How I Reconciled Truth to Being: a personal essay by Dustin Pickering

One of the most painful journeys I found myself on concerned the nature of truth and its relation to Being. Seeing that things are constantly in flux yet nature endows the mind with the need for stability, I projected onto life that truth is a thing of flux and security. However I could not find life supporting this abstract necessity of mine. How do I know when I have reached the fact of existence versus the abstract realities of illusion? Abraham Maslow writes that “Self-actualized people…live more in the real world of nature than in the man-made mass of concepts, abstractions, expectations, beliefs and stereotypes that most people confuse with the world.” This humanistic objective has startled my thinking for many years—perhaps since my days in high school when I first learned of Erik Erikson and other prominent psychologists. Early in my teenage years, I discovered Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy which provided a stunning contrast to my religious upbringing. What I envisioned from his writing was that human motivations are rooted in power which is not a moral phenomenon. However he notes that cruelty is a sign of power’s loss rather than its expression. Morality itself is the mass mind’s authority against reality. People contrive moral systems that are illusions rather than natural constructions.

As a child I did not quite believe in Christian thinking. I was raised Catholic and became an atheist at age 13 after hearing the punk band Bad Religion. Their lyrics were steeped in social observations I found salient and effective compared to the pop lyrics I heard on morning radio. Bad Religion led me to existentialism indirectly. From there I discovered Kierkegaard, Sartre, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and other philosophers. From reading Marx as a rebellion against theology, I discovered Hegel and German Idealism.

It was originally the question of the utility of truth that burdened me philosophically. Meaning is derived from experience. We use heuristics to dictate our actions in a world fused with confusion and lack of authoritative guidance. Although most of us still believe in God, of some kind of supernatural being, our world in its despair seems pointlessly agonizing and meaningless. We ask now if God even provides meaning or if existentially we invent it. “Subjectivity must be the starting point,” says Sartre.

If I begin with myself—not the objective world—how can I find the fact of truth in consciousness alone? Intersubjectivity offers the ability to reconcile with the outside world through another’s consciousness in collaboration with one’s own. This postmodern trend intrigues but does not satisfy me. How can I know anything but my own consciousness? Such a question seems futile, the rationale of slavery. If truth resides in the internal world of neurons and their neurochemistry, how do I define those relations? What does this tell us about our ethical existence? Scientists such as Bertrand Russell offer that ethics is a social construction designed to preserve human existence. This makes sense but seems to reiterate our despairing model that nothing absolute and objective exists.

If something absolute and objective exists, does that delineate the powers of belief? Are there things we hold in common even if we deny them and accept illusions into our thinking?

These questions led me toward Christian humanism. I see Christianity as offering objective truth beyond worldly matters, yet I see the secular world of Nature as important enough to consider. Is truth such an important commodity that all things invest in it? When we speak of truth, what are we discussing? The phenomenologists also strive to gather facts independent of our expectations: “to see things as the things themselves.”  If the Absolute exists, how do we ascertain it?

Does existence pose its own riddles? Why would it if there is a God to feed our need for reasons? All this hankering after fact! There are two sides to every argument, but weight bears on one. So I find that intersubjectivity has limitations by force of its delineation. The human mind can perceive truth but not reveal it; alas, only something external can reveal.

This concept of revelation appealed to me instantly as a poet. The inner workings of the mind are equipped to stand the test of truth, but not to invent it per se. If the facts bear this out, the human mind must have a Creator. However, I am not certain of the Creator’s nature or if the natural world could reveal it. Christianity offers that the only true God is one of essential goodness. God so loved the world He gave His only Son, Scriptures invite. Judging that sacrifice is a good, giving of One’s own Son is the prime sacrifice; through Abraham, we learn that God does not expect such large scale sacrifice of us but this carnal sacrifice is rather an example for us; the martyrs, sages, saints, and prophets suffered from shortcomings that enraged God but God made a myth of their works; myth itself becomes primal sacrifice; finally, God can only be the Good through His works.

However, Christianity suffices it to say we can live neither on bread alone, nor by natural reason alone. God divines Himself as something external and absolute. It was this revelation that found me reconciled to Christian teachings. Why does the Bible divine something outside of the world and demand we reconcile ourselves to it for salvation? Why does this external truth live and breathe in the same world as us? What is the mystery posed in Christian Scriptures?

The fact our existence must atone for itself!

This powerful truth led me back to Christ. God speaks in myth; I believe in the God of William Blake who said all religions are one, inherent as the truth in man. As Blake wrote, “the true faculty of knowing must be the faculty which experiences.” Truth is then experienced, not passive or innocent.

Hence the truth is a journey and not something to be snapped at reluctantly: “the ineluctable, but a parable.”

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