Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Truth

May 8, 2017

 

Those who know me, know that I often quote Thomas Paine: "The government that governs least, governs best." As you know the principles of the United States root themselves in the famous line from the Declaration of Independence declaring God given inalienable rights of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." 

 

It might be interesting to ask the question if that line created a flaw in the American system that we live with today. Samuel Gregg in his article for the Acton Institute made the observation about the suffering of Catholics in Vietnam: "To accept the notion of religious liberty, grounded in the duty of all people to seek the truth, is to accept the limited state. And that is something that no Communist government can ever truly acknowledge." 

 

There is a radical difference between the pursuit of happiness and the pursuit of truth. When we pursue truth first and embrace it, we will find happiness. If we pursue happiness without truth, we may not embrace true happiness for lack of familiarity with the truth. This minor flaw in the foundation of American principles is a source of great conflict in our country today. 

 

We have different understandings of happiness and few are based on what is truth. So if I pursue happiness as I understand it and you are in my way, then I need to eliminate you in order to get what I think will make me happy. That understanding is the source of crime. However, if I seek truth, for I realize that happiness is found only in truth, then I change not your life, but mine in order to find it.

 

This is the point of our faith. Jesus is the truth, so if we seek Him, we will find truth. Truth in Him leads to happiness and the fullness of life.

 

If I reject Christ, who is truth, for the sake of my definition of happiness, I will find neither truth nor happiness. This is the current trajectory of the United States and other countries.

 

The most extreme version of this is what is cited by Sam Gregg where the Communist or any totalitarian state declares that that they are the truth. Living so close to Harvard University, one can see that the seeds of such tyranny lie in our university system: Many have the attitude If you have a degree from a major university you must be an expert in what is true. That is putting your faith in experts with the hope of finding true happiness. That is not possible if they know nothing of truth.

 

There is a course taught locally about changing our nation that uses a book that praises Lucifer. The well known community organizing manual Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky. You cannot be more on the wrong road to pursue truth or happiness than the basic principle that Lucifer is to be emulated. What makes it worse is to think of those who took that course and read that book did not question the base philosophy of the author: The reader is the source of his/her own truth and it is the reader's role to force the culture to conform to that truth because that reader knows better than anyone else. Scores of people who embrace that attitude comprise Hell. The book inadvertently leads to creating a place where everyone decides for him/herself what is true. The fruit is constant conflict because everyone is enforcing his/her truth on everyone else, ad infinitum. In that sense, Alinsky was right to praise Lucifer in that book, because that is what that book creates: Lucifer's dream of eternal conflict permanently void of peace. 

 

Jesus taught us to seek the truth in Him. Even the Church which points to the truth, is herself not the truth except as the body of Christ. This is why the Sacraments are so key for they are encounters with Christ, himself. They lead us to the truth and the truth leads us to happiness. Our founding fathers were brilliant men, but mostly as defined by the enlightenment and that was about pursuing happiness. If we seek truth first we will find happiness, if we seek happiness first we will find what is right outside our window or on the evening news. 

 

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