October 10, 2007

Truth: The Neglected Virtue

2007 1528 page14 capET’S BEGIN WITH EDUCATION.
 
Over the years, people have poked much fun at it. Will Rogers once described “college-bred” as a “four-year-old loaf.” Robert Hutchins explained that “the reason we give sheepskins to college graduates is in order to cover up their intellectual nakedness.” Someone else cautioned that education “can lead a boy to college, but cannot make him think.”
 
Yet just about every adult regrets they did not study harder when in school. The general aim of education should be to train the whole person—the intellect and the will, not just the mind. Knowledge resides in the intellect, in the mind; character, however, has to do with the will. And we need both. We wouldn’t buy a suit with one sleeve, nor a pair of pants with one leg. In the same way education should not only perfect the mind, but build character. It should confront the mind with truth.
 
Six Important Factors About Truth
2007 1528 page14 cap1 It makes a difference what you believe.
After almost two centuries of liberalism, which denied that anything is true and that it makes no difference what you believe, the world reacted. It grew tired of its freedom, just as children in certain “progressive” schools grow tired of their license to do whatever they please. Freedom fatigues those who want to shirk responsibility. Eventually they look for some false god into whose hands they can throw themselves, so they will never have to think or make decisions for themselves. Nazism, Fascism, and Communism came into being as reactions against liberalism.
 
There is a theorem in psychology called “ideomotor.” It suggests that every idea has a kind of motor power, or tends to work itself out into action. We cry when we hear bad news; we laugh when we hear a good joke. Similarly every idea we have tends to emerge in some kind of expression. Our actions, therefore, betray our ideas. We act upon our beliefs. As our food determines our health, so our ideas go into the making of our behavior.
 
2007 1528 page14 cap2 Truth insists on boundaries.
Self-will always repudiates a truth that challenges it. But however successful self-will may be, it’s never satisfied. That’s why the egotist is always critical. The head that wears the crown is uneasy—not because it’s tired of the crown, but because it’s tired of itself. It has it within its power to do anything it pleases, but living without boundaries and limitations becomes as dull and stagnant as a swamp.
 
2007 1528 page14A river must be happier than a swamp, because it has banks and boundaries. A swamp is a valley of liberty that lost its shores and became “liberal.”
2007 1528 page14 cap3Truth offers the only freedom.
The only ones who are really free from the bondage and the burden of self are those who hold to the truth. Jesus said, “The truth shall make you free.” And though freedom alone does not make truth, it does supply the conditions for discovering it. Yet the condition is not the cause. The real cause of freedom is truth. Only when we know the truth about an airplane are we free to pilot it; only when we know the truths of the science of medicine are we free to practice it. Only the person who knows the truth of engineering is free to build a bridge that will stand. Only when we know the truth of life are we most free to live it. The lover of truth is under an eternal law of rectitude. As they submit to it, they enjoy peace. Truth is not something we invent; if we invent it, then it’s a lie. Truth, rather, is something we discover—like love.
 
In C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters we find a series of correspondence between an uncle devil in hell and a young nephew devil on earth. The young devil is trying to win souls by talking about the “truth of materialism.” But the old devil reprimands him, saying that he must not talk about “truth,” a word that belongs to the “enemy, God.” Instead, said the uncle devil, you must confuse minds; get them to inquire whether a thing is “liberal or reactionary,” “right or left,” “modern or behind the times.”
 
Evidently Screwtape, the old devil, has succeeded pretty well in today’s society.
 
2007 1528 page14 cap4 It affects our lives.
Truth does not change, but truth does develop. Two and two do not make four in the thirteenth century, and sixteen in the twentieth. But arithmetic does develop into geometry, and geometry into calculus. Moreover, we may speak of two kinds of truth: speculative and practical. Speculative truth is the truth of knowing, such as comes to us from philosophy, mechanics, physics, chemistry. Practical truth is concerned with doing and living, such as ethics and morals.
 
The first kind of truth is very easy to accept. London is the capital of England. It does not in any way involve a change in our conduct. It makes no practical difference to our lives. But the truths of morality (purity, justice, prudence, charity) are not so easy of acceptance. Because they often demand a revolution in our behavior. That’s why people more willingly accept objections against a principle of morality than against a theory of science. Jesus referred to the difficulty of accepting practical truths when He said that people love darkness more than light “because their deeds . . . [are] evil” (John 3:19, NIV).
 
2007 1528 page14 cap5 It exposes evil.
Socrates contended that “evil is ignorance.” And some have argued, accordingly, that the way to make people virtuous is to educate them. But this is not true—for evil more often flows from our will than from our ignorance. The best educated are not always the most virtuous. Education does not deliver us from evil. In fact, conceivably, it can produce clever devils instead of stupid ones. And if we had to choose between the two, most of us would prefer the stupid devil.
 
When Satan tempted our first parents he argued that God had forbidden them to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil so as to prevent them from becoming gods. To eat, he said to them, is to come to know good and evil as God does, and to become gods themselves.
 
The fallacy in Satan’s argument was his failure to distinguish two ways of knowing anything. It is one thing to know something intellectually, but quite another to know it experientially. A germ known experientially could ruin us. To know what dishonesty is, one need not be a thief. To know what “life” is, one need not be an adulterer. Drunkenness can be known without being drunk. Education that emphasizes the necessity of living evil in order to know evil is in danger of making the mind captive to the evil. Let a drunken man become sober and he will see things as they are; let a skeptic turn to Deity and he will begin to know truth.
 
2007 1528 page14 cap6 It is a narrow path.
Truth is a narrow path with an abyss on either side. It is easy to fall either to the right or to the left; it would have been as easy to be an idealist in the nineteenth century as it was easy to be a materialist in the twentieth. But to avoid both pitfalls and walk that narrow path 
of truth in the middle is as thrilling as a romance.
 
Let’s Seek and Keep It
Truth is like the veins of metal in the earth; it is often very thin and runs not 
in a continuous layer. Once we lose it, we may have to dig for miles to find it again. Grains of truth are like grains of gold that prospectors find; they can be discovered after a long search and they must be sifted from error with great patience. They must be burned to erase the dross, and washed in the streams of honesty.
 
There are only two kinds of mind that ever discover truth: those that know they know nothing and those that know they do not know everything. In all our learning, may we come to find Him who is the Truth—and whom to know is life eternal.
 
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Rex Edwards is the former associate vice president and dean of Religious Studies at Griggs University in Silver Spring, Maryland.

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