The truth is not in us

There will be few readers who have not heard the story of the Jesuit and the Benedictine who agreed to ask their superiors if they could smoke while praying their Office. The Benedictine asked if he could smoke while he prayed, and got a flea in the ear. The Jesuit asked if he could pray while he smoked, and got congratulations for his piety. But do we often think about the significance of the story?

What it reminds us is that we do not think in a vacuum because our answers are influenced by what is already in our mind – or in the case of this story what someone has put into our mind. We do not make our decisions from scratch but by comparison. A recent Horizon programme on illusions illustrated how our five senses convey what we expect to happen rather than what actually happens. It’s an essential shortcut in our brains.

J Pierpont Morgan, the great financier, once said “A man generally has two reasons for doing a thing. One that sounds good, and a real one.” It seemed cynical until, in a few dangerous moments of honesty, I realised how often it happened to me. It runs from the trivial “I’m sorry but I just can’t make it that day” instead of “I don’t want to come because your conversation bores me.” to the more serious: “I’m a bit short this month so I can’t lend it to you” instead of “I don’t trust you to pay me back.”

When did you learn to smile? Perhaps it was originally instinctive, or imitated from an adult, but you quickly learnt that a smiling baby got more approval and attention. Today you will often smile, not because you’re happy, but because your brain knows it will create a better atmosphere, and make your requests more acceptable. No doubt you learnt ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ at your mother’s knee, but how often does your ‘please’ consciously mean ‘if you please’?

Of course you never tell a lie – unless it comes into your private list of white lies. These are naturally well motivated, and often necessary to avoid giving information to the wrong person. Unfortunately the Catechism disagrees: you may never tell a lie of any kind since it breaches God’s purpose for communication. However, you can use ‘discreet language’ in certain cases. I think this simply means that you may deceive – providing you avoid an actual lie. The result would appear to be much the same. Deriving natural law from human structures and so creating absolutes is a dangerous game.

We all have an armoury of deceit which we use almost unconsciously in order to influence the understanding of others. But how about the attitudes we import from others? Perhaps the broadest source is the effect of culture on our conclusions. We don’t have to be very old to recall how much our culture has changed. This is summed up for me by the chief prosecutor’s question at the “Lady Chatterley” trial (1960) He asked the jury if it were the kind of book “you would wish your wife or servants to read”. The question was a generation out of date even then, and the broad changes of attitude towards sexual practices over 50 years are manifest. I talk with my adult grandchildren about this, and they do not appear to understand my drift.

Economic attitudes have changed a great deal during my life. Until recently international trade was all the fashion, but it is beginning to be realised that the effect of high international debt, and the dangers to the lower swathes of society who cannot compete in modern methods, need to be questioned. And this influences our political attitudes, as we are only too aware today. Among Catholics, I speak of Western countries, there are those who claim faithful orthodoxy and those who claim to be progressive. We may protect ourselves from questioning our position by picking our friends from those of a like mind.
The whole advertising industry is centred on ensuring that people make the desired choice. While there are regulations to give protection they cannot neutralise the skills which persuade. So go the supermarkets. So go the politicians. The truth is not in them. Nor indeed in us, as we continue to be influenced in ways we do not suspect.

Unfortunately we are born with poor defences. Our brains have developed to speed our thinking through referring to existing patterns of experience, whether recent or remote – and making their comparisons. Evolution has taught us that survival is secured by conformity with our immediate groups and cultures. We are programmed to react speedily and instinctively to perceived danger or loss. Finding the truth is an uphill battle, but we must be ready to slog it out.

About Quentin

Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Catholic Herald columns, Church and Society, Moral judgment, Neuroscience. Bookmark the permalink.

59 Responses to The truth is not in us

  1. G.D. says:

    Thank you Quentin, a chance to air my ‘soapbox’ ……….. You sight all good reasons for ‘clearing’ our minds of conditioning from various sources. And Silent meditation is the way to do that. ‘Awareness’ of what is real then has a chance to surface and we are able to ‘see’ through our deceptions. And try to live (compassionately of course) in ‘truth’.
    At least to be aware of when we don’t and go to confession!

    • tim says:

      “What is truth?” (said jesting Pilate…).

      “I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth!” (oath for witness in Court). Not sure this would bind my conscience, if called upon to testify. Telling the whole truth is impossible – particularly in Court, where you are allowed to answer only the questions put to you.

