Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Truth is Out There, Maybe

While delving into the dark recesses of geekdom, I’ve been devouring the X Files for the past few weeks. And while I was hooked, I wasn’t too excited about seeing how the show handled the Church and religion. But it has been surprisingly good. One storyline is based on the stigmata of St. Padre Pio. Scully is normally the skeptic, but she’s also Catholic. She hasn’t been to confession in years, but she keep a cross around her neck, and in her darkest moments, she finds solace in her religion. In contrast, Mulder is the atheist believer of aliens, monsters, and conspiracy theories. His beliefs consume his days, but those beliefs don’t include deities. He sees religion as just another cover story for the powerful. So when the stigmata case seems to confirm legends from Church history, the roles of the agents flip. Scully might not be a devout Catholic, but she is decently catechized, and she defends the Church. She even starts to believe that she was sent there by God to help the boy. Mulder, on the other hand, refuses to entertain the idea that the stigmata and devil are real. There can’t be signs from God because God isn’t real.

This frustrates Scully. Here is the usual doubter opening herself up to the possibility that there is a larger, supernatural work at play, and the usual believer won’t listen to her. At the end of the episode, Scully sees a priest and talks about Mulder’s disbelief. Why is someone who is normally so open to belief dismissing hers? Why is God his line in the sand? Why can’t he see what, to her, is the obvious truth?

This is something I think most people struggle with. We have our worldviews and beliefs, and the core of those seems blatantly obvious and true, yet we daily encounter people who find those views absurd, concocted, and delusional. In turn, we find others’ views hard to believe. While I’ve questioned and struggled with the details, I’ve never doubted that there is a God. His presence is constantly obvious to me. It’s like me saying, “There are clouds in sky,” and having a person respond, “What’s a sky?” Why can’t they see the sky? How can we ever discuss clouds if we can’t agree on a sky?

I have to remember that my frustration is theirs as well. I don’t understand them, and they don’t understand me. I can’t comprehend not innately knowing of a God, gods, force—some presence that creates and sustains the universe. We might have different theories and interpretations. Some proofs might be more logical than others. But we all agree that there is something. Yet the empirical materialist denies this. To him, matter (with observational energy) is all there is. Anything else is fantasy, brought about by misfiring synapses in our primate heads. There can’t be signs from God because God isn’t real because God can’t be real to the materialist. 

It’s an exhausting, frustrating position. How do I convince a skeptic the truth of my claims? How do I do so with the right intention, not out of a defensive need to prove myself right or win an argument? And how do I maintain respect for the person that dismisses my truth? They are not easy questions, and the most frustrating part is that they might not have answers. The answer might be that the tension and arguments and frustration remains, that you will not always be in welcome company, and that not everyone will see truth in the same places.  

To answer Scully’s confusion of Mulder’s skepticism, the priest suggests that maybe the message was only meant for Scully. While there might be comfort in the suggestion that we all believe the truth we’re meant to, it brings on more questions of the nature of truth. Is truth not universal, applicable to all people at all times? While there can be multiple misinterpretations, surely there can only be one truth. And what does that say of truth, God, predestination, or destiny to suggest that some people are not meant to see the truth? Are they fated to be damned, or will they be judged by their response to the truth insomuch as it was revealed to them? 

And what does that mean for the people chosen to see the truth? Can truth be true if it can’t be found?

In school during a discussion of existentialism, I had a professor who kept positing that people create their own truths, that truth is purely subjective. But I objected to the idea that those two ideas are the same. Yes, people create their own truths. Our experiences—cultures, histories, brain chemistries, adopted world views—determine how we understand the world. But that doesn’t make capital-T-truth subjective. We may be blinded by misdirection, confusion, frustration, sin. Truth may not be quantifiable in an empirical test. But unobserved, objective truth is still objective truth.

A resounding mantra in the show is that “the truth is out there.” The statement makes no presumptions of what that truth is, where it can be found, or even if it can be found. Yet it is still a statement of faith. There is the truth; it exists. And the challenge to seek it. Seek it even when it doesn’t match with your skepticism. Seek it even when it is derided by others. Seek it even if it will not bring a tidy, happy ending. Seek it even if it won’t be found. The search is part of the revealing of truth. And it may be the only part we have.  

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