As the dust settles following last Monday’s initial United States Presidential debate, I took the opportunity yesterday to preach on the question of “What does it mean to tell the truth?” I suggested that for Christians telling the truth is inseparable from becoming truthful people, as we find ourselves caught up by the Spirit in the life of Jesus, who is the Truth. For this reason, the Christian tradition has held a special place for the martyrs. The martyrs are those who have borne witness to the truth at the cost of their lives. Although I didn’t explicitly make the connection, a member of the congregation observed that the sermon implicitly contrasted the richness of the faithful witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Maximilian Kolbe with the poverty of the two presidential candidates.
Interestingly, I came across an article this morning that made a similar, although not identical, set of connections between our cultural indifference to truth, Christian truth-telling, and martyrdom. Here are a couple of the key paragraphs that caught my attention:
“It was a persistent theme of the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI that freedom ultimately depends on truth. The point is classical as well as Christian, and it is worth bearing in mind that in the classical view, the first and most intractable enemy of freedom was not tyranny but necessity. Our brave new world of technological necessity casts a fresh light on the ancient understanding. A society that is indifferent to truth or that reduces truth to a technological possibility and pragmatic function cannot ultimately be a free society. Unable to see beyond the immanent horizons of liberal and technological order, its members will be unable to act in defiance of its necessities.”1
“At a time when so many of our brothers and sisters elsewhere in the world are dying for the faith, it seems obscene to invoke the specter of martyrdom from within the safety and prosperity of the liberal West. Yet we face an absolutism that poses an unprecedented challenge to Christian faith and witness precisely because technocratic order diffuses its power quietly, almost imperceptibly, without spectacle or responsibility, slowly bleeding its victims by ten thousand bureaucratic paper cuts rather than by the sword or lions in the Colosseum. Not the least of these challenges is the very real possibility that in a world mediated by media, this witness may be visible only to God. If a tree falls in the forest, and the New York Times doesn’t hear it, does it make a sound?
Only the truth of Christ, and not religious liberty as liberalism understands it, can finally secure our freedom. We can contemplate that mystery and everything else in its light, for it is now apparent that only by faith in this truth is belief in nature and reason and even truth itself still possible. Or we can turn away. This is Christian freedom. And therein lies the freedom of the Church, which is neither the sum total of the freedom of individuals, nor a gift from the state, but belongs to the very nature of the Church as the sacrament of Christ and the sign of God’s universal intention for the humanity. Let us then turn toward the One for whom the world has no use, not only for our own sake and for the coming time of trial, but for the sake of the world. For if freedom from an inhuman technocratic fate depends upon our ability to glimpse a transcendent horizon beyond its immanent necessities, then the renewal of Christian freedom is the key to the future of human freedom as such.” 2