"The search for certitude" -vs- "the search for truth"

From a CathNews Discussion Board Lenten Reflection...

Grahame, Jeannie and Wrong Notions, as unstructured as these Lenten Reflections are, I do have to say I have found them perhaps the most challenging yet. I mean that sincerely and I mean all of your posts and the difficult questions they all raise.

I am not convinced that Scriptural study alone can lead us to the true or Risen Christ. I have friends who remain within the Catholic Church and who are heavily into trying to decipher the meaning in Scripture in a similar manner to yourself, Jeannie. I honestly do not have great confidence that they really "get" what this entire spiritual journey is about. I honestly do not believe it leads to the salvation that God promises us.

I think the big challenge Christians face is discerning between the search for certitude and the search for truth.

Wrong notions has explained his experience down the board where he questioned Mariology. I question a lot of that myself and I know many Catholics of my age and disposition who do also. As I mentioned the other day, I think even many of the present leaders in the Church would have a slightly different take or emphasis on this, at least privately, to what the present Holy Father does. Some of the attitudes on the part of clergy that Wrong Notions describes are familiar, particularly in our country, from the old Irish clergy. I think a lot of that fawning devotion to Mary does comes from cultural factors rather than a spiritual source. It was a means of expressing our Catholic identity and it was a sort of "tribal" marking we gave ourselves in our quest for self-identity and self-assurance that we were right and everybody else was wrong. We ALL suffer from that though. All of us - Catholic, Islamists, Jews, Hindus, you name a religion - all of us are driven by this deep human impulse for a sense of security in certitudes. We all, in a sense, f**k with "truth" in order to bring a sense of certitude into our lives. A lot of the disputes all the time are not actually to do with "truth". Rather, they are to do with what authority we are claiming as an assurance that something is in fact the "truth" that we want it to be. One sees a different example of it on this discussion board recently from these people who come in here with their anti-Semitic posts and all this total intolerance for Masons and Protestants. (I have to remove all the Anti-Semitic posts in my role as Coadministrator.) This behaviour is brilliant illustration again that "Catholicism" to these people seems to be more about a sense of cultural identity and some search for certitude rather than a search for truth. Truth is not so much identified by its own intrinsic qualities but is identified in a more secondary way through the sense of confidence that one can build around one's source of authority that the authority in fact knows what the truth is about things.

It is interesting that some of those exhibiting this grossly anti-Semitic behaviour are on the other extreme of the Church and they are as critical of PJPII as any of his critics down the other end who might be critical of his, say, take on Mariology and the model his take on Mariology presents as to the place of women in the Church and in the world.

I'm agin all of that. ALL of it. To me, at the very, very heart of the Christian spiritual endeavour is the search not for certitude but for "truth". This "truth" though is not some long list of rules that is held in some book at the Vatican or in the Pope's head. It is "the truth" in the myriad of questions, decisions and particular moral dilemmas that even the least intellectually capable person in the world has to face each day. There are literally gzillions of these "questions, decisions and particular moral dilemmas" that have to be faced in the world each day. There is no single book, no single mind such as the Pope's, that can contain all the answers to those gzillions of "questions, decisions and particular moral dilemmas". All the Church can provide us with are the base rules, and an outline of the process, by which we (the particular) individual can navigate the particular parameters that apply to the particular "question, decision or moral dilemma" we are facing and arrive at "the truth" for that particular situation. Two different people, for example, might be facing very similar situations with all the surrounding parameters being almost identical but not quite. That "not quite" can actually mean that the "moral truth" for one of the people might in fact be the direct opposite of what the "moral truth" is for the other person. Tomorrow their positions might be reversed. The spiritual quest is in fact the process of learning to be able to find those subtle differences and the truth for the particular decisions we need to make in our lives. It is the very process of learning to make those particular decisions that grows us in holiness and brings us closer to "Truth" in that BIG sense of "God is Truth" or "Christ is Truth". It is this very process that literally takes us to that state of being we condense into the word "Heaven". Christ is not to be likened to some library of answers like some ginormous hard disk in the sky. Christ is "a process" or, as He Himself described "A WAY (of thinking and acting)". We have to learn that process. I submit to you that we neither find that process through this overemphasis in the literalism of Sacred Scripture, nor do we find it in ascribing some literalism to particular personalities in the Catholic Church be it the Pope or the sort of Monsignori that Wrong Notions gave us an example of down the board.

The "process" is "guided" by the words in Scripture but, by themselves, they are imperfect as the "words" of any human being, even a Pope, are often imperfect and might lead us up a garden path.

In a sense, and this is what gives people like that other Jack the heeby-jeebies, there is no place in the world where one can find the sorts of certitudes that he craves. We are all, in a sense, in our imperfection endeavouring to build idols. What is an idol? It is not merely a false representation of God. IT IS A FALSE REPRESENTATION OF TRUTH ITSELF. We can, and do, try to turn His Holiness, the Church, Sacred Scripture, the Blessed Virgin Mary, "the Rules", "Canon Law" into symbols of idolatry.

Christ though is the great iconoclast. He is the one who endeavours to smash all the symbols of idolatry. His "Way (of thinking and acting)" keeps pointing us to this "other place" which is the only place where we will find true certitude, the true absolutes (moral and otherwise), and the true "Truth about Everything". That place is "in the Father"!

Cheers, Tom.

©2005Tom Scott/Brian Coyne/Vias Tuas Communications
Written: 02Mar2005

Tom Scott

"In spite of all that might be said against our age,
what a moment it is to be alive in!" James McAuley