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‘Truth is subjectivity’

That famous statement of Soren Kierkegaard’s is often misinterpreted. He’s not saying that truth is relative. He’s saying that the kinds of truths that are worth living and dying for are truths that can only be apprehended by the person, not objectively, by the disinterested intellect. The passage below, from a fascinating account [1]by a woman who gave up atheism for Catholicism, illustrates SK’s point. The woman was unable to understand Catholic Christianity until she undertook an experiment to live as if she believed it was true. And then things began to be revealed to her. Let me be clear: my point in bringing this up is not to argue for Christianity or for Roman Catholicism, but to show what “truth is subjectivity” means, and why it’s usually futile to try to approach faith through reason alone. Excerpt:

My feelings of frustration and resentment towards God reached a head. And then, just at the right time, I happened to come across a quote from C.S. Lewis in which he pointed out:

[God] shows much more of Himself to some people than to others — not because He has favourites, but because it is impossible for Him to show Himself to a man whose whole mind and character are in the wrong condition. Just as sunlight, though it has no favourites, cannot be reflected in a dusty mirror as clearly as in a clean one.

Of course. I’d been walking around talking trash, watching TV shows that portrayed all types of nastiness, indulging in selfish behavior…and yet wondering why I couldn’t feel the presence of the source of all goodness. I realized that, if I were serious about figuring out if God exists or not, it could not be an entirely intellectual exercise. I had to be willing to change.

I wasn’t sure if I was ready to sign up for that for the long haul, but I decided to give it a shot: I committed to go a month living according to the Catholic moral code. I bought a copy of the Catholic Catechism, a summary of the Church’s teachings, and studied it carefully, living my life according to what it taught, even in the cases where I wasn’t sure the Church was right.

My goal with the experiment had been to discover the presence of God; instead, I discovered myself — the real me. I had thought that cynicism, judgmentalness, and irritability were just parts of who I was, but I realized that there was a purer, better version of myself buried underneath all that filth — what the Church would call sins — that I had never before encountered.

I found that the rules of the Church, that I had once perceived to be a set of confining laws, were rules of love; the defined the boundaries between what is love and what is not. It had changed me, my life, and my marriage for the better. I may not have experienced God, but, by following the teachings of the Church that was supposedly founded by him, I had experienced real love.

Via Sullivan. [2]


15 Comments (Open | Close)

15 Comments To "‘Truth is subjectivity’"

#1 Comment By John E On November 14, 2011 @ 2:03 pm

The woman was unable to understand Catholic Christianity until she undertook an experiment to live as if she believed it was true. And then things began to be revealed to her.

That’s not surprising, A while back, some guys tried living as if Eris was real. The Discordian religion a a large body of literature came from that experiment.

#2 Comment By Charles Cosimano On November 14, 2011 @ 3:22 pm

I don’t think I could ever find a Truth worth dying for and if I ever do I hope someone will persuade me that it is not true.

#3 Comment By MH – secular misanthropist On November 14, 2011 @ 3:34 pm

It sounds like she was struggling with feelings of nihilism, postpartum depression, and pain during her second pregnancy. I also understand how being a parent made her feel more vulnerable because you understand how vulnerable your children are. So she definitely needed something to pull her back from the edge and I’m glad she found a way to it ease her suffering.

But I can’t get past the cultural contingency of her choices, and the feeling that she would grab onto any belief system that threw her a metaphysical lifeline. So it doesn’t really seem like truth to me, more like understandably wishful thinking. So I don’t see how this illustrates anything, but I imagine the faithful will like it because it validates their own choices.

Charles, a man named Pascal called and has a bet for you.

#4 Comment By SketchesbyBoze On November 14, 2011 @ 3:51 pm

I’m reading “A Severe Mercy,” by Sheldon Vanauken, which is the story of how the author and his wife discovered Jesus through the assistance of C. S. Lewis while studying at Oxford. Whatever his other failings, he has certainly made real Christianity a credible option for a good many people. I’m honestly kind of surprised by the love that he seems to receive from skeptical, serious, intellectual types.

#5 Comment By MargaretE On November 14, 2011 @ 4:37 pm

I’m thrilled to see Jennifer Fulwiler here on your blog, Rod! I discovered her around the same time I discovered you (I think?), and have been following her blog, Conversion Diary, for a few years now. She’s smart as a whip, deeply funny, and has been a real inspiration to me since my own conversion. I am one of those “skeptical, serious intellectual types” who was led to Christianity by C.S. Lewis. I can’t recommend him highly enough. But you’ve gotta be ready to start “dusting off your mirror” before you read him; otherwise he won’t hit you right…

#6 Comment By mm On November 14, 2011 @ 7:34 pm

One of his great, almost hidden afterthoughts that lies in the shadow of a greater conversation, Jesus said, “Obey me first and your understanding will follow”.

#7 Comment By Turmarion On November 14, 2011 @ 7:51 pm

MH: Charles, a man named Pascal called and has a bet for you.

I love it! LOL!

#8 Comment By Roland de Chanson On November 14, 2011 @ 9:19 pm

Pascal is rolling a blanc-mange up a steep incline in Hades per order of Zeus.

#9 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On November 14, 2011 @ 10:12 pm

Pascal was a lazy coward. God has a special place in hell for those who have no more faith than to place Pascal’s bet as a kind of insurance.

Taking another approach, as Nicholas Searle said in his epic translation of an old Welsh tale, “1339 or so… being an apology for a pedlar,” all those human creatures who gave away their worldly goods in 888, 777, 707, and especially in 1000 AD, to spend days, weeks or months in penitent self-flagellation and such, expecting the end of the world and the imminent return of the Christ, amounted to “Pascal’s bet writ large — and lost.”

#10 Comment By Rod Dreher On November 14, 2011 @ 10:19 pm

Blaise Pascal was a lazy coward. Wow. Feeling confident in your judgment tonight, eh?

#11 Comment By MH – secular misanthropist On November 14, 2011 @ 11:07 pm

Wow, I never thought I would hear Pascal called lazy. The guy got more done in 39 years than most people get done in a lifetime. While his wager may be faulty reasoning, it makes an excellent punchline.

#12 Comment By J On November 14, 2011 @ 11:33 pm

I’m with MH. Eric Hoffer would have a field day with this.

#13 Comment By Charles Cosimano On November 15, 2011 @ 12:32 am

Pascal of course lived in a dualistic universe. A couple hours with a bunch of Buddhists would have cured him.

#14 Comment By bones On November 15, 2011 @ 1:14 am

“I imagine the faithful will like it because it validates their own choices.”

Granting this, is it equally fair to say that the differently faithful dislike because it does not validate their choices? We all love a conversion story, just not when it ends the wrong way.

#15 Comment By MH – secular misanthropist On November 15, 2011 @ 6:44 am

Bones, yes which is why Dan Barker is popular with the evangelical atheists. But I think that points to a flaw in the way people think and evaluate the truth.