Second Thoughts

'Truth is not concerned with how many it pursuades'

by Ralph Heller

t was on the eve of our time that a Russian writer, Stefan Trofimovitch, saw with rare clarity the dilemma that would most likely haunt much of the 20th Century:

"The one essential condition of human existence is that man should always be able to bow down before something infinitely great, (for) if men are deprived of the infinitely great they may not go on living and may die of despair."

It is for this that we crave reality rather than ideological fun and games, for the Infinitely Great—God—cannot exist on any terms other than reality. Otherwise life remains mostly lies and illusion, and it is to overcome this that we seek a little height—to reach some notion of the meaning of our own reality and to avoid hopelessness and despair.

Accordingly, we sometimes try to rise above the paralyzing mood of our time which so many people feel as a sense that none of us can really do much about anything and that things are simply going to happen to us.

But this search for Truth—this yearning for a little height from which to try to understand the meaning of life—is no longer fashionable. A half century ago the eminent French Catholic theologian, Father Henri de Lubac, published a book called The Drama of Atheistic Humanism—a study of certain great questioners and lay-sages of his own age like Kierkegaard, Marx, Nietzche, Dostoevsky and others. In the book Father De Lubac quotes a letter from Jaques Riviere to the poet Paul Claudel in 1907:

"I see that Christianity is dying…We do not know why, above our towns, there still rise those spires which are no longer the prayer of any one of us. We do not know the meaning of those great religious buildings and institutions which today are surrounded by railroad stations and hospitals and from which the people themselves have chased the monks. And on the graves, we do not know what is made manifest by those stucco crosses, frosted over with execrable art."

"And no doubt," wrote Father de Lubac, "Claudel’s reply to that cry of anguish was a good one: ‘Truth is not concerned with how many it persuades.’"

More and more Americans are trying to find comfort in that observation as they watch all trace of religious belief and the traditional search for truth swept from public life: "Truth is not concerned with how many it persuades."

Claudel was right in his observation, but men still must be concerned with the wreckage that begins to overtake society when Truth becomes no longer fashionable. For it is religion, specifically in its search for Truth, that separates human behavior from the behavior of animals.

"Even the skeptical historian develops a humble respect for religion," wrote Will Durant, America’s most widely read historian, "since he sees it functioning and seemingly indispensable in every land and age." Durant then enumerated religion’s accomplishments:

"To the unhappy, the suffering, the bereaved, the old, it has brought supernatural comforts valued by millions as more precious than any natural aid. It has helped parents and teachers to discipline the young. It has conferred meaning and dignity on the lowliest existence, and through its sacraments has made for stability in society by transforming human covenants into solemn relationships with God.

It has kept the poor (said Napoleon) from murdering the rich. For since the natural inequality of men dooms many of them to poverty and defeat, some supernatural hope may be the sole alternative to despair. Destroy that hope and class war is intensified."

There is no significant example in history of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion. The United States, France and a few other nations have divorced their governments from all churches, but they still have had the invaluable assistance of religion in maintaining social order.

It was Renan in 1866—like Durant an agnostic—who observed, "If Rationalism wishes to govern the world without regard to the religious needs of the soul, the experience of the French Revolution is there to teach us the consequences of such a blunder."

Does history warrant Renan’s pessimism? Perhaps Joseph de Maistre had the best answer:

"I do not know what the heart of a rascal may be; but I know what is in the heart of an honest man and it is horrible."

Truth may not be concerned with how many it persuades, but for the sake of maintaining a moral and civilized society you and I better be very concerned. u

Ralph Heller is Senior Consulting Editor of Nevada Journal.


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