      But is it always wrong to give an answer that has the effect of deceiving? If I’m asked a question (“Nonne”) to which the questioner expects the answer Yes but the true answer would be No, do I do wrong by just grinning? Or take Our Lord’s question: “Why callest thou me good? There is none good but God”. A learned Jewish rabbi has taken this as a denial of His divinity – and wasn’t that how Our Lord expected most of his hearers to understand it?

  2. St.Joseph says:

    I remember many years ago when my mother was ill and we went to London to visit her before she moved to live near my family.
    So in those days there was no Saturday evening Mass, so we left early in the morning to see her.
    My father used to ask my son who was five at the time, ‘Did you go to Mass , there was one at 8am, so it was difficult to go at that time, so he would answer ‘yes granddad’, and then mutter under his breath ‘last Thursday’ as we used to go on a Thursday evening .
    I don’t think his intention was to ‘lie’ but to save a lot of aggro from my father. But Sunday was Sunday didn’t matter how difficult it was. which was so unnecessary. knowing that my mother was ill and most times in hospital. My daughter reminded me of that years ago. He was an ex soldier in the Desert Rats and Duty was Duty.

    • tim says:

      Nice example, St Joseph – very real situation. Too often we get the question of what to say to the Gestapo, when they burst in looking for Jews. That’s fortunately remote from the experience of most of us.

  3. galerimo says:

    Thank you Quentin, I missed your work last week and was hoping you might be taking a break for yourself.

    I enjoyed your blog today, thoroughly. What good insight you have into our human behaviour. You remind me of a skilful surgeon the way you can find a good entry point and peel back the layers and layers of experience to get to the core and the gold.

    In this piece I think the title says a lot. It immediately raises the question for me “well if it is not in us where is it then,”? and the words of Jesus answer.

    Looking at Him there is no doubt in my mind of his religious devotion and adherence to the Jewish religion of his time. But He moved in broader and challenging circles and engaged with very counter cultural streams and not always easily. He looks to me like really engaging with the wise and the foolish, the centre and the extreme right and the extreme left. And all the time listening and paying attention and within that environment finding a meaningful way for truth.

    Maybe I should practice my religion while looking to the fringe elements everywhere for company like that and engage in a listening and respectful way. Learning truth.

    His way of doing truth by contrast with the way described in the blog is very compelling.

    But in the end maybe I will just go to mass on Sundays and sing along from the same hymn sheet as everybody else.

    • G.D. says:

      Thank you for that post. Especially ‘And all the time listening and paying attention and within that environment finding a meaningful way for truth. …. His way of doing truth by contrast with the way described in the blog is very compelling.’

  4. John Thomas says:

    “Evolution has taught us that survival is secured by conformity with our immediate groups and cultures. We are programmed to react speedily … ” – as Christians (assuming we believe evolution was God’s plan, and was directed by God) do we assume that these things, which Quentin refers to here, are “good” things, which God intended, or are they “bad” things, consequences – like so much else – of The Fall? Just wondered …

  5. John Nolan says:

    Quentin, thank you for a very perceptive and thought-provoking article. I actually believe that what the Catechism says is wrong; one is only obliged to tell the truth to someone who is entitled to be told it. To lie to a robber as to where your gold is hidden is not sinful (in modern terms this would mean giving him the wrong PIN to your account).

    If someone is on the point of committing suicide, telling him the truth might tip him over the edge. If telling him a lie prevents his doing so, the lie is morally justified. If accused in court of an offence which one knows one has committed, it is not perjury to plead Not Guilty.

    Diplomacy is often served by being economical with the truth. If everybody revealed his true intentions, warfare might be more difficult to avert.

    • Quentin says:

      John, my remark was based on the amendments which were published in the revised 1997 edition of the Catechism. The new amendment supports 2485 in declaring that lying is evil “by its very nature”. And as we know from elsewhere it is claimed that there can be no exceptions to ‘structural’ natural law conclusions.

      From this listing of amendments:


      The second sentence of this paragraph presently reads:

      “To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead into error someone who has the right to know the truth.”

      This sentence will be modified to read:

      To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error.

      • St.Joseph says:

        if your best friend was having an affair with another woman and you, his wife asked you if you knew, would you say you don’t know. And Lie, to protect her,
        Would that be a sin?

