In his latest post, OSV publisher Scott Richert writes that “as Christians, we must take…
From the Chapel — May 7: The truth is out there (and in here)
“From the Chapel” is a series of short, daily reflections on life and faith in a time of uncertainty. As people across the world cope with the effects of the coronavirus — including the social isolation necessary to combat its spread — these reflections remind us of the hope that lies at the heart of the Gospel.
The Catholic historian John Lukacs, who passed away a year ago yesterday at the age of 95, argued that a certain split-mindedness characterizes much of American thought, and has since the late 19th century (at least). This split-mindedness, Lukacs wrote, “encompassed an unwillingness, rather than an inability, to think things through.” In political terms, that means that many who regard themselves as liberals or even progressives often simultaneously, and occasionally unthinkingly, embrace very conservative positions, and act in conservative ways — and vice versa.
Sometimes, Lukacs wrote, this split-mindedness “contained elements of intellectual dishonesty as well as [a] kind of cowardice,” but often it amounted to a “substitution of vocabulary for thought” and “the taking for real of what is merely conceptual” (what the Catholic novelist Walker Percy called “abstraction”).
John never tweeted and didn’t have a Facebook account, but he would have recognized the remarks of so many on social media as examples of this split-mindedness. In back-to-back posts, people often present contradictory ideas, not because they’re exploring the contradictions and attempting to reconcile them (a reasonable pursuit in both philosophy and science), but because they believe both to be true, even though they cannot be.
Lukacs also wrote that there’s often a difference between what people think and what they think they think. Push a person to consider his beliefs, walk him through the consequences of his idea, and you’ll frequently find that, down deep inside, he believes something other than what he claims publicly to believe. As with split-mindedness, that’s not necessarily a sign of dishonesty but rather an unwillingness to examine deeply our own thoughts.
Both split-mindedness and the difference between what we think and what we think we think, it seems to me, have a common root. When someone presents contradictory ideas without realizing the underlying contradiction, there’s something else at work. Often, it’s a deeper belief, or even just a desire, that’s making him look for anything that provides support for what he wants to believe or wants to do.
The pursuit of the truth is not just a matter of gathering data from outside; it also requires us to examine what’s in our innermost thoughts and desires. The truth is out there, but it’s also in here (he writes, tapping his head and his heart).
As Christians, coming to grips with our own willfulness and the extent to which our fallen nature encourages us to distort the truth or make the truth a means to our own ends is a moral duty. We have a responsibility not only to pursue the truth but to ensure that what we say to others, even just in posts on social media, is truthful. Split-mindedness — that unwillingness to examine our own thoughts and to measure them against the truth — isn’t just an American trait, it’s a hindrance to committing ourselves fully to the one who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Scott P. Richert is publisher for OSV.