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History Teaches Hope

September 14, 2018 Featured Today No Comments

By DONALD DeMARCO

“For the moment we are at the lowest point; human history today is in love with fear and absurdity, human reason with despair. The powers of illusion are spreading all over the world, throwing all compasses off direction…men are simply losing the sense of truth…they will believe nothing they are told, but will rely only upon savage experience and elementary instinct.”
This statement was a commentary not on the present moment, as it may seem to be, but on the world situation in 1952. Was Jacques Maritain being too harsh when he penned these words in The Range of Reason? Did his words reflect a loss of hope? Perhaps so. Things always seem worse than they are in the moment when they are isolated from the stream of history.
Nonetheless, Maritain’s contention that men are losing their sense of truth is consistent with Dietrich von Hildebrand’s lament concerning what he called “the dethronement of truth.” There is some legitimacy to what they are saying. Whether or not the problem is exaggerated, it nevertheless existed and caused a great deal of confusion.
In 1981 Alasdair MacIntyre echoed the sentiments of Maritain and von Hildebrand in his milestone work, After Virtue, when he declared that “we have — largely, if not entirely — lost our comprehension, both theoretical and practical, of morality.”
“The barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers,” he went on the state, “they have been governing for some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament.”
Despite all these pessimistic views, human society has continued and many stout souls have served the truth courageously and in many beneficial ways. The eclipse of truth has not been total, although it has been a serious cause for concern.
We continue in the present time to be troubled by a widespread rejection of truth. John McKellar founded HOPE in 1997. The acronym stands for Homosexuals Opposed to Pride Extremism. Mr. McKellar identified himself as homosexual in order to gain credibility for his criticisms of the reckless extremism of the LGBTQ consortium. Not all people who are homosexual by inclination think the same way. McKellar concluded a lengthy article he wrote in 2003 by announcing to his readers: “Ladies and gentlemen, the real affliction out there is not ‘homophobia,’ but rather, ‘truthphobia’.”
And he is right. “Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne,” wrote James Russell Lowell (The Present Crisis).
When truth is rejected, what takes its place? In the natural order of things, reason precedes will according to the old bromide, look before you act. We check the traffic to make sure it is clear before we walk across the street. We utilize our reason prior to engaging in any activity. The rejection of truth leaves us blind and places us in a perilous predicament. It is a preposterous inversion of the natural sequence of things. The truth is common to all and serves as a basis for a unified civilization. Without truth, the ground is removed and no one knows where to stand.
We should submit to the truth of things, not because we are weak or unimaginative, but because truth is our lifeboat, our only salvation from a life of chaos. The truth is not alien to us, but is grafted onto our being. When we submit to the truth, we find that we are affirming the truth of our own being. Following the truth is inseparable from becoming our authentic selves. The truth is our only ally that gives us the freedom to be truly ourselves. The truth allows us to stand on our own two feet rather than under someone else’s.
At the close of the American Civil War, it was difficult for the defeated South to find reasons for hope. General Robert E. Lee responded to this problem with eloquence and insight when he said:
“The march of Providence is so slow, and our desires so impatient; the work of progress is so immense and our means of aiding it so feeble; the life of humanity is so long, that of the individual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave and are thus discouraged. It is history that teaches us to hope.”
History liberates us from the moment and gives us a broad perspective. The popular saying, “This too will pass,” dates back, according to common belief, to ancient Persian Sufi poets. There was never a moment that lasted forever.
A difficult situation always seems more dire in the moment than it does in retrospect. God’s plan unfolds both slowly, mysteriously, and unpredictably. History is the great antidote to momentary despair. We should learn from history not to repeat its mistakes, but we should also learn that the moment passes, errors are rectified, and new leaders emerge. St. Thomas More has reminded us that “the times are never so bad that a good man can’t live in them.” And this good and saintly man certainly lived in difficult times. We do the best we can under less than happy circumstances.
Neither More, Maritain, MacIntyre, von Hildebrand, Lee, nor McKellar despaired. Nor were they naive. The individual person is capable of transcending his times. Despite the environment in which he lives and acts, he is still able to love, help others, and work to dispel the enveloping gloom.
“How far that little candle throws his beams!” wrote Shakespeare. “So shines a good deed in a naughty world” (Merchant of Venice, act V, scene 1, 90-1). We should never underestimate the good that we can do.
“When the evening of this life comes,” wrote St. John of the Cross, “you will be judged on love.” And it is reassuring to note that we will be judged by Love.
(Dr. Donald DeMarco is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University, and a columnist for St. Austin Review. His latest book is Apostles of the Culture of Life [TAN Books].)

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