      • Quentin says:

        St Joseph, my job is to describe, as well as I can, what the Church teaches. Why not put your question out for all to comment? Infallibility is not my strong point. (But you might need to describe more detail than you have already.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Missing the word knew.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Quentin ,thank you.
        I asked as I was in that situation, with a friend and I knew that it was happening and I did not agree to it but lied when I was asked.
        I never confessed it , perhaps I should now after 30 years.
        I think perhaps it would be more than a lie. but what I don’t know, perhaps someone else will know I thought it more of breaking a confidence.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Thinking about this now the answer would have been better to say, ‘Why would she be having an affair with a good husband like you.!
        Then it would be neither a lie or breaking a confidence,
        Thinking about it now again it was, actually 50 years ago.
        I expect if we search our conscience we will find something we could have done or said better without hurting anyone,

      • St.Joseph says:

        Quentin I have just read my post again and apologise for the mistake of putting you in, I do hope you understood what I meant , it was a mistake and I am so sorry. I meant to say you were asked .
        This is what happens when one does not check,

      • Quentin says:

        No problem, St Joseph

  6. John Nolan says:

    The amendment removes an important and well-established qualification for no apparent reason. The CCC is not in itself magisterial and the fact that someone altered a key passage does not invalidate the original, which many, myself included, regard as a more authentic expression of the Catholic position.

    • Quentin says:

      I happen to agree with you, but that doesn’t remove the fact that “The Church” deliberately corrected the text to reflect what it intended to teach. We can’t quote the Catechism when it suits us and dismiss it as not magisterial when we don’t. It’s not intended as a voluntary document.

      • John Nolan says:

        Quentin, Jeffrey Mirus on the Catholic Answers website has a good article on the subject. Certainly the teachings of St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas would tend towards the strict interpretation which the (modified) CCC seems to have plumped for. However, the Jesuits, on the front line in the 16th century, had a more nuanced interpretation and moral theologians are still divided on the issue. If a group of men intent on murder knock on your door and ask if their victim is inside, then to refuse to answer would confirm their suspicion; to deceive them would avert a far more serious evil.

        There is no definitive Magisterial pronouncement on the issue, and to suggest that the CCC has the final answer to what is a very complex question is to give that document more authority than it deserves or for that matter claims for itself. The omission of the (admittedly crucial) six words simply leaves the question open.

        By the way, CCC 2483 has not yet been amended in the English translation on the Vatican website. Make of that what you will.

  7. Quentin says:

    Yes, I agree with all that you say here. I hope that my doubts about the Catechism position were indicated by my addition: “Deriving natural law from human structures and so creating absolutes is a dangerous game.”

    The issue has of course played a big part in Catholic history. It was Kingsley’s comment on the Church’s attitude to lying which led eventually to Newman’s Apologia pro Vita Sua.

  8. Brendan says:

    Quentin- I like your article in this weeks Catholic Herald on which this blog is based. ” Deriving natural law from human structures ..etc ” ; the deep controversy over CCC.2483 ; our natural propensity to ‘ strain at a gnat ‘ over the seemingly simplest of propositions ….gainsays our human ability ever to get at the truth of anything. Indeed….” truth [ unaided ] eludes our wonky brains .”
    I can’t speak of Aquinas or Augustine in the terms of evidence that you or John Nolan speak – I’m not that learned – but the ” comparisons ” that I use in relation to knowledge of the Faith , direct me towards insights which can lead me to the ‘ truth ‘ , if not perhaps the complete package.
    To this end I refer as some evidence ( briefly mentioned in this weeks Catholic Herald ) to a ” landmark ” speech by Emeritus Pope Benedict speaking then as Pope ( given in relation to Luther and The Reformation ) … ” identifying two elements of the former friar’s legacy worth preserving .” ( Editor ,Luke Coppen ) These being … ” How do I receive the grace of God ?” and the second , his .. ” thoroughly Christo-centric spirituality .” ( Pope Benedict xvi )
    So what am I getting at if anything , in this seeming ‘ revelation ‘ in Faith that I am trying to impart ? Simply that what Benedict is alluding to ( particularly apropos in the field of ecumenism but to be be found in our every waking and possibly non-waking moment ?) in encountering God ( Christ ) , is the state of our receptive self when using that grace-filled moment . This is crucial it seems to applying an antidote to this ” wonky brain ” perennialness which dogs humankind. To my mind then it is tantalising to think that had Luther ( bearing in mind the notion that many scholars believe that he did not really intend at first , the complete rupture in The Catholic Church that followed ) and The Church at the time been in complete ‘ sink ‘ with each other given the centrality and truth that grace imparts to those ‘ open ‘ to receiving it correctly ( as God Intended ) ; then complete rupture could well have been avoided. The sad story of human relations in light of its sinfulness !
    ” How we receive grace ?” , a big complex issue … that appears to me to be the key to ‘ straightening ‘ our brains ( whatever evolutionary forces have or are at work here ) on our path to holiness and our eternal resting place in Gods Kingdom ( present here and among the saints in Eternity )

