort of strategies Orwell talked about by attempting to create a new-speak in which it is impossible say certain things. Thus, if you take seriously what John Paul II said to the Australian academics, claiming that someone is an atheist academic turns into at best nonsense and at worst an attack on the person’s professional competence as an atheist academic my anger at this ought to be understandable.

Once you make a move like that it becomes impossible to carry out any real debate as you have built your assumptions right into your language. After all, what do you wish to reach by discussion? – the truth, obviously. You no longer have interlocutors, you have lost sheep.

Looking at the quote from World Peace Day, you can see that even the Pope sometimes got so entangled in the whole “God is truth, truth is God” line that his words came out sounding like the marihuana-fuelled ramblings of some spaced out hippy.

But, as a whole, this attempt to copyright truth is about as pernicious a tendency as you get in intellectual spheres. Of course, someone might say, “Who cares what the Catholics say and how they use words?” We are lucky that we can afford to say that, thanks to the pluralist nature of modern, westernised societies.


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