“…This is all as true as it is strange. Nay, it is ten times true; for truth is truth To the end of reck’ning.”-Measure by Measure, Act V
It was five o’clock and work was finally over. I could stop pretending to be responsible and go home and gorge on my wife’s chicken parmigiana and watch Bachelor in Paradise. A show that highlights desperate 20 to 30 year olds who consumes large amounts of alcohol who while buzzed are hooking up with other young adults who happen to be also looking for love on a beach resort in Mexico. Admittedly, an odd recipe for love, but that’s not why we watch the show. One reason we watch this in our house is that there is not really that much else to watch on TV, despite having access to hundreds of channels, but the main reason for watching the show is to say thank goodness I am not like that. Reassuring ourselves we aren’t that shallow and we always make good decisions as we tried to find love, while still watching the show.
Speeding home, going in and out of traffic, in the mini-cooper, we dubbed Nigel, and hurrying to my home for comfort food and vapid TV watching, I decided I needed to listen to something with substance and decided that NPR would have to do. Nimbly turning the dial to NPR Robert Siegel was talking about the book Don Quixote and its 400th birthday. Robert Siegel was interviewing a gentleman named Ilan Stavans, a professor of Latin American and Latino culture at Amherst College. A private liberal arts college somewhere in Massachusetts that charges students between $50,000 to $60,000 a year to get a bachelor’s degree.
Mr. Siegel deftly introduces the subject by stating that “one must live life in a genuine way, passionately, in spite of what other people think. That is the central tenet of “Don Quixote” according to Professor Ilan Stavans.”
Casually I listened, when I heard the following over the airwaves from Ilan Stavans:
“This is the novel that invented modernity. This is the novel that teaches us that everything is subjective, that truth is relative, that each of us can have a dream and push for that dream and that we ultimately can transform the world based on that dream. That is why “Don Quixote’s” such an attractive figure because people project onto him that desire to become somebody and become exceptional and transform the world. And the book is a chronicle of the adventures of this character that, in the end, is heroic in having pursued his own passion.”
At that point, I said out loud in the car, “Hold on, Mister”. My soul was stirred, NPR was again had not failed to stimulate my brain, and I posited to myself can the truth ever be subjective and still be considered truth? Is “subjective truth” just an oxymoron like “true fiction” or “unbiased opinion”? And then I thought further when has Don Quixote ever been used to establish a claim about what truth is? Don Quixote is a fictional story about a delusional middle-aged man who can’t distinguish between fantasy and reality. While humorous, when his fantasies clash with reality the consequences are often mean and cruel for Don Quixote and he is played the fool and he transforms no one. In fact, the word “quixotic” means to be foolishly impractical, capricious and unpredictable words not often associated with being functional. And to my knowledge, I know of no one in the modern world whose life has been transformed after reading the fictional work Don Quixote. What was Mr. Stavans talking about? Was there any subjective truth to it? Was there any subjective truth to his claims about being genuine, the truth, dreams and reality?
That term “subjective truth” seems to be an oxymoron. How can something be true and subjective at the same time? Plus I am always a little suspicious of those who state in absolute terms that truth is relative. When we make a subjective statement it means it is based on our personal feelings, tastes or opinions regardless of what the truth is. How many times have we made a strong statement about someone only to find out we didn’t know the whole story? In other words strong emotions, desires, or appetites, will, or popularity don’t create reality or make something true. We don’t make up the truth based on emotions, desires, or appetites like third world dictators are wont to do. There is an order to things that we did not establish ourselves, things we did not create. We discover the truth, we don’t create it. We search for truth because it does “make us free” (John 8:31-32), free from all types of ignorance, and it is the underlying basis for the finding happiness. Happiness that comes from knowing and living in accordance with the truth, the state of being that is in agreement with reality.
If you say the truth is only subjective than you deny there is an overall reality. If none exists, until you invent yours, then you are living a lie and how can our lives be a lie before we ever become conscious enough to invent it. How can being conceived in this world, growing up in a family with brothers and sisters, going to school, getting married, having kids, working, earning money and pay bills, and death all be a lie. Disease, decay and death are the ultimate answer to the question on subjective truth. That is truth we don’t get to invent death and I am pretty sure, at least for myself, if I could create my own story or my own truth, I would never include getting old or sick or even dying. I would want to live forever with my family, if I had a choice in the matter.
The term subjective truth is a fiction, a fantasy, an illusion that invite mores misery into our lives than it does happiness. There is no reality in inventing your own reality. Sooner or later you are going to run up against the consequences of your choices or a reality you didn’t invent like kids, aging and death. Russell M. Nelson once stated “…the truth isn’relative. It is only man’s understanding of the truth that is relative.” The truth has been all there the whole time. Christ declared in this modern age, “Truth abideth and hath no end”, and our journey in this life is learn what the truth is and learn it by faith “line upon line.”
“The truth must dazzle gradually, or every man be blind.”-Emily Dickinson
It is no wonder that in our secular society people are starved for meaning, authenticity and searching for what Robert Siegel referred to as a “genuine way to live” because there is no true freedom or order in a world defined by relativism. Happiness is not possible without truth. We can only be truly happy by coming to know things how things really are. Happiness is not found on the freedom to do whatever one wants to do or getting whatever one wants.
Secularism is not only philosophical failure, but an ethical failure. It treats life as if it is a TV show, an illusion, were virtue is non-existent. However, there are moral facts, whether you acknowledge them or not does not change their existence. We are not destined to drift aimlessly over an ocean of conflicting information. As sophisticated as it sounds subjective truth is nothing more than a step back into a world ruled not by law and not by self-evident truths, but by the will of individuals where might or popularity defines what is right. If there is no truth, no objective reality, then there is no injustice. Nobody is ever treated unfairly and nobody is ever wronged. How can we have heroes if there is nothing bigger than ourselves to stand up for?
As far as Mr. Stavans connection between subjective truth and dreams and making dreams come true. Dreams come true because we tap into the truth about ourselves and we tap into a portion of reality not previously understood. While many of us fall short of those dreams, we don’t’ deal with those failures by inventing a fantasy world, or in Ilan Stavan’s words create a world of subjective truth, but we deal with those failures by adjusting our understanding of reality. Dreams are important to our lives and it is through our dreams and our faith that reality unfolds before us.