  9. John Nolan says:

    St Joseph

    In response to your question, about thirty-five years ago a brother officer who was a serial adulterer put me in an awkward position. We were attending a two-day course near where I lived. He intended to spend the night with his mistress who lived about fifty miles away but had told his wife he would be staying at my house, and had given her my telephone number in case she needed to contact him. (No mobiles in those days!) He then gave me the mistress’s number with the instruction that should his wife ring I was to say he had just nipped out for petrol but would ring her back when he returned; meanwhile I was to call him on the mistress’s number. By the way, he was also deceiving her in that she didn’t know he was married.

    He didn’t ask me beforehand; he just assumed I would cover up for him, and not only was I to be complicit in his adultery, I was expected to lie to his wife. I resolved that should she ring, my only morally acceptable course of action would have been to say ‘He’s not here, but you can get him on this number’ and give her the mistress’s number.

    Fortunately she didn’t ring.

  10. Geordie says:

    I was taught at school that we were not obliged to tell the truth to someone who has no right to know. At the time, it seemed reasonable to me. However, I think this instruction is seriously abused by all sorts of people. We can all say that someone has no right to know. The hierarchy do it all the time. The claim that they are protecting the Church from scandal. We all know now how much damaged this attitude has caused. It is used not only to cover up abuse scandals but they use it to cover up all kinds of financial misdemeanours. Just try to get some facts about money, out of the Vatican. Try to find out how much cash the dioceses of England and Wales are sitting on. “You’ve no right to know even if it is your money.”

  11. Quentin says:

    While we have usefully discussed the Church’s view on lying, and the possible circumstances where we think it may not absolutely apply, the fundamental importance of truth remains. We were created as social animals and society cannot operate unless we put the highest value on speaking the truth..

    We have plenty of current examples of where trust has broken down through ignoring this. We are wary of politicians for this reason — and that means we are wary of the honest ones as well as the dishonest. Then think of Trump and Clinton. Then think of international statements of all kinds — remember the Middle East, Instead of being able to assume that people tell the truth, we assume that they don’t. That damage warns us of the importance of the Church’s teaching.

  12. John Nolan says:

    Geordie, you make a very good point. Although anyone who has served in the military knows and accepts the ‘need to know’ principle, the ‘right to know’ is certainly applicable when it is a case of public money. Walpole in the 18th century had a ‘secret service’ fund the use of which was regarded by many in parliament as being unconstitutional; Bismarck in the 19th had his ‘Welfenfonds’ otherwise known as the ‘Reptilienfonds’.

    What we now call ‘transparency’ was in Victorian times almost a principle; now we are told that the names of individuals cannot be revealed ‘for legal reasons’, although they have committed heinous crimes, and we have the strictest defamation laws in the Western world, which unscrupulous people gleefully take advantage of. Governments obfuscate, prevaricate and lie to the electorate since they are dependent on the electorate for their power and position and so the less it is told, the better.

    Cynical? You bet.

    • St.Joseph says:

      When Bishops and priests withhold the Truth in homilies, parishioners will be lacking the knowledge of Church teaching, not every Catholic reads the CCC.
      I suppose if they teach the name of sins , they fear that people will leave the Church.
      There are no longer queues for Confession like there used to be. At least not what I have seen.
      I suppose only mortal sins need to be confessed now. But as Catholics we are good living people and I suppose we don’t sin like years ago we can judge ourselves according to our conscience , we can make any thing venial sin if we want to. We say the Confiteor at Mass every time we go. It is not seemingly correct to keep going to confess the same sin
      over and over again and again.

