Monday, October 22, 2007

Sincerity and truth in postmodernity

I'm still reading "No Man is an Island" by Thomas Merton for my morning devotionals. I say "still" because like most books I use for devotional stimulation I muddle through them. I'm nearing the end, though, and Merton has really been in my journals a lot, even though I haven't blogged much about it.

But today I wanted to through a few thoughts down on paper, or on a blog, as the case may be. Actually, it was both since I already journaled several pages on this topic. Merton is discussing sincerity, in particular in it's comingling with truth, or as he says "sincerity in the fullest sense must be more than a temperamental disposition to be frank. It is a simplicity of spirit which is preserved by the will to be true. It implies an obligation to manifest the truth and to defend it."

It has become too easy to lie in our culture. "Life has become so easy that we think we can get along without telling the truth. A liar no longer needs to feel that his lies may involve him in starvation. If living were a little more precarious, and if a person who could not be trusted found it more difficult to get along with other men, we would not deceive ourselves and one another so carelessly." Lying is interwoven into our politics, our work, our marriages, even our religious activities, and especially our self-talk. "...the whole world has learned to deride veracity or to ignore it. Half the civilized world makes a living by telling lies. Advertising, propaganda, and all the other forms of publicity that have taken the place of truth have taught men to take it for granted that they can tell other people whatever they like provided that it sounds plausible and evokes some kind of shallow emotional response." (Keep in mind that Merton wrote this in 1955!)

"Americans have always felt that they were protected against the advertising business by their own sophistication. If we only knew how naive our sophistication really is! It protects us against nothing. We love the things we pretend to laugh at. We would rather buy a bad toothpaste that is well advertised than a good one that is not advertised at all. Most Americans wouldn't be seen dead in a car their neighbors had never heard of.

"Sincerity becomes impossible in a world that is ruled by a falsity that it thinks it is clever enough to detect. Propaganda is constantly held up to contempt, but in contemning it we come to love it after all. In the end we will not be able to get along without it...

"The arguments of religious men are so often insincere, and their insincerity is proportionate to their anger. Why do we get angry about what we believe? Because we do not really believe it. Or else what we pretend to be defending as the 'truth' is really our own self-esteem. A man of sincerity is less interested in defending the truth than in stating it clearly, for he thinks that if the truth be clearly seen it can very well take care of itself."

This is exactly why I like living in the post-Christian, post-modern type of world. Because truth has been deconstructed, people don't think that there is absolute truth any longer. We debate people as to whether or not this is true (it is not), but we have an opportunity, a kairos moment, to learn how to state the Truth that is life in Jesus of Nazareth in a way that does not carry all the baggage of the past. And it can (and does!) speak for itself.

The old sermon story of the pastor's notes that reminded him that a particular point was weak, so he should raise his voice and pound the pulpit to emphasize it comes to mind. This is what our telling of the Jesus story becomes without sincerity. It becomes pulpit-pounding, and people often see it for just what it is: an insincere attempt to manipulate someone into the truth instead of a clear telling of the Truth--what Jesus called lifting up himself to the world--and letting that Truth draw people to it.

While I admit that pomos take this idea too far and throw out any sense of "truth", to me this is the epitome of authenticity.

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