A friend of mine helpfully outlined for me today the difference between real love of Truth and idolatrous commitment to mere ideology. I’m not quoting him directly in what follows, but adapting his basic points and adding a few of my own.
As a general rule, real lovers of Truth feel threatened neither by error nor its advocates. Real love of Truth has very different results on one’s psyche than an immature total investment of one’s person in a systematic Total Program of Grand Ideas which one unqualifiedly equates with Truth. Rather than encouraging incessant ramped-up polemics about the grotesque errors of others and the surpassing virtues of one’s own view, real love of Truth instead makes one more peaceful, more responsibly confident, and more able to seek sympathetic understanding of the Other. Real love of truth promotes