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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

What is truth?

It was surprising today to find that I actually knew and count among my closest friends someone who has studied the Bible and harbors considerable skepticism concerning a pillar of the Gospel: the resurrection of Christ. Having watched James Cameron's documentary about the purported tomb of Jesus, Mary his mother, Mary Magdalene his wife, and other members of his family, we had an animated discussion for about 30 minutes. He poses a seemingly magnanimous idea: that even should Christ's bones be found in a tomb, that should not really matter because perhaps it is enough that Christ's resurrection was spiritual, not bodily. Of course, that does not make any sense for several reasons -- at least not to me, beyond Scriptural grounds. In the end, he did ask Pilate's rhetorical question: "what is truth?" I get the feeling that it is a question whose answer is not really of interest to the person asking it, and Pilate was probably no exception.

In the end, I came away thinking that these conspiracy theories are not always in themselves a cause for someone losing (or losing an opportunity to find) faith and truth. It is certainly not the case that my good friend was so swayed by Cameron and company's"evidence". A little grain of salt is enough to establish that they are grasping at straws. It does, however, grant yet another occasion for the skeptic to say "Aha! Now suppose that were true?"

My friend is not bothered by the fact that Cameron's case is without merit. It is enough for him that it is an interesting journey into the "what-if" of speculation. That tomb is not Jesus', but my friend is happy enough to add yet another point for skepticism. An open mind sounds nice, doesn't it? But an open mind will not lead to the truth if there are no foundations. If neither scientific evidence, expert opinions, Scripture nor Tradition -- nor even the Apostles' direct testimony -- can be admitted, then nothing can be built. Such openness to anything and everything is too liquid to admit firm truth, I think.

One of Uncle Diogenes' posts yesterday is exceptionally apt. In it, he cites the advice from Uncle Screwtape (from C.S. Lewis' classic Screwtape Letters, which I am in the middle of reading). Bear in mind that Screwtape is a demon advising a younger demon on the finer points of leading the faithful away from God.

  You will find that a good many Christian-political writers think that Christianity began going wrong, and departing from the doctrine of its Founder, at a very early stage. Now this idea must be used by us to encourage once again the conception of a "historical Jesus" to be found by clearing away later "accretions and perversions" and then to be contrasted with the whole Christian tradition. In the last generation we promoted the construction of such a "historical Jesus" on liberal and humanitarian lines; we are now putting forward a new "historical Jesus" on Marxian, catastrophic, and revolutionary lines. The advantages of these constructions, which we intend to change every thirty years or so, are manifold. In the first place they all tend to direct men's devotion to something which does not exist, for each "historical Jesus" is unhistorical. The documents say what they say and cannot be added to; each new "historical Jesus" therefore has to be got out of them by suppression at one point and exaggeration at another ... In the second place, all such constructions place the importance of their Historical Jesus in some peculiar theory He is supposed to have promulgated. He has to be a "great man" in the modern sense of the word -- one standing at the terminus of some centrifugal and unbalanced line of thought -- a crank vending a panacea. We thus distract men's minds from Who He is, and what He did. ... Our third aim is, by these constructions, to destroy the devotional life. For the real presence of the Enemy, otherwise experienced by men in prayer and sacrament, we substitute a merely probable, remote, shadowy, and uncouth figure, one who spoke a strange language and died a long time ago. Such an object cannot in fact be worshipped. Instead of the Creator adored by its creature, you soon have merely a leader acclaimed by a partisan, and finally a distinguished character approved by a judicious historian.
I am getting an eerie feeling because much of what Screwtape writes above was true for my good friend. And yet I know that arguments will not persuade him. This friend of mine is a brilliant, saintly man. But therein is another tragedy. He has studied the Bible quite carefully, having been trained by the Jehovah's Witnesses, and his studies took him out of JW. No words of mine can win his mind.

And so my true recourse is prayer.

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