  13. Brendan says:

    Following on from what you’re saying St.Joseph; a word fell into my ‘ radar ‘ this weekend……….’ truthiness ‘. In all aspects of daily life now – cultural, political , social, spiritual – the West ( We ) seems content to settle for half/part-baked truth rather than the whole truth. The irony is in the ‘ East ‘ the truth is in stark reality born out of brutal truths. And still the West seems powerless to react in light of truth…. certainly because of this very failing in itself. Why be surprised/ dismayed at our politicians/leading business figures reaction to Britain voting Brexit ? If you don’t like the truth , ignore it or change it to another ‘truth.’ Are the ‘ movers ‘ and ‘ shakers ‘ in our Country not facing up to the failures and flaws in our ‘ system ‘ and scapegoating through the use of ‘ truthiness ‘ ? After all one mans ‘ truth ‘ is another mans ‘lie ‘…. whose to decide anyway? This ‘ wonky-brain effect ‘ of course as we know has gone ‘ viral ‘ , and over the pond the same carbon -copy scenario is being repeated.
    This is broad-brush stuff ( although I see many of us are fighting again’st this trend in our own ways … big and small ) but it is still redolent in daily life , particular where it most hurts and can have painful negative ( sometimes unforeseen ) effects on the well-being of society….and i found mostly in the media and politics.
    I am pleased to say St.Joseph that our parish community is bucking the trend. Why ? Because ……low and behold … our pastor has returned us ( over a ‘ program ‘ in the last four years or so ) to – I can only call it – the practice of ‘ real Catholicism ‘ …. not legal but spirit-filled . As reported by our parish priest ( with his eminently capable assistant ) ; confessions are greatly up , sodalities are thriving for all ages , relief and immediate help for poor sick and needy persons are a common feature , mass attendance … well its exploding ! During this final end of the Year of Mercy . people are coming back to the Church , and to the Sacraments. This of course like all great venture has gone on quietly , untrumpeted ( there’s a pun there somewhere ? ), under the ever watchful eye of the Almighty.
    In short , this is not the result of truthiness. This is the result of the whole truth ( The Way ,The Truth and The Life) and ones hope is that ‘ this ‘ will go viral and replace the sterile Western model that is taking us nowhere at present.

  14. Brendan says:

    Just as an aside St.Joseph ; I regard frequent Confession now ( The Sacrament of Reconciliation ) – and I’m feel sure you as an strong-minded thinking Catholic also when thinking about it – as a long-term process of ‘healing ‘ . It must be said in the ‘ psychological ‘ sense. So the repeated sin process of revealing ( ad nauseam as it may seem ) is part of this process. I see it as not obscuring ( in a secular / materialist sense ) the fundamental supernatural grace of reconciliation with God ( and in a mystical/real sense because we are united in our common humanity with the community of believers ) but gradually eradicating the psychological/emotional barriers that are the root cause of sinfullness/separation from our true being -in -Christ. If done in the right spirit and under a good Confessor , then the danger of over-scrupulousness should not over-shadow the healing effect of the Sacrament.I personally have found this process illuminated to me in my own parish.
    I regret deeply ( given my own situation past and present ) that The Church does not emphasise this element in our lives , given how ‘ disturbed ‘ our world has become in many areas.’ Healing services ‘ are not enough of themselves. Deep hurt/flaws in oneself – ‘ baggage ‘ if you like – can only be eradicated by opening up to God in the Sacrament in this way through recognition by the Body of Christ ( the Worshiping Community ) to which we are indelibly joined.
    We must get away from the mistaken notion that this ‘ kind ‘ of practical Catholicism/Christianity is just for monks or nuns or even , dare I say….’ odd ‘ people in our parishes .
    How much of this is obscured from view by our Bishops and priests not speaking out !

    • St.Joseph says:

      That is very true, The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a wonderful power of Grace.
      I am pleased to know that my youngest grandson 13 at his school it is important to them,
      I have found what you say important to myself too over the last nearly 70years.Or I probably would have done and have failed to do., Only for the Grace of God.
      My son when he was small now 52-he used to write them down on a piece of paper and take it in with him, and he was told not to do that anymore as it was not appropriate as his sins ‘should be told automatically’!!!! That would have been enough to put him off.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Just to say as you will probably know, Satan is always there to tempt us especially as we become closer to The Lord , he will be there like in blink of an eye. I know this for sure.
        I have worn my brown Scapular enrolled at 7 and a member of the Third Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and gold crucifix for years and he is still there’ dancing in front of my eyes’.
        No I am not going ‘mad’ just being realistic.

