“The truth is that there is no truth.” John Caputo in Radical Hermeneutics
Item: In mid-September, the Clinton administration announces economic sanctions against Japan for harvesting sperm whales. On the same day, the Clinton administration argues against sanctions against China for such human rights abuses as the torture, imprisonment, and murder of its citizens for the simple crime of worshipping their God.
Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity. — W.B. Yeats
I am no fan of heresy. As a pastor committed to my God, His Word, and the well being of my people, I have a solemn responsibility to guard the flock of God against false teaching, as well as to rightly explain His Word. There are heresies today which have crept into the church, and it is the duty of every preacher of the gospel to detect and expose those heresies rather than baptizing them into Christian teaching.
I am no fan of hypocrisy. While it is true enough that every person acts on occasion in direct conflict with his/her stated beliefs, it is inexcusable to rationalize our failures or justify our sin. We must strive to be people of character; I am convinced that the best way for character to be developed in a person is for that person to find in a relationship with Jesus Christ the power to overcome his shortcomings.
Yet I want to argue today that we desperately need to retain these words in our vocabularies; these must continue to exist as meaningful categories to describe definable things. While this would seem obvious to many people, it is worth considering that, to an increasing number of people, this is anything but self-evident. But I would suggest that the survival of our society itself depends in no small measure upon the existence of heresy and hypocrisy.
Let me illustrate. The idea that there is no such thing as “true truth”, as Francis Schaeffer referred to it, is largely considered a foregone conclusion by many in our intelligentsia today. The late professor Allan Bloom, in The Closing of the American Mind, stated that the one thing of which he could be certain regarding each class of incoming freshmen was that they would affirm the belief that all truth is relative. In other words, in our postmodern world, one cannot point to any statement as being true in all situations. There is no truth that is independent of context; the only sense in which something can be claimed as “true” is within one’s one frame of reference. One can never say, “_______ is true”; the most one can say is “from my point of view, _______ is true”.
There are many ramifications which flow from this approach to life. One is the abolition of the meaning of the word heresy. If nothing can be spoken of as true in the sense in which truth has always been understood, then nothing can be spoken of as “false” either. The term “heresy” is neutered of any real significance, relegated to a fiction which we pull out of dusty history books to explain the primitive thinking of those who launched crusades and argued over irrelevant doctrinal minutiae. There are certainly some who would like nothing better than to relegate to an epistemological backwater those of us who still believe that such a thing as truth exists, who would love to dismiss us a “kooky fundamentalists” or “religious simpletons”. Elevating their new version of “tolerance” to the height of the greatest good, there are many who’d rather not have to deal with the idea of truth; it is in their brave new world a concept which would be better off jettisoned.
But I say we “need” heresy, because we cannot live without truth; where heresy has no meaning, there can be no truth. A system which finds no place for truth–and which thus labels nothing as “heresy”–ultimately will collapse upon itself (dare I suggest we are seeing this happen already?). Our beliefs about the nature and existence of truth will impact in massive ways upon our ethics and our living. Much as a frog will stay in a slowly-heated kettle to the point of boiling to death, so we have seen that our culture has been changing ever so slowly over time to the point of allowing unconscionable things to take place, all in the name of “freedom”.
Divorced from a belief in ultimate truth, we have conditioned ourselves slowly to accept the unthinkable. Who could have imagined two generations ago that we would even consider voting for people for high office who openly sanction genocide? And yet today we don’t have the moral courage even to say “no” to partial-birth abortion, which would be murder were it committed thirty seconds later. We cringe at the thought of child pornography, spousal abuse, and murder, but in a world devoid of heresy–and truth–the fair question is “why?” Not that everyone has always been good (in the theological sense, none of us are), or that there has ever been universal agreement, but it can certainly be said that in previous generations we have understood there to be a Higher Law than ourselves, and moral responsibilities which transcended the situational.
We “need” hypocrisy as well. Today we hear a congressman speak of family values, then watch as he divorces his wife to marry his lover; where is the revulsion? Today we put Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones on the cover of a magazine with their newborn and call it “true love”, irrespective of the fact that there isn’t enough love there for a marriage commitment. Today we have politicians talking tough to the entertainment industry, while at the same time enriching their coffers with its contributions, all done with a wink and a nod.
Bill Bennett called our problem “the death of outrage”. Where there is no heresy, there is no truth; where there is no hypocrisy, there is no morality. Where there is no place for truth or morality, there is no point in outrage, for there is no basis on which to judge any words or behavior as outrageous. I say we need both heresy and hypocrisy, for if we can never find either, we can be sure that we will find ourselves on the brink of collapse, for we will have lost our way to live reasonably and morally in this world.
In the world it is called Tolerance, but in hell it is called Despair: the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die.