On the Unity of God and Truth
Those who deny the truth should not imagine their actions immune to judgment.
By the time his soul was returned to God ten years ago last month, Christopher Hitchens, who did not of course believe in God — or the soul — had managed to scarify a fair number of people with his slashing attacks on faith and religion. Some quite famous people, in fact.
For instance, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, whom he regarded as a pious fraud; indeed, going so far as to write an entire book, dripping with disdain, for his subject. Or the late Pope St. John Paul II, whom Hitchens regarded as positively senile, whose shortcomings (he argued) history would judge as harshly as he had. And, reaching five centuries into the past, St. Thomas More, whom he described as one of the most wicked men in all of history.
Such animadversions were not at all surprising, however, coming from someone whose overall view of religion was that it poisons everything.
But besides reminding ourselves, maybe a tad too smugly, that he now knows better, or that we need to commend even the souls of atheists to God, whose judgment we pray may prove gentler than his own, how do we refute the claim? What are we to say in response to such sweeping dismissals, not simply of our common faith and religion, but of saintly men and women canonized by the Church we love?
Suppose we start with a word or two in defense of truth and leave the saints to God. After all, holiness is its own defense, it shouldn’t require a syllogism to see the appeal of sanctity in a world made so much worse without it. But as for truth, it is not an optional extra, not a trivial thing, but most hallowed. Indeed, our respect for truth ought to inspire great reverence because, for all that we’ve cheapened and debased it, nothing can survive in its absence. For at the deepest level, truth is identifiable with God himself, who, in the Second Person of the Trinity, is called Truth, or Word (Verbum in the Latin, Logos in the Greek). In the teeth of all the fashionable falsehoods, therefore, and among the naysayers none were as adept in purveying them as the late Christopher Hitchens, truth in the end will always win out. Its ultimate triumph is assured because, once again, God who is himself truth will not suffer falsehood to abide.
When St. Thomas Aquinas, for example, affirmed that by calling God he who is, rather than simply designating him as God, he seized upon the most profound and precise description possible. I AM WHO AM is God’s self-chosen name, thundered forth from a flame of purest fire in answer to the question put to him by Moses in the Book of Exodus. “By what name are we to call upon you?” If God is he who is, then truth is that which is.
Which brings us around to religion, an issue that greatly incensed Christopher Hitchens. What does it mean? It comes from the Latin re-ligare, meaning to bind oneself back to some source or point of origin in being. A very necessary thing, one would think, since otherwise one is bound to nothing, tethered at no point to anything at all on which to stand and feel secure. Who wants to hang suspended above an abyss of nothingness? Thus, when someone pronounces with confidence on the sum of two plus two, they do so because the truth of the number four is fixed forever by the reality of arithmetic. Choosing three is never an option. Not even a free and democratic society is at liberty to nullify the truth about numbers.
Should the sum of human experience, then, be any different? Surely it has yielded certain truths by which we know ourselves to be bound, yes, even when our feelings fall short of the facts. Our feelings about skin color, for instance, should not determine the level of justice we apply to others. The neglect of truth leaves us all in a state of moral free fall.
And who but God is there to guarantee the truth of these matters? In his book Learning the Virtues, Romano Guardini reminds us of three necessary things:
One, “there is a truth, a reality upon which every order of existence depends.” It is anchored firmly to God, in whose image we have all been made. Our first obligation, therefore, is to obey him, unlike our first parents who permitted themselves to be persuaded that they were God. “This rebellion,” says Guardini, “continues to this present day,” and that for all the power or success we accrue in leaving God out of account, the results are always the same, i.e., chaos.
Two, whenever wrong is placed in the saddle, it doesn’t matter how high we sit on the horse, there will always be this “irrevocable law that all wrong demands expiation,” whose application God himself will vouch for.
And, finally, point three, there is “the revelation of judgment.” An account, in other words, must be given. Not by history or public opinion, science or scholarship, and certainly not by popular vote. “No,” says Guardini, “judgment is reserved for God. Everything will come before his truth and will be revealed. Everything will come under his justice and receive his final verdict.”
Those who deny or despise the truth, who go so far as to dismantle structures put in place by earnest and decent men to keep untruth at bay, should not imagine their actions immune to judgment. Not forever anyway. Perhaps they will escape for a time, but because we do not live only in time, what they do is watched by Another, by God, whose reckoning no one may put off forever. “No creature is concealed from him,” we are told in the Letter to the Hebrews, “but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account.”
God alone is everlasting. So, too the truth he upholds, and before that standard we shall all be called upon to give witness.