  15. G.D. says:

    St. J. One of my favourite set prayers …
    ‘Our Lady of Mt. Carmel cover us with the mantel of your special protection.
    Strengthen my weakness with your power,
    enlighten the darkness of my mind with your wisdom.
    Increase in me Faith Hope and Charity.
    Adorn my soul with the graces and blessings
    that will be pleasing to your Divine Son
    Our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ.

  16. G.D. says:

    Getting back on topic ……….. (CCC2489) “Charity and respect for the truth should dictate the response to every request for information or communication”
    The wording of 2483 makes no difference. There would have to be many changes in the CCC to make it so.
    The devil is in the detail. The truth is simple.

    If i say ‘no the person is not here’ to someone who has been (by whatever means) ‘indoctrinated’ with the desire to kill another (ISIS / Nazi / any Fanatic or madman!) then i am being charitable, to both victim and would be murderer; also, respecting the truth that one should not kill…. is that a sin?
    A lie? Yes. But no sin against truth. And certainly not evil.

    Admittedly lesser ‘situations’ are not as clear.
    If someone asks me if i like a poem or picture they have produced – i tell them yes when i don’t i lie against truth …. to save face, to flatter, to endear myself et. … and sin.

    And, by all that is holy, most really don’t appreciate it when i don’t sin!!

  17. G.D. says:

    If i am lying to myself – for the reasons in Quentin’s post, and many others – as we all must do to some extent, then i have a serious duty to become aware of it, and correct it, by whatever means is available. And there are plenty.

    The search for ‘Charity and truth’ is always ongoing.

    Until i am aware of the (unconscious) ‘lie’ the ‘sin’ is of omission not of doing.

  18. St.Joseph says:

    A saying my mother used to say to my brothers and I when we were ‘as she said’ . ‘Don’t go beyond your self or above yourself .God will always take you down a peg or two’!
    I still don’t know what she meant by that whether it was something we said or did or what.
    I wonder if it was something spiritual she had in mind. Would we be kidding ourselves that we were better than God and know all’s . Has anyone heard that saying before.(My mother was Irish)

    • G.D. says:

      ‘Don’t get above yourself’ was my mother’s phrase. Pretty much the same thing i think.
      Do you think i am? Do believe all i said, but not too bothered about it being ‘wrong’.

    • St.Joseph says:

      No I don’t think you go above your self, only the people who forget wr they are.
      God’s children.

  19. Martha says:

    Is the truth in us? Objective truth seems to mean how something really is, from a completely unbiased standpoint, and subjective truth the way it is seen by a particular individual subject to all the influences Quentin has mentioned in his post. There seem to be many areas of life where it is the subjective truth which is most important, and by which God judges us, so that the objective truth becomes almost an abstract reference. The broad changes of attitude towards sexual practices over the last 50 years which he cites, for instance, are making this one of the biggest problems currently facing the Church in general, and its members in knowing how to cope with different situations that face them in their own families.

  20. ignatius says:

    I was once asked, by Chinese security police, to name all the people who had visited my flat a couple of days previously. I smiled my best smile and explained that, for us poor foreigners, Chinese names were so hard to remember and impossible to pronounce!!.

    But , though Brendan circumlocated the issue, no one has really attempted to answer the underlying consideration. Of course we humans are social animals and we operate as groups, tribes still, almost. Yet this aspect of human life should not hold us back from living in a spirit of truth…for the Spirit of truth lives in us, regardless of race or culture.

    For myself, most of my lies are what they are through laziness, cowardice or convenience, ninety nine percent of the lies I tell are simple expressions of selfishness, I tell them when I fear the consequences of telling the direct truth..or I tell them because ‘truth’ is not at stake; humouring my 91 year old father over small issues is not neccessarily a matter of truth or false hood but of simple placation. I think that being over scrupulous in these small things isn’t actually a preoccupation with the truth either, more likely to be an issue of pride and self aggrandisement.

  21. Brendan says:

    St.Joseph to G.D., 4.14pm.
    You are closer to your Irish roots than I am ; nevertheless I suspect that saying of your mother St.Joseph, sounds like a bit of ‘ home-spun ‘; reminiscent of common folk-Irish Catholic culture – a pithy put-down based on solid Scripture . I have in mind here echoing that well-known excerpt…..” The greatest among you must be your servant. Anyone who raises himself up will be humbled , anyone who humbles himself will be raised up. ” Matt.23:12 (NJB ).
    Now there’s a rare bit of truth for you now !

