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Culture, Its Delights and Distractions: What Happens In a Culture That Denies Truth?

By Deal W. Hudson
January 12th, 2014
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Parents in recent decades have become increasingly concerned about the effect of post-secondary education on their children's core beliefs-and perhaps for better reason than they know. The pervasive mentality of today's academy encourages, whether intentionally or not, precisely the nihilism that John Paul II finds at the heart of postmodern philosophy and all its scholarly corollaries.

WASHINGTON,DC (Catholic Online) - During his 27 year papacy, John Paul II constantly addressed the hot-button issue of our postmodern age, truth. He explained, for example how truth has a moral beauty that shines through the lives of the saints. But in his 1998 encyclical Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason), the philosopher-pope explained why that light is no longer acknowledged among contemporary philosophers and other academics. John Paul II takes on the state of philosophy itself: its loss of true metaphysical inquiry and its lack of confidence in, of all things, intelligence. The corrosive effects of their denial, their embrace of darkness on our culture cannot, he said, be underestimated.

Parents in recent decades have become increasingly concerned about the effect of post-secondary education on their children's core beliefs-and perhaps for better reason than they know. The pervasive mentality of today's academy encourages, whether intentionally or not, precisely the nihilism that John Paul II finds at the heart of postmodern philosophy and all its scholarly corollaries.

Of course, some academics will defend themselves by claiming that they are taking the Socratic high road of questioning and fostering dialogue. The trouble is that the postmodern technique of deconstruction-the radical denial of intelligible order in reality-goes far beyond challenging a youthful mind with reasonable doubt.

Even the skeptical Descartes employed his method of doubt to reaffirm the immortality of the soul and the existence of God. But in the hands of its postmodern practitioners, Socratic questioning has become an endless array of objections leading to the removal of all foundations for knowledge, except politics. It is as if Aquinas' articles started with the objections and ended with the front page of the New York Times.

Our students deserve more than to be persuaded to adopt an attitude of permanent alienation and perfect docility to the pressures of public opinion. As the Holy Father wrote, "Whether we admit it or not, there comes for everyone the moment when personal existence must be anchored to a truth recognized as final, a truth that confers a certitude no longer open to doubt."

The meanings of all these crucial terms-finality, truth, and certitude-have no place in postmodernism except as evidence of unenlightened prejudice. Such old-fashioned attitudes have to be removed so that human action can be judged, not from the vantage point of natural law, but from the perspective of the dominant ideology and the media establishment it controls.

Fides et Ratio reminds the Catholic world that the Magisterium still reveres the capacity of the human mind to achieve a fundamental "consonance" with objective reality. The stirring passages of Leo XIII's Aeterni Patris (1879) sound strongly through the pages of the encyclical.

Yet we hear not only the Thomistic harmonies of faith and reason, but also those perpetually pertinent Augustinian chords reminding us of the necessity of releasing intelligence from its bondage to the bad habits of the flesh: "The coming of Christ was the saving event which [set reason] free from the shackles in which it has imprisoned itself."

Because truth itself is integral to the creation of culture - It's passed on between parents and children, teachers and students, priest and parishioner - the divorce between character and truth-telling cannot be accepted. Truth and sanctity demand one another. Thus the Pope suggests that if our arguments have failed to transform the culture we should begin by examining ourselves.

Looking at the authentic witness of the martyrs, John Paul II recalls how their words continue to inspire us because "from the moment they speak to us of what we perceive deep down as the truth we have sought for so long, the martyrs provide evidence of a love that has no need of lengthy arguments in order to convince."

Although aimed at those who control Catholic education in schools, universities, and seminaries the lessons of Fides et Ratio are far from abstract. Truth is handed on through the traditions of family and community as much, or more, than it is through formal learning. Perhaps the most pernicious aspect of postmodernism is its attack on the instinctive and intuitive learning that results from the relationships of love and trust in the natural hierarchies existing through our social fabric.

John Paul the Great was alone among world leaders in witnessing to the threshold of hope through faith and reason.

Summary:

1. Postmodern culture is characterized by a denial of objective truth, particularly in the domain of ethics.

2. For John Paul II this denial of truth can be traced back to the errors of modern philosophers and other academicians.

3. Without truth the culture loses its connection to the past, its piety, and cuts off the present generation from the wisdom accumulated by our ancestors.

Deal W. Hudson, Ph.D

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Deal W. Hudson is president of the Morley Institute of Church and Culture, Senior Editor at Catholic Online, and former publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine.This column and subsequent contributions are an excerpt from a forthcoming book. Dr. Hudson's new radio show, Church and Culture, will begin broadcasting in February on the Ave Maria Radio Network.

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