Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Truth Dilemma

This past Sunday I heard a very wise sermon. One particular sentence stood out and I've been mulling it over ever since.

"I know more now than I have ever known, but far, far less than there is to know."

He was making a point about the nature of truth, the fact that knowledge is progressive, that each succeeding generation learns more about the world than the generation it replaced and that it will always be thus. But no matter how much we know, what there is left to learn is inexhaustible. I probably would have said it less elegantly...I'm smarter than I've ever been, but far dumber than I should be.

The part of this that has me perplexed is, what has been the net effect of all of this accumulated knowledge? In the hard sciences, medicine, engineering, physics, yes...we know so much more than any preceding generation. The advancements in science and technology have made life infinitely easier to live. Each generation labors less, each has more free time, each lives longer. And yet...

We still hate each other, envy each other's success, covet each other's stuff. We are still selfish, spiteful, arrogant and proud. Despite a million calls to peace, we still prefer war. The call to do unto others as you would have them do unto you is two thousand years old, yet most of us stubbornly pursue our own self interest first, last and always.

In economics there is a school of thought that says that the solution to too much debt is to grow your way out of it. For humanity the hope has been that we could learn our way out of conflict. To a degree it has worked. Kids today don't carry the virulent strains of racial hatred that kids did a hundred and fifty years ago. We don't burn heretics at the stake any longer...well, most societies don't at least. But any fair minded examination of our world must concede that human beings today are plagued by the same social pathologies that have always plagued us. It's as if we are cursed, stained somehow, flawed beyond the power of self-help regimes, damaged beyond the capabilities of psychoanalysis. We all long for some transcendent truth to bring meaning and purpose, but bristle at the possibility that transcendent truth might make demands on us. Don't be bringing your Ten Commandments down here Moses, who is God that he should tell us how to live??

So, we're stuck. As long as we pridefully reject any truth claim that requires any accommodation on our part, we continue to drift along perplexed as to how a world which knows so much more than has ever been known still can't stop killing each other.