  22. Brendan says:

    I take your point Ignatius. My circumlocation was not entirely deliberate , but I felt necessary to try and get over the importance of the ‘ habit ‘ of telling the truth made concrete over time by frequent use of The Sacrament of Reconciliation. There are always hard cases a was said , in trying to fuse/reconcile ‘ natural law ‘ with ‘ natural human interaction ‘; and the examples you give perfectly make that point . But that should not stop one from seeking perfection in life through the taking up of the means to that perfection – supernatural grace. I agree about your comment on being ” over scrupulous ” the negativity of which would apply if one mentally approached it with the wrong state of mind, as you say…” pride and self-aggrandisement .” Where I disagree is in that this may not necessarily ‘ have to ‘ be the case .
    One can’t rule out here ( and something I maybe had in mind in my piece ) the possibility of a psychopathy/paranoia prevalent in the penitent in acting over scrupulously in confession. Some years ago , I believe I came across something of this ‘ condition ‘ in a friend ( a female parishioner ). I was a ‘ wellcomer ‘ in the porch of my parish for a few months, and every week she would wait with me at the door , seemingly in a stressed state so she would be the first to get our pastor to ‘ hear her confession ‘. Having had a conversation with her on the relevant things I could only put her situation down to one thing : a morbid, unnatural fear of remaining in her present state , whether sinful or not.
    Just as well Gods mercy know no bounds.

  23. St.Joseph says:

    Brendan well done thank you.
    Would that be similar to what Jesus said something like this, ‘ Once a slave remain a slave! Meaning all are equal in The Lords eye’s.

  24. Brendan says:

    The late John O’Donohue ( Irish poet, scholar, one time active Catholic priest ) exemplified this mixture of ..” mixture of myth, poetry, philosophy .. profound and moving .” and the spiritual heritage of Ireland .. from the dim and distant past to the present. This of course is uniquely ‘ Celtic ‘ .One of his best sellers is ” Anam Cara ” ( ‘ Soul Friend ‘ in Gaelic ).
    I am conscious that his thinking could be confused/linked into ‘ New Age ‘ theosophy which of course is not compatible with Christian tradition.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Grandmother was a wonderful lady a war widow since 1916, a very holy Lady beautiful opera voice, sang all the Latin at Holy Mass, very much a hermit although lived in the middle street of a big holiday seaside town. Kept her self to herself and would not listen to gossip, she would say, she ‘shunned them’, but too proud she would not accept free coal from the British Legion being a War widow I remember sitting with my coat on once all evening One thing I learned not to be too proud to accept charity, when she died the whole town practically turned out to look and touch her coffin 1962.I She was Qtr Spanish and qtr French,
      I still miss her and look forward to seeing her again please God.
      She would sit all night telling old Irish stories .No TV or radio or computer or phones in those days..
      Perhaps this is what our young people are lacking in now as Quentin said regarding his grandchildren. We can teach them a lot if only they had the time to listen.
      My daughter understands that and made sure her children listened, as home is the starting place , ,

  25. Brendan says:

    St.Joseph -There is a profound truth in what you are saying, often numbingly passed over by our thoroughly technological age. Every generation must face the challenge of how to remain ‘ human ‘ in the face of so called ‘ progress ‘. Can the ‘ truth be in us ‘ if we deny the things which make us fully human ? Of course not. The reckless ‘ acceptance ‘ of nihilistic ideologies in the last century should tell us that much even to the most unreceptive of minds.
    The point for us today : is our over-dependence on technological problem solving applied to our everyday lives ( something of a soul-less mechanical preoccupation ) taking the place of the perception -that what makes us human is our deep ‘ spiritual ‘ connection to the natural world we live in , and the ability to live and solve ‘ problems ‘ in relation to that world ? ‘ Brave new World ‘?
    I see Christ as constantly ‘ re- calibrating ‘ in humanity in some supernatural/mystical way , after the erroneous ideologies that have wreaked havoc among the nations since His First Coming. Please God the inexhaustible graces arising from His death and Resurrection will suffice right up to His Second Coming.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Yes also based on that which Martha Nov 7th at 5.05 posted.

      • Brendan says:

        Yes, re; Martha’s piece ; how often in history has the baby ( objective truth ) in indecent/ blind haste been thrown out with the bath water ( subjective truth ) . One of the tragedies of human history …. ‘ wonky-brain effect ‘ ?

