Importance of Truth (Part 3)

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As I explained earlier, natural law assumes that God is the ultimate source of the laws of nature.  As the author of the laws of nature, these laws reveal something of God’s will to us. When trying to understand natural law, Aquinas and the theologians of his day examined the laws of nature as they were understood at that time and used reason to reach various conclusions on what implications those laws of nature had for how we ought to act.  If the conclusions we reach on how we ought to act must flow from a careful analysis of the laws of nature, then it is reasonable to assume that a more detailed understanding of the laws of nature will have some impact on our conclusions about how we ought to act (natural law).

An illustration is offered. Sex is directly related to reproduction, as that is a primary biological function of sex. This was clearly understood in the time of Aquinas. He and the other Church leaders saw reproduction as one of the essential moral goods of sex. Therefore, if we participate in sexual activity, it should occur only in the context of openness to the natural consequences of sex. This leap of reasoning keeps sex in the realm of reproduction, which is the context that seems to be implicit from the understanding of the laws of nature held by Aquinas and the others.

The invention of the birth control pill has clouded the picture somewhat but over the course of centuries the Church has seen the link between sex and marriage as a reflection of natural law. If it reflects natural law, it reflects God’s will. In the realm of what we ought to do, the Church views conclusions from natural law as an expression of “truth”.

Our understanding of the laws of nature related to sex have deepened in recent decades, with the personal and social bonding functions taking on greater weight. Debates have risen among moral theologians on the implications of our changing understanding of the laws of nature. Should our greater appreciation of the bonding functions of sex have any impact on the natural law related conclusions we draw from sex? This debate is on-going.

The Church tells us that another way we can understand truth is through revelation. Again, revelation assumes that God exists, and that God communicates with us.  This communication is done primarily through the person of Jesus Christ, but also finds expression through inspired persons and even inspired institutions.

Over the first five hundred years of Christianity people struggled to understand who Jesus was, eventually realizing that Jesus was God manifest to humanity. Jesus was the Second Person of the Trinity. Jesus was truly God and truly human. The simple fact was that when Jesus spoke and acted, it was God who was speaking and acting. Everything he did and said was God communicating with us. While we do not have any writings from Jesus, we do have the witness of the four Gospels that conveys to us something of the actions and words of Jesus. We also have the Old Testament stories, as well as the letters of early Christian leaders to the various Christian communities of the Mediterranean Basin. These materials reveal to us want the early Christian community believed about Jesus Christ and what was necessary to live as a Christian and a disciple of Jesus. This information from Scripture was inspired by God and is an accurate understanding of God’s will for us.

The Catholic Church doesn’t view the contents of Scripture as a source of knowledge about the laws of nature. That type of information must rely on the scientific method and sheer human effort, as well as careful reasoning from the data available. However, Scripture is seen as a source of information about moral and spiritual truths. It reveals to us how we ought to act. It reveals to us the spiritual reality within which we act, as well as the spiritual and moral consequences of our actions. Scripture tells us how we ought to live but not how the universe operates. It is this spiritual and moral truth to which Christ came to bear witness.

The truth that can be derived from Scripture isn’t always as obvious as we would like. It is expressed in many different styles and forms (letters, songs, stories, laws, historical records, proverbs and poems), each with its own mode of expression and implications for how it should be interpreted. It was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek and then translated from those languages into Latin or any of the other contemporary languages in which we read it. At each point in the translation process the translators attempted to grasp the original concept and give it expression in a different language, with greater or lesser degrees of success.

Some concepts and events encountered in the original documents, lack the context of the original historical situation for the contemporary reader. This makes an understanding of the original concept much more difficult for a contemporary reader. So, even with Scripture, our “truth” is still only an approximation, due to our need to grasp the concepts we encounter in a way that accurately reflects the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, as well as the intellectual and literary tools with which the human authors were able to work.

So far, we have seen that our grasp of “truth” is always an approximation of the objective reality that we are attempting to describe using human word and concepts, as well as specific languages arising from a unique history and geography. This reliance on an approximation of objective reality doesn’t mean that the “truth” as we know it is fake or merely opinion, with one opinion as good as another.  Truth, as an attempt to describe reality, relies on the best and most accurate understanding of objective reality that we are able to muster. It isn’t that one opinion is as good as another, but rather that the best explanation of the data observed based on a carefully reasoned and logical argument is best; is closest to the truth. Anything that falls short of this criterion is merely opinion, or in contemporary language “fake news”.

The truth matters.  The Church teaches that what makes us in the image and likeness of God is our ability to make moral choices. That is, we have the capacity to understand the choices before us and to freely choose between those choices. This is the mechanism of free will.  When our ability to understand the choices before us is compromised, through manipulation of the information to which we have access, our free will is compromised. Our freedom is taken from us by those who are trying to manipulate our understanding of reality.

While all information in the public square is filtered through the perceptions of those reporting that information, it is news and relatively accurate information when what is reported is backed up by objective facts from a multitude of sources that are in reasonable agreement. Multiple sources of objective facts provide corroboration for the data presented. Corroboration is the same criterion required by a court of law to establish a judicial fact. Information that meets these criteria can be considered a reasonable approximation of truth and valid news, worthy of the best reporters.

It is propaganda when the statement is not supported by objective facts from multiple sources and the unsubstantiated statement is used to support the position of the person making the statement or the person for whom he or she is the spokesperson. Thus, obvious self-interest or self-justification is involved. Propaganda is “fake news” at best. At its worst, it is a tool of oppression, an attempt to manipulate people, as well as a moral abomination that undermines free will. It is an attack on the very concept of truth.  It is a direct attack against Christ, who came to bear witness to the truth. Satan is known as the “Prince of Lies”. If that is the case, then propaganda is a fundamentally evil and Satanic act.

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