Monday, January 10, 2011

Thomas Merton on Truth and Partisanship


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We are all convinced that we desire the truth above all. Nothing strange about this. It is natural to man, an intelligent being, to desire the truth. (I still dare to speak of man as 'an intelligent being'!') But actually, what we desire is not 'the truth' so much as 'to be in the right.' To seek the pure truth for its own sake may be natural to us, but we are not able to act always in this respect according to our nature. What we seek is not the pure truth, but the partial truth that justifies our prejudices, our limitations, our selfishness. This is not 'the truth.' It is only an argument strong enough to prove us 'right.' And usually our desire to be right is correlative to our conviction that somebody else (perhaps everybody else) is wrong.
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Why do we want to prove them wrong? Because we need them to be wrong. For if they are wrong, and we are right, then our untruth becomes truth: our selfishness becomes justice and virtue: our cruelty and lust cannot be fairly condemned. We can rest secure in the fiction we have determined to embrace as 'truth.' What we desire is not the truth, but rather that our lie should be proved 'right,' and our iniquity be vindicated as 'just.' This is what we have done to pervert our natural, instinctive appetite for truth.
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No wonder we hate. No wonder we are violent. No wonder we exhaust ourselves in preparing for war! And in doing so, of course, we offer the enemy another reason to believe that he is right, that he must arm, that he must get ready to destroy us. Our own lie provides the foundation of truth on which he erects his own lie, and the two lies together react to produce hatred, murder, disaster.
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~ Thomas Merton
from Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

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2 comments:

Paolo Mateo said...

So well said. I have said something similar, something simple and less taxing on the brains of those who would never see its 'truth':

There are two truths in this world: the real truth and the perceived truth. It is the latter that we care about and give our loyalty to.

It is a rare treat for me to read someone who understands how much this world needs to awaken to that real truth that we are so aggressively beat up to make it into the image of our beliefs and prejudices. I don't see such enlightenment happening. The proof is always in the pudding, what we call human history, to give you the real truth.

Great entry. Thanks.

smilingheart said...

thanks Paulo, appreciate your insight.