  26. Iona says:

    Brendan – “truthiness” has not come under my radar. Are you able to give me a definition?

    • Brendan says:

      Well Iona ; it is the appearance of having the ‘ ring ‘ of truth to the beholder , without having the ‘ substance ‘. It is ‘ipso facto ‘ an elaborate deceit. i’m sure we can all bring to mind examples of what I mean……starting with ourselves.

  27. Brendan says:

    One things for sure following ‘ anti-establishment ‘ results such as ‘ Brexit ‘ and ‘Trumpism ‘; the people certainly know how to replace one ‘ truth ‘ by another ‘truth ‘ – and that’s all that matters in the liberal democratic process. Old truths that have ‘ failed ‘ have to be faced up to by us all …or we die. No one knows what our rejuvenated/ change of politics in the West will mean….. but that’s the beauty of the challenge facing us all . I hope its ( our ) ‘ faith ‘ will shape the direction of that change.
    Just a few thoughts on a momentous occasion.

    • St.Joseph says:

      The Lord works in strange and wonderful ways!

    • St.Joseph says:

      We can lie and deceive our selves and lie and deceive others, but we will never be able to lie or deceive God, He knows the deepest heart mind and soul of man .He knows what we are going to do before we even do it, It will be interesting to see if the new President
      keeps his word.

      • Brendan says:

        Well , St.Joseph- Donald Trump is very much an ‘ outsider ‘ politically. He may be under the ‘ Republican ‘ banner ; but I think the unknown/ untarnished in the political sense is his greatest asset…… keeps their interest in guessing . Pope Francis knows a thing or two about that ! It is remarkable how much of his ‘ unsavoury ‘ personal life has been played down/ ingnored by the American electorate . As in ‘ brexit ‘ , change has proved a powerful engine in the minds of the people … no matter what ! First he has to make friends with his own party consolidating in common ‘ truths ‘. If actions fit the rhetoric , then his control of The Supreme Court nominations well into the future ( The Judges ) could be a plus for the pro-life movement and the more ‘ conservative ‘ Christian America ; rolling back the Obama administrations deficiencies in this area.
        Personally I am delighted when Americans naturally bring ‘ God ‘ into everyday common conversation- particularly when answering media approach. They ‘ do God ‘ sometimes almost with child-like abandon. Most refreshing !

    • G.D. says:

      I think J.H. Newman summed it up ……
      “…… The notions of {225} better men about an overruling Providence, and the Divine will, designs, appointments, works, judgements, they treat with scorn, as irrational; especially if (as will often be the case) these notions are conveyed in incorrect language, with some accidental confusion or intellectual weakness of expression.”

      A perfect description for the attitudes of the (so called) leaders of our times.

  28. G.D. says:

    Thank God objective truth can never really be thrown out. It can be ignored, refused and perceived in a distorted manner – as we all do in many ways – but truth is a sort of ‘perception of the reality of creation’ given by God, who holds all of it in being.
    When we are ‘Surprised by Joy’ as C.S. Lewis(?) put it, we see it and know it.
    Alas, mostly seen from our distorted perceptions (the fall and all those ways we lie to ourselves and others ) we miss it.

    We must (re-)learn to ‘see’ without the distortions (duality) and ‘see’ as …… The Spirit of Truth intended …. . We must make our own ‘judgements’ ‘rationalisations’ ‘ways of being’ SECONDARY to the inspirations of that Spirit.
    To know those inspirations of truth we must form a habit of ‘deep listening’; from a place of stillness and silence within ourselves (without our own perceptions / thoughts / imaginings getting in the way) we can.

    That’s the ‘contemplative’ way of ‘seeing’. We loose nothing by doing so, all our faculties are still functioning, and are still used. But, forming a habit of ‘contemplative listening’ they are (over a life time and some!) just not the ‘top dogs’ in control all the time. Hopefully, eventually, not at all!

    Once acknowledged objective truth can become subjective truth for us.
    If we ‘will’ to accept it, and conversely, also let it go.
    A truth that recognises itself in the other.
    A truth that creates unity in diversity.

    So we grow subjectively more in the image of the objective God (Christ Jesus for us Christians) as we recognise the likeness of God (Truth) within creation, and in ourselves.

    (I Know i used ‘we must’ a fair bit there – but still i only conjecture not assert. Just a bit passionate about it is all!).

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