Wednesday, April 03, 2002

Truth, Wherever It Is Found

Not long ago I was telling a friend of mine that I appreciated The Washington Times, as it provided some degree of balance among the bigger media outlets. He responded with something like this: "Yeah, but they're owned by the Moonies."

Now, while I can accept hesitancy about the Unification Church as well as disagreement over the quality or substance of the Times, there is something about this statement which I utterly reject, and so I'd like to speak to a larger issue than Moonies and the Times, that being the question of Truth, Wherever It Is Found.

In my experience, most people -- both liberal and conservative, in theology and politics -- have a tendency to reject out-of-hand what is said by those with whom they typically disagree. While certainly understandable, it remains absolutely Inexcusable.

One of the most famous of those infamously close-minded medievals is Thomas Aquinas. Yet in spite of his alleged close-mindedness Thomas was able to say something to this effect: "I seek Truth wherever it may be found." In other words, Thomas didn't care so much about who said something as he did about what they said. If the content of their words was true, Thomas accepted it. If it wasn't, he didn't.

This open-mindedness enabled Thomas to plumb the thought of Aristotle, even though The Philosopher was the preferred philosopher of Muslim thinkers, not Christians. This becomes especially important when one remembers that Muslims at that time (13th century) were still pushing their armies into Spain. So in effect, Thomas was exploring the thought of a man in effect being studied by the (mortal?) enemies of Christendom. (Yes, I'm simplifying things a bit, but the point remains valid.)

One finds this openness to truth far too rarely today. Rather than investigating the validity of the what is claimed, we tend to find out what category our intelocutor falls into and dismiss or accept the statement on that basis. Basically, a thought is judged innocent (true) or guilty (false) by association (with the one who makes it) rather than on its own merits.

Bad enough in and of itself, this trend is life-threatening in a pluralistic society. Why? Because categorization instead of authentic dialogue polarizes and fragments a society, with each segment turning more and more inward, rather than outward toward those with other views. As a result, the former unity of a society is either lost or forcibly regained by the State, neither of which is an attractive option. In order to people to co-exist, they must agree on at least a few fundamental principles, but this agreement can never happen (and therefore long-term unity can never be guaranteed) if people reject each others' views out-of-hand and never interact on the level of ideas and truth.

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