The search for truth is not like any other search. When looking for something, we usually know when we’ve found it. But truth plays tricks on us, does it not? There are so many factors that influence our impression of the truth, not the least of which being our inclination to simply believe what we want to believe. So when searching for truth, it behooves me to check my desires and wishes at the door.
One desire that must be checked is the desire to go explore the other side, where the grass so often seems greener. As a married man and father, I’ve felt this futile urge to do “more” with my life, to ramble all around the country, and maybe even the world, just seeing where the wind takes me; to find fame and fortune---for the betterment or detriment of society---to seek an opportunity to showcase the talent I don’t really have, to see what all those off-limit vices are like, because I just don’t know.
Perhaps this is so because I’m uncertain about what set me on the path of the Christian life in the first place, so I often wonder what taking a different path would be like. Perhaps if I lived the Christian life with more resolve I would find more clarity in why it is the truth.
But there’s the rub. Isn’t that the case with just about anything we want to believe? If we commit ourselves to a certain worldview, no matter what the initial cue was for us to go down that road, eventually that worldview becomes our reality whether it’s true or not. It could have been a heart tug that pulled me in this direction when I was younger and more impressionable, a potent point that prevailed in my mind at the time, or a person I cared about greatly who took my hand and led me down this road. But none of these inceptions necesarily make that path I embarked upon the path to truth.
This frame of mind is akin to relativism, because it begs the question, “How can anyone say that their perception of truth is the right one?” The Church is adamently opposed to relativism because it inhibits the belief in universal truth. I’m reminded of a scene from the movie Silence where the main character, Father Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield), is told by his inquisitor what may be true in Europe may be untrue in Japan—just as a plant that may flourish in Europe’s soil may wither in Japan’s soil. The priest’s answer was probably right: If Christianity withers in Japan it is because someone has poisoned the soil.
That response alluded to the political turmoil of the time, namely the persecution of Christians, but there could be more to it than that. There is a great possibility that there are spiritual battles happening behind the scenes; while the search for truth puts us in a vulnerable state simply by causing the mind to ask deep questions that cannot be quickly answered, during such a search we also may be making ourselves vulnerable to evil spirits who attempt to deceive us and tempt us every chance they get.
Is the search for truth just the search for truth, or does it make our souls more susceptible to the enemy? Does it make our souls like a divided country during a contentious election year? Perhaps it does, because in many ways the search for truth stirs up a battle deep within our hearts. The search causes us to struggle and wrestle with beliefs and opinions we always thought to be true, and philosophies we have always quickly dismissed. In the search for truth, we cannot just accept one way of thinking and reject another simply because a respected person in our lives told us to do so. Even if our best teachers gave many persuasive reasons to accept their worldview, in the search for truth we must take an honest look at the very philosophies our favorite teachers told us to oppose.
By “honest” I mean I must read and listen to my opponents with such an empathetic mind that it is almost gullible. Afterall, that is what is really meant when someone tells you to have an “open mind.” They’re saying, “just for a moment, try to imagine the possibility that what I’m saying is true.” When someone tells you to have an open mind, ironically they are usually perturbed when your mind is open to a viewpoint opposed to their own. The point of opening my mind should not be to abandon the ship I’m on and search for another, but to open the sails and embark on a quest for deeper truth.
“The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” --G.K. Chesterton
Did I see the Judeo-Christian worldview as the most solid truth claim when I was younger, or was I drawn in by more precarious motives? And if it was the former, how valid was such an opinion in my youth? What if I was not well-versed enough in other worldviews? And if that is the case, is it possible that these other worldviews could have won me over if given a fair chance? That is what I fear. I’m not sure other worldviews had a fair chance to win me over in my impressionable youth.
Or perhaps they did have a chance. I went to public school for 12 years. I had friends who were completely apathetic about, if not against, the Christian faith. So, what was it that caused me to take the side of Christianity over the side of my public school teachers and most of my teen-year friends? Was it a genuine encounter with Christ?
Or was it something to do with my personality? Was my deep interest in abstract concepts, esoteric wisdom, transcendental reverence and the like my pathway into the Church? Now it is the Myers-Briggs personality test that is putting things into a different perspective. If “INTP” is just the way I am, does the Christian faith ring just as true for other personality types for different reasons?
Perhaps so. There are many foundational Christian concepts that I don’t find particularly appealing: like the calling to reach out to others in social settings. But for many people, that is the bulwork, the very deciding factor that brought them into the Church: someone reached out to them, and reaching out to others in the same way invigorates their faith. It just exhausts me, on the other hand. In terms of personality types, Christianity seems to ring true on a quite universal level.
But how common is it for one to genuinely seek the truth, and recognize it when she finds it? As we discussed in the beginning, it is all to common for truth to elude us due to our own subjectivity, and I haven’t even explored the many other imperfections of the mind. For example, our perception of truth can falter if we simply fail to exercise our minds regularly. What if Christianity just takes advantage of the most common imperfections? There’s bound to be believers representing all personality types if Christianity appeals to the imperfection most common in each type.
“... truth eludes us as soon as our concentration begins to flag, all the while leaving the illusion that we are continuing to pursue it. This is the source of much discord. Also, truth seldom is sweet; it is almost invariably bitter.” —Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, to the Harvard Class of 1978
I’m facing the possibility that everything I’ve ever believed or lived for is untrue, and it’s taking a toll on me. Through the course of this exercise, I’ve yelled at my wife, I’ve broken things, I’ve even hurt myself. Should I call off the search due to this effect it has had on me? How should a man react when he faces the possibilities I’ve been facing: that my religion is just a mechanism to give people hope, comfort, and virtuous motives; that my frame of reference in life is responsible for my faith; that all the prayers I believed God answered only seemed to be answered because I had conditioned my heart to need and look for answers?
Counter-intuition is perhaps the most valuable tool in this exercise, but I find it hard for people to understand where I’m coming from when I use it. Counter-intuition, as I see it, is this: We all believe what we want to believe, so it behooves us to try our best to disprove what we want to believe, and only accept it as true once we have failed to disprove it---the scientific method, basically. Thus, a person who seems opposed to the Faith may sincerely want to believe it, but may have never found enough evidence to convince himself it is true.
In defense of Christianity, does not the Resurrection provide enough evidence? Aren't there countless pieces of archaeological and historical proof that validate its claims? Can't we point to the Shroud of Turin, for example, when one asks for proof of the Resurrection?
And perhaps my entire search rests upon this one question, because, as St. Paul said, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14). There are countless books I can read and revisit to learn an answer that satisfies my counter-intuition. This is the final crux of the matter, then. If Christ is not risen from the dead, then the cause I have been living for is just vanity like everything else. But if he is risen, well then I suppose one can look at my life and understand why I’ve made the choices I’ve made.