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Passionate, Eccentric, Foolish

July 31, 2017

One wished to arrive at answers that could stand up to every scrutiny because one would have to live out those conclusions. They would have to become actions and would have to become the substance of one’s life. Eric Metaxas—Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

It is a serious business given to man to be searching for truth and find ways to live by it. As abstract as ‘searching for the truth’ might sound, it is a desire built into the fabric of our humanness. We cannot shake it off, nor can we ignore it, but we all live according to a certain ‘level of truth’ we have arrived to. And whether we have acquired the skill to articulate our ideas or not, our choices are largely determined by what we have considered to be the truth.

Not to seem too simplistic, it is true that when it comes to actions and decisions, so many variables come into play (emotions, desires …) but mainly, the metanarratives that we adopt—which place us into a story with a role in it—are what largely influences us. We all subscribe (consciously or not) to ideas and philosophies about things; some more important than others; but the point stands clear: we all have our subjective account of things.

However, history has taught us that ideas can be dangerous. If we have a collective adherence to bad philosophies, the repercussions can be massive; even fatal. Some of the deadliest times of our history have been results of a spread of infectious and poisonous heresies in communities and this tells us something very important for our purpose: Truth—or claims of truth—sometimes demand passionate adherence to it.

Time and time again, we have seen what passion for lies looks like: It looks like blood on our hands, weight on humanity’s conscience and we must learn from our errors. It isn’t because we’re not susceptible to fall into the same traps, but we need, among other things, to call for more care, more inquisitiveness and an openness to scrutiny when our perspectives are challenged. Some things have massive impact on the society in a short time, but other issues are more subtle in the falsehood that they contain and take more time to cause anything built on them to crumble down like a house of cards.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, then University professor, deeply mistrusted the charismatic and charming qualities of leaders and teachers because he wanted ‘words and logic of what he said to be the only things to which the others responded’. He wanted a ‘serious exploration of questions’, a ‘pure, abstract theorizing, in the attempt to grasp a problem in its fullness’. Bonhoeffer opposed charisma because it obscures the shortcomings in one’s assertions and, most of the time, their lack of substance.

Charm and charisma and emotions; they all have their place (because we’re not only thinking beings) but they should never be substitutes of clarity and seriousness in the ideas being shared. Added to this, Bonhoeffer was not suggesting cold-hearted emotionally-unattached ivory-tower analysis of issues: his life as a strong opponent of Nazi theology during World War II (something he even died for) suggests the opposite. He worked under this assumption: Truth is serious—just as lies turn out to be—because truth has to be lived.

I recognize the fact that mere intellect also cannot by itself lead to the truth. Oh how frightful are the mazes of our philosophical acrobatics. Do not get me wrong, as a Christian, our creed never suggests such thing as “Reason alone”. But what I’m suggesting is that it is one’s responsibility to expose himself to what has happened in the past, to what has been taught, to what has been tested by time. We’re called to humility which shows itself by opening our views to scrutiny, as opposed to the arrogance which we all somehow have of ascribing infallibility to all our views about every matter. We believe in our limitations and inability, if left alone, to grasp the objective truth and so we’re called to search with all our hearts and also pray for light to shine and chase away the darkness of our ignorance and unwillingness to accept the truth.


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