THE QWEST FOR TRUTH
by Alan Burns
IN the following the author's aim is to point out some of the cardinal principles which should guide and govern the seeker after truth, as well as point out some of those obstacles which hinder the success of that greatest of all pursuits. He will use freely the ever-quotable thoughts and sayings of one of the most logical reasoners of a past generation, Canon Whateley of Dublin. To avoid useless repetition he will not always employ the exact words, or phraseology, of this great thinker, nor will he always employ quotation marks to designate what particular portions of this article belong to him. If there be any glory, be it little or much, it all belongs to God. Names are nothing. To the God of all truth be all the praise.
To seek pleasant beliefs, or comfortable convictions, is not the attitude or object of a seeker after truth. To seek for a ratification of past beliefs, and evidence to buttress a former tradition is not a search after truth. Such quests may indicate a diseased rather than a healthy attitude of the mind. To seek for novelty, as well as seeking to avoid novelty is no more, nor less, to be condemned than the search for that which is traditional, or for that which is not. "The question `What is true?' should stand on the threshold of every religious enquiry."
"If the question `What is true?' be asked only in the second place, it is likely to receive a very different answer from what it would, if it had been asked in the first place."
Had this been the prime question in the case of each new believer in Christ during the past centuries, much of the trash and refuse which takes the place, though it does not possess the properties, of truth would have been dispensed with. Had it been perpetually asked, the creeds would not so forcibly suggest those old attics which so many households possess, in which the worn-out clothing of other years is stored away.
And now the unthinking reader may be shocked when we say that we are not morally qualified to study Christianity in any, or all, of its parts, unless we are willing to discard it, in all or part, should we find it inconsistent with truth. We do not "believe" in anything that we force ourselves to assent to. Belief flows naturally from adequate evidence, and where the latter is wanting the former can never exist.
No one has the truth who merely happens into its possession through the accident of birth. He really has it who fights for it, and possesses it who gains it through conquest.
The Christian faith made its appearance as the common disturber of the peace of the world, because it put an end to the tranquil influence of custom, authority, credulity, sentiment and imagination; forced upon men the disagreeable task of examining evidence, searching records, and proving all things; and arrayed in opposite opinion, children against their parents, subjects against their princes, and the people against the priests. If Christianity does not disturb us, it can only be from one of two causes, viz., either we are master-Christians, or else what we have is but the name and not the reality of that Christianity which turned the world upside down, and in doing so turned it right side up.
It has been said that "the poor, ignorant, uninstructed peasant who says `I believe my religion because I have been told so by those who are wiser than myself; my parents told me so, and the clergyman of the parish told me so,' comes nearest to the answer of the Gospel," the answer which Peter directs us to be ready to give to "every one that asketh a reason for the hope that is in us." And yet it is manifest that this answer could have been given, when the Gospel was first preached, by no Christian; but might be, and was, given by every one of his Pagan neighbors.
This is to represent the Apostles of Christ as saying to those of whom they would make converts, "Let every succeeding generation receive quietly the religion handed down by its fathers, but let this generation act otherwise. Take up novelty for this once to oblige us, and ever after adhere to antiquity."
Those early Christians, as well as those who are converted from heathenism today, had to win the truth. Great convictions are not born apart from intense travail of mind and soul. It is in the burning furnace of raging conflict that the purest gold of Christian truth is found.
He who professes adherence to the national religion of England, on the ground that it is "the religion of his fathers," forgets that, on this principle, the worship of Thor and Woden would claim precedence. If our Presbyterianism, Lutheranism or Methodism rests on the basis of truth we are on par with the Ju-Ju worshipper of darkest Africa, the Maori of New Zealand, or the Terra-del-Fuegian so far as reasons for our beliefs are concerned.
The deadliest of all heresies is that of Indifference. Indeed, men miss truth more often from their indifference about it than from intellectual incapacity. Indifference is a fault of the heart, a stagnation of emotional interest. Not that there is such a thing as absolute indifference. Laodicea was indifferent—but only to truth. "Because thou sayest I am rich, and increased with goods" points to a state of material wealth to which its owners were the opposite of indifferent. Apostasy concerning truth is the heresy of today.
This is not to say that any man does not wish to have truth on his side. All men wish that. But wishing to have truth on our side is far different to being willing to be on the side of truth. The one class think more of themselves than they do of truth; the other think more of truth than they do of themselves.
"Men first make up their minds—and the smaller the mind the sooner made up—and then seek for reasons, and if they chance to stumble upon a good reason, of course they do not reject it. But though they are right, they are right only by chance." The truth-seeker will not be so anxious to make up his mind, as he will be to open it. He will be jealous of the very reasons he favors, and suspicious of himself for favoring them.
A creedal belief may be nothing more than the embalming fluid of a decayed mentality. If we would not be indifferent to truth we must not be indifferent to its enemies.
"According to the proverb, which Lord Bacon has somewhere alluded to, `Nettle roots sting not,' the first entrance of some false principle is generally in reference to something in itself either harmless or unimportant. To be blind to the unsoundness of a principle till it produce actually all the ill effects that it can consistently lead to, is not to perceive which way the wind is blowing unless it blows a perfect gale....When the wooden horse has been introduced, it is found to contain armed men concealed within it." The wooden horse has done fearful damage within the walls of Christian faith. The numerous assumptions which from time to time have been unwittingly accepted by the thinkers of the church, have all come in under the protection of the Trojan horse, and fathered a brood of errors too numerous to number. Creation-out-of-nothing, endless ages, immortal soul, and other errors which we are still unaware of, are all fruits of indifference to the proper safeguarding of the premises of Christian thought.
"Men speak often of overexactness—of attending to minute and subtle distinctions; while these minute distinctions are exactly those which call for careful attention in all who would escape or detect error. It is for want of attention to minute points, that houses are robbed and set on fire. Burglars do not, in general, come and batter down the front door; but climb in at some window whose fastenings have been neglected; and an incendiary does not kindle a tar-barrel in the middle of the room, but a match in a heap of shavings."
"What is truth?" asked Pilate, and perhaps, as some read it, the tone in which be uttered the words was one of contempt. "What is truth compared with gold?" asks one. "What is truth compared with power?" enquires another. To such the key-words, the master- thoughts of the Christian faith, suggest nothing more than burnt- out embers from the fire of bygone controversy.
"What is truth?" The twentieth century's answer to it, in press and politics, in literature and religion, reveals it as being ripe for God's sure judgment on the heresy of human indifference.
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