Knowledge – a poor substitute for Truth

How is your “truth meter” doing these days? Do you feel like it may need a bit of re-calibration after a year of being dragged through a baseless impeachment, questionable health crisis, and disturbing irregularities in a presidential election? “Don’t get excited,” because the media assures us that it’s all for the good (“Nothing behind that curtain!”). We are quickly becoming a society that has lost its appetite for the truth; content to apathetically look the other way regardless of of any egregious outrage unwinding under our very noses.Has a half century of legalized abortion deadened our communal conscience so completely to seeing the truth? I would say that our “truth meters” have been desensitized to the point off accepting any proffered illusion as a verifiable truth.

Perhaps the problem is that Americans by and large have too long accustomed themselves to equating knowledge with truth, with hardly distinction drawn between them. Living in a science driven culture it becomes easy, and all to common, for us to make this mental switch. But in fact, there are many different kinds of knowledge, not all of them true. There is the knowledge of the trickster which is meant to deceive, create illusions, or even cheat others. The job of a propagandist is to make us believe some version of events or reality that may not be quite objective or accurate. For if truth itself were self-evident there would be little demand for rhetoric or the art of propaganda. Bread lines would be swollen with journalists and lawyers.

Knowledge therefore cannot be its own end. It is a pathway in the search for truth, but knowledge itself is not necessarily the truth unless one is all-knowing ~ that is, God himself. For we mortal creatures knowledge is a fallible thing. It must be verified before we can claim it as true. Yet too often we become trapped in our own minds, thirsting for knowledge (gnosis) even at the expense of truth. Francis Bacon observed that “knowledge is power,” which is precisely the logic the tempter employed when deceiving Adam and Eve. That kind of knowledge has led mankind to create horribly destructive weapons, to enslave, to decimate his progeny, and now to attempt manipulating the genetics of future generations. Perhaps that is why the Bible warns us, “he that increases knowledge increases sorrows.” (Eccl. 1:18) Our unhappy modern world is certainly proof of this prescription.

What then is Truth? Truth is not a concept but a person, or rather the three divine Persons of the Blessed Trinity. For us, the important distinction is not between those who know the truth and those who don’t (in fact the devil knows the truth better than most). The real line of demarcation is between those who seek the truth and those who do not seek it. Many people today have simply let the batteries in their “truth meters” run dry. They are as indifferent to the truth as was Pontius Pilate, even as they labor long and hard to acquire all other forms of knowledge. Truth demands a personal response. Each person must choose to either accept or reject it. Knowledge demands no such response. It can simply be stored away for future use or else applied at one’s convenience to whatever is at hand. Truth is not like that. It penetrates to the heart and demands a commitment. Like a lover waiting in the wings we must either accept or reject the truth.

As important as our abilities to reason, to learn, and to obtain knowledge may be, we must never forget that the mind is meant to assist the heart in its pursuit of truth ~ and not the other way around. For it is in the heart that we operate our moral will, for or against the truth. The head only advises, the heart decides. There is a beautiful line from the movie Jesus of Nazareth where Our Lord turns to Thomas and says, “Open your heart, Thomas, not your mind.” Knowledge and reason, whatever other benefits they might supply, do not guarantee acceptance of the truth. If they did so there would be no demons roaming this world. Actually, the demons exhibit their knowledge of the truth by their very words of protest. “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth… I know who you are – the Holy One of God.” (Mk 1:24)

So it is not enough to simply know the truth. Knowledge is only useful to us when it is grasped and understood in the light of Faith. Science today is barren, not because of the many wonderful discoveries it has made, but because of its refusal to place its observations under the light of divine revelation. It stubbornly refuses to reconcile faith with reason and so it leads man away from God, in whom all truth resides, instead of leading him forward towards the all-knowing source of truth. This bitter irony led T.S. Eliot to exclaim, “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

Paradoxically, Truth is free for the asking. “Seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Mt 7:7) Knowledge is but a means towards finding the truth, its real object. But we today have made knowledge, information, and technology into their own objects ~ a means which become its own ends. But without truth to guide it, knowledge will surely lead mankind astray, and we will never even realize just how far off course we have drifted. Thus it is that politicians, waving their Catholicism for all the world to see, will proudly advance the most horrendous atrocities against the unborn or support assisting at suicides. So long as it is done in a sterile room they justify such abominations as Christian and “humanitarian.” (In fact they are more Gnostic than Catholic.)

Samuel Johnson remarked, “Knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.” The modern technological penchant has already created a world that is both dangerous and dreadful, and getting more so with each new development. Like our forebears who developed horrible nuclear warheads, we now assume that knowing how to do something means one ought to do it. Knowledge uncoupled from truth will ever lead to such outcomes. So check the batteries in your “truth meter” and re-calibrate it, if necessary, to align with the One who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn 14:6) 

Francis J. Pierson   +a.m.d.g.

1 thought on “Knowledge – a poor substitute for Truth

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