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Diversity, Opinions, and Absolute Truth

Card Tricks

A number of former students of mine are very adept magicians. Card magic was something I used to perform for students over the years - that is, until these particular students came along. It has become a tradition for us to meet once a year at a local restaurant to exchange tricks and show one another our latest. Even after years of studying magic, new tricks still impress me. Yet when the secret of a new trick is revealed, it always turns out to be remarkably simple. Inevitably I am dismayed that the mystery has been dispelled and bewildered that I was so easily deceived, even after careful scrutiny.

And that is just what the tenets of post-modernism really are, cleverly disguised tricks that have deceived and continue to deceive millions of people, and exposing the deception is very much like revealing a card, coin, or rope trick. The difference is that the latter kind of trick entertains, while the premises of post-modernism are tricks that destroy souls.

One such premise is the notion that there is no single, universal and absolute truth. As Nietzsche writes: "There are many kinds of eyes. Even the sphinx has eyes - and consequently there are many kinds of "truths", and consequently there is no truth" (sec. 540. The Will to Power). This idea is so popular that the very idea of "absolute truth" is typically associated with arrogance and an unwillingness to dialogue, not to mention a propensity to violence.

However, it is impossible to deny the existence of a single, universal, objective and absolute truth. The reason is that truth is the very object of the intellect. Without a single, objective truth that measures the mind of man, all the intellect can hope to achieve is the formulation of an opinion - remembering that opinion is not knowledge, but something midway between knowledge and ignorance. Furthermore, if there is no single and unchanging truth, then every opinion is just as valid as any other opinion - which is just what post-modern liberalism has maintained for years.

The problem, however, is that if every opinion is just as valid as any other opinion, contradictory opinions are equally valid. But those who maintain this position do so against its opposite, namely, the position that not all opinions are equally valid, in that some fall short of the truth. To be consistent, post-modernists are forced to admit that the opinion opposite their own is as valid and worthy of adoption as their own. But of course they do not admit to this at all.

To make their position appear more rational than it is, post-modernists suggest that the opinion that holds for the existence of absolute truth begets an attitude that is at the root of terrorism. This year former U.S. President William Jefferson Clinton suggested as much to students of Pace University. He said: "We are going to get into a lot of trouble if we make decisions based on the supposition that we are in possession of the absolute truth. That, after all, is what's wrong with the terrorists" (March 5, 2006).

The problem with this claim, however, is that if the mind cannot possess absolute truth, there is nothing in light of which to conclude that terrorism is a bad thing. Only those who in fact possess the absolute truth with respect to the morality of killing have a right to condemn terrorism absolutely.

What moral relativists like Clinton fail to understand is that terrorism is precisely what their relativism begets in the long run. For the goal of the reasoning process is precisely to arrive at what is certainly and absolutely true. But if it is not possible to possess what is absolutely true, then reasoning is pointless. The only alternative to persuading the mind, then, is to persuade the will.

Now there are a number of methods one may employ to persuade the will, some more clever and deceiving than others. But no method can be ruled out as absolutely immoral, for to do so presupposes the possession of an absolute truth, that is, an objective and universal precept in light of which a certain course of action is ruled out absolutely. And so one may lie, distort, deceive, exaggerate, coerce, threaten, or resort to all out violence.

That is why Nietzsche, one of the Fathers of post-modernism, writes: "«Truth» is therefore not something there, that might be found or discovered - but something that must be created and that gives a name to a process, or rather to a will to overcome that has in itself no end - introducing truth, as a processus in infinitum, an active determining - not a becoming conscious of something that is in itself firm and determined. It is a word for the "will to power"" (sec. 552. The Will to Power).

In addition, the position that there exists a universal, objective, and absolute truth is made to appear as something at odds with humility, dialogue, and reasonable compromise. But once again, this is nothing more than a clever deception that hides the true face of moral relativism.

For example, in his speech at the Pace University Centennial, Clinton said: "[...] our Founding Fathers, that we now love to glorify, venerated honorable, principled compromise because that is the alternative to insisting that you're in possession of the absolute truth."

Yet the Founding Fathers had a very clear understanding of the existence of an eternal and absolute truth. For example, George Washington, in his First Inaugural Address delivered on April 30, 1789, said: "The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained". In a letter to Edmund Randolph, dated July 31, 1795, he writes: "There is but one straight course, and that is to seek truth and pursue it steadily."

Furthermore, Alexander Hamilton wrote: "In disquisitions of every kind there are certain primary truths, or first principles, upon which all subsequent reasoning must depend" (The Federalist, no. 31, January 1, 1788). And in response to Washington's First Inaugural Address, James Madison said: "If individuals be not influenced by moral principles, it is in vain to look for public virtue; it is therefore, the duty of legislators to enforce, both by precept and example, the utility, as well as the necessity of a strict adherence to the rules of distributive justice" (May 18, 1789).

Moreover, Clinton says: "All of us are taught to be humble because of our frailties, because of our imperfections. But all of a sudden like a light, we're in possession of the whole truth, and we have a right to impose it by means of violence on everybody else?"

But humility is not possible for the post-modern relativist, but only for those who admit the existence of an eternal truth not constructed by man in his quest for power, but one larger than man and that is the measure of his mind, that is, the truth of an objective moral order summoning him to conform his mind and will to its demands. For humility is the moderate love of one's excellence. Accordingly, the humble recognize their relative littleness and need to be perfected by something larger than them, namely truth. But if man is the measure of what is true and good, that is, if truth is a human construct rooted in man's will to survive, then there is nothing larger than the self to which man must humbly submit.

The problem with terrorists is not that they believe in the existence of absolute truth; rather, the problem is in the content of what they hold to be true. It is precisely this content that gets people killed. Like all moral relativists and deconstructionists, terrorists hold that human life has no intrinsic and absolute value. In other words, human life is expendable. The popular idea that "every opinion is just as valid as every other opinion" has played a pivotal role in the deaths of countless victims of infanticide, abortion, euthanasia, and embryonic stem cell research. It is moral permissiveness that is behind 95% of the deaths resulting from cervical cancer every year in the U.S, the result of the Human Papilloma Virus, which in turn was the result of adopting new sexual mores, which in turn was the result of the notion that more contemporary moral opinions are just as valid as other traditional and "outdated" ones. It is "moral pluralism" that is at the heart of chronic hunger, environmental destruction, and third world debt, because only "moral pluralism" begets moral indifference.

Bill Clinton, who while President had always taken the position most antithetical to the rights of the unborn child, is no less an adherent of the "absolute truth" position than an Al-Queda terrorist. It is only his explicit rejection of the idea of "absolute truth" under the banner of "diversity" that allows him to appear any different.

To illustrate that my words are not purely theoretical, consider that the 2005 Canadian National Pro-Life Conference suffered a last minute cancellation by St. Joseph's Oratory in Montreal as a result of numerous threats by young activists. Moreover, this morning I received word that my wife's license plates were stolen while the license frames bearing the legend "Life is Sacred from Conception to Natural Death" were broken and left in front of her car. Both are essentially terrorist acts carried out not by the devoutly religious who acknowledge an objective, universal and natural moral law, but by moral relativists who deny such a thing in the name of "diversity" and "choice".

Such people do not resort to reason because they have no rational grounds for their position, and they are not embarrassed by the inconsistency of denying free citizens the right to hold and attend a conference of their choice in the name of being "pro-choice", because the rules of logic are nothing but human constructs that cannot make any absolute demands upon them. And so they resort to terror tactics because the name of the game is to persuade the will, not the intellect.

We know that, at least from the point of view of Christian theology, there is no essential link between terrorism and adhering to the notion of an absolute truth; for Jesus himself said: "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life" (Jn 14, 6). And St. Paul says that it is in Christ that every treasure of wisdom and knowledge is hidden (Col 2, 3). And yet Jesus was no terrorist who advised his followers to compel people to submit their lives to him. In fact, he warned them against the abuse of authority: "You know how those who exercise authority among the Gentiles lord it over them; their great ones make their importance felt. It cannot be like that with you" (Mt 20, 25-26).

Finally, the only reason Bill Clinton can legitimately urge humanity to concern itself with the environment and global hunger, etc., is that he implicitly grasps the first principles of practical reason and the precepts of natural law, in particular, the principle that human life is intrinsically good as well as the precept that one ought to promote what is intrinsically and humanly good.

The existence of objective truth does not necessarily imply that I or anyone else possesses it in its entirety. If I did, I'd be anything but an unjust bully. For one, I'd have achieved my destiny, and I'd experience perfect beatitude, for I would possess God, who is Truth Itself, because He is Being Itself. But as it stands, I do not possess the truth in its entirety, which is why dialogue and docility are absolutely necessary if I am to make any real progress towards the perfect possession of absolute truth.

But if there is no such thing as truth, then dialogue is unnecessary - except in appearance only -, and docility is only for others, not for me. And in that case, the only opinion to prevail will be that of the most clever and polished magician.

Copyright © 2006 Douglas McManaman.

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