Truth and Reconciliation

We Make Ourselves Real By Telling The Truth

[Last weekend the public library sponsored one of those huge used book sales. For less than $20 we got about 3 dozen books. One of life’s pleasures! And most of them, after a week, I’m still glad we got. (Where we’re going to put them is another question.)]

Here’s some good stuff from No Man Is An Island by Thomas Merton, a collection of essays.

These are the first two paragraphs of Chapter 10, “Sincerity.”

We make ourselves real by telling the truth. Man can hardly forget that he needs to know the truth, for the instinct to know is too strong in us to be destroyed.

I think it was Aristotle who wrote, “Man by nature desires to know.” It’s built in. We hunger for truth – or, if we’ve lost or never developed any discernment, we at least hunger for information, ideas, prejudices, opinions, some sense that we know what’s going on.

But he can forget how badly he also needs to tell himself the truth. We cannot know truth unless we ourselves are conformed to it.

Ooh. That could turn into work!

It takes some real effort to WAIT with your opinions or your positions until you feel clear about what you can really say and what you cannot. And then, if needed, you have to be willing to speak it.

If one moves into “tweaking” the truth, or rushing into things without an honest effort to discern, a very bad pattern begins to develop – the pattern of leading yourself around by the nose in service of a) whatever serves your ulterior motives or b) whatever seems to make you more acceptable or more impressive to whoever the audience is at the moment.

We have a lot of lying going on in government, in the media, and in some religious circles, and it feeds itself – or those who propagate it are, by that very effort, feeding the habit within their own hearts. One gets to where, as Isaiah wrote,

He cannot save himself, or say,
‘Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?’
Isaiah 44:20

I don’t want to get there – where you can’t even ask yourself the question.

We must be true inside, true to ourselves, before we can know a truth that is outside us. But we make ourselves true inside by manifesting the truth as we see it.

And the truth that is most needed is often not just metaphysical or theological or philosophical. It was Jesus’ critique of the real, present-day world he lived in that got him in so much trouble. We need to try to discern the realities of our world, and then we must find the courage appropriately to speak that truth. This world, after all, is where people are getting repeatedly lied to and ripped off, while others are “getting away with murder”.

George Orwell once wrote that

Speaking the Truth in times of universal deceit is a revolutionary act.

If the revolution is only against yourself, or you own prejudices, or if it’s also against the prejudices and lies of parts of the culture around us, it is a human thing, a human gift, to long for and then to speak reality.

Pilate could cynically ask, being caught in that self-feeding, self-serving, self-protecting lying mode, “What is truth?” But Jesus and many of his followers were willing to risk and lose their lives out of deep honest personal conviction that they were on to something very, very relevant, and very, very True.

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