Thursday, December 08, 2005

Fear of Truth

I’ve had occasion to write on the subject of truth several times, and will surely do so again. There’s a certain “sickness” going around that can be called the fear of truth. I’d like to say a few things on that, some of which are taken from a recent homily of mine (concerning the Pharisees’ fear of the truth who is Christ) and from a book by Jean Vanier. When people fear the truth, they want to get rid of the one who speaks it to them. Thus the prophets and the martyrs were killed. Christ Himself said, “I am the truth.” Therefore, He had to die at the hands of those who feared the truth.

There are different kinds of fear of truth. One is found among those whom you might call the “seekers,” who always say that they are seeking the truth, but they don’t really want to find it—because if they did find it (and if they had any integrity), they would be obliged to embrace the truth. The truth would require them to change their lives. It’s much easier to go on seeking but never finding. Then you never have to convert and conform yourself to the truth because you always have this excuse: I’m still searching. Well, eventually you have to find, and start living the truth.

The same thing can be said for those who are simply lukewarm or culpably ignorant. They’d rather not know what the Gospel says and what it requires, because if they do they will have no excuse for their sin. They are, in effect, choosing to live in the darkness and turning away from the light, perhaps not realizing how foolish and dangerous a thing that is for their souls. Others fear the truth not because they might have cold feet about embracing it, but because to embrace the truth will put them at some sort of disadvantage. By living a lie, they have some advantage, some economic or political or social advantage—perhaps even ecclesiastical advantage. What comes to mind are the abortion industry, the “gay” movement, corrupt politicians and corporate heads, and the high-profile dissenters in the Church. They all have a stake, a vested interest, in not embracing the truth because their own agendas are more profitable for building up their egos or their economic or political fortunes if they continue the lie. Therefore they fear and hate those who would unmask them.

Now there’s another kind of fear of truth, which I discovered in a book by Jean Vanier, entitled Drawn Into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John. He says that this type of fear of truth is found among those who have grown up in severely dysfunctional or abusive situations, and who learned as children that truth is harsh or painful. Therefore they learned to flee reality for self-protection. Their unfortunate experiences are not their fault, but the answer is not to hide in the darkness, for Christ calls us into the light. Fear of truth can be overcome, and it must, or else one may stay in the darkness his or her whole life, and maybe for all eternity.

Vanier writes both of the truth that we find among the Pharisees in the Gospel and that which we may find in our own lives:

“They are frightened of Jesus, frightened of reality and truth. They want to get rid of the one who announces the truth and who offers to bring them into reality. They cannot hear the words of Jesus or recognize who He is. They are cemented in fear and in hate. They refuse to see and accept the facts of the miracles of Jesus, because if they did see and believe, then they would have to change their ways.

“Who are those we refuse to look at, listen to and accept because they make us see our own brokenness in such a way that we would be forced to change our ways? …We do not want to see our own inner reality, our brokenness and fear. We pretend that everything is all right and that we are all right. Why are we frightened of the truth? Is it because…if we see reality too clearly we will fall into despair?

“[The conflicts, abuse, or rejections experienced in childhood can make people] hide away in their shell, and flee from all the pain and from reality. They find a welcome escape in illusions… They cannot or do not want to name the truth… Truth and reality can be too dangerous, too terrible for some people… We can be frightened of uncovering certain truths about ourselves…frightened of the consequences, afraid that we might have to change… We hide behind walls that we have created for ourselves to prevent us from looking directly at the facts, from listening to others…who may reveal to us other truths about life and what it means to be human.”

We have to let Christ into our lives, into our infirmities, into our bondage. We must have the courage to hear the truth about God and about ourselves through the Gospel, through the Tradition, and through those whom God puts in our lives to speak the truth to us. The word of divine truth is a two-edged sword, as we read in Hebrews (4:12-13). One edge of this sword is like a scalpel for cutting away the disease of error, self-deception, unhealthy defense mechanisms, and the self-interest that leads us to embrace lies. The other edge is for liberating us from bondage to falsehood and sin, cutting through the fetters that bind our souls to the powers of darkness.

Therefore be not afraid of truth, for Christ Himself is the Truth, and He has the words of eternal life. We are called to be courageous in speaking and receiving and living the truth, following Him who said: “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32).