Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The unchanging truth.

Someone recently said to me “The truth is unchanging.” This was intended as a reproach against same sex marriage. Nevertheless, the statement merits serious consideration. An old philosophy professor of mine once stated in a lecture “we need to define our terms.” The term in question, here is “truth.”

This term may mean many things. There are many truths. At one time Newtonian laws of physics were considered “the truth” until, they were replaced by Einstein’s understandings of physics, which then, became the “truth.” We could go on in every other field of human knowledge and find many other such examples where the “truth” is no longer the “truth” and has been replaced by another “truth.”

If by the “truth” one means God, then that is another story altogether, this understanding of truth requires a radically different approach. First, we must distinguish between the “Truth” (God) and our understanding of the Truth. The traditional definition of theology is “faith seeking understanding.” This implies that although the subject, God, may be unchanging, perfect, etc, we are not any of those things.

Another professor of mine once listed the various attributes of God, namely: Omniscient, Omnipotent, Eternal, Perfect, and Immutable (unchanging), Immortal, etc. He then asked us to define those terms. We were ultimately, of course, unable to do so. Because, as our professor pointed out none of these terms is within our human experience. No human “knows” what it is to be immortal, perfect, etc. so these definitions are all negative definitions. I am mortal; therefore, God, who is unlike me has no limitations, is immortal, etc.

As our professor pointed out, this means that we know very little about God. Aristotle probably went as far as the human mind can go with respect to speaking of God. He referred to the “uncaused cause” something which always has existed and which caused all else to come into existence. This Aristotelian notion of the uncaused cause so paralleled the “Big Bang Theory” that it caused the Communist Party of China to forbid it being taught in the People’s Republic of China, it smacks of theism, they observed.

So, how can we know the uncaused cause, God, the Truth? We can only know God if God reveals himself to us. However, this revelation is conditioned on our ability to both grasp and comprehend what is revealed. The reality, both on a personal and on a collective level, is that our understanding of God/the Truth changes, not because God changes, but because we do.

When the subject in question moves from God to say morality, what God expects of us, the subject becomes even more nuance. Abraham, whom we call “our father in faith” fathered a child, not by Sarah, but by Hagar and this was not considered a sin. Solomon and David both had myriads of wives and this was not considered a sin. Eating shellfish was once considered a sin and today it is not sinful. What constitutes the sin of usury has changed over the centuries. All of this can seem disquieting to many.

Voltaire once quipped, “God made man in his image and man has never ceased to repay the compliment.” Jesus said, “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” [John 16: 12-13] our understanding of revelation is incomplete, it is in process. We are growing.

The Bible is not a book on psychology, astronomy, biology, physics, etc. How the inspired authors of the bible understood the natural sciences is not inerrant. The bible is a book about spirituality and our relationship with God. All of those human sciences can contribute to our understanding about our selves, creation and God. This too is part of our growing process.

The insight of psychology as well as the statement by the Church that homosexuality is an orientation/innate, represent an insight that St. Paul writing in the first century did not possess. This insight causes us revisit how we understand homosexuality since, the Creator made people as homosexuals. It therefore becomes the duty of God’s ministers to offer reasoned and reasonable explanations for this act of the Creator. It becomes the duty of the God’s ministers to provide spiritual guidance and support to homosexual persons.

No the “Truth" does not change, but we mere mortals do. Thankfully, the Truth is not merely an intellectual abstraction but a very loving and compassionate being. I hope that we will become more like the Truth and that is certainly the goal of the spiritual process.

9 comments:

Kevin said...

What can I say, but WOW! How beautifully put.

FranIAm said...

... what else can be said. Thank you.

Mareczku said...

Excellent Father Geoff. Thank you.

Peace & Love Always

smallmeadow said...

I support your efforts to communicate about controversial subjects. I am Catholic and married and support inclusive society and religion. I want to maintain the best and share it with everyone. I find official thought is becoming much too narrowly prescribed. I would like to see one catholic church, but am thinking that a break from Rome and an adoption of a Reform Catholic mode that allows for diversity in gender identity and marriage for all who wish to love and accept responsibility for the commitment preferable to continuing with an increasingly backward outlook.
If only many priests would take that stance, then we might be able to gather a true church. Also, regarding employment options for priests leaving orders, the time is ripe for cooperative employment groups for people facing difficulties due to age or other factors. I pray for you, not because the K of C thinks you need to change, but because I want you to find a way to lead us forward to being the compassionate catholic church of Christ.

Richard said...

Your homily ... I mean blog post ... touched my heart in a way ... I think I need to email you ... or pray ... or something. I have not felt "Roman Catholic" or touched by the Church until reading this tonight at 2:45 AM ... not since the Marriage Tribunal decreed that I, a 32 year old man in 1983 - me, an officer of the Court with the power of arrest and subpoena - was too immature to make a committment. That I was too immature to make an adult decision! Just because I discovered I was gay and did not condemn myself. I left the Church and never looked back. Until tonight.

Thank you for the thought, the time, the prayer that went into this homily. It means an enormous ... well something to me.

SimplySuzi said...

One of your best. Thank you.

dani said...

thanks for your words, father. Your message is very clear and give us light for understanding the Truth

JX said...

Fr. Geoff,

Thanks for visiting and commenting over on my blog. I've been reading up on your blog and find your story FASCINATING and admirable.

I pray for the courage to soon take such a public stand for those who have been denied freedom and love.

Would love to communicate further! Shoot me an e-mail.

"Groove" by Dan Santat said...

Father Geoff,
I LOVE this post! In my years since returning to church, I have been on a Faith journey like no other. Long story short, I spent most of my time as a kid with my Grandparents - practicing Catholics; grew up with my single mom - non church goer, anti-ish Catholic; spent many years away from any regular practice until one day, as i stood in the ICU watching my mom slowly deteriorate of liver failure, holding onto anger like no other for her stupid choices, I realized that the ONLY POSSIBLE WAY I had been okay in the face of the diversity I saw as a kid was through Divine Intervention. I will forever remember that moment as my journey back to Faith.

I went through RCIA in 2004 and have only missed a handful of Sundays since then, and I usually feel pretty glum about it.

Back to the topic at hand, over the course of the last 5 years, I have grown to see things in people and life that I never before would have considered. I've grown to judge less on my own experiences of what is right and wrong, and more on what is best for the greater good. And in all of that, the bottom line to me is that I DON'T KNOW WHAT THE REAL 'TRUTH' IS. That my actions, efforts, words, etc., have to be careful and respectful of others because He may very well have a completely different meaning behind The Plan that I'm so far from understanding.

In doing this, I have found that my actions have slowly become more and more induced by love and not by what I think is the truth or what is right and wrong in my view.

"The Truth" doesn't change, but we humans have barely a snippet of understanding of it...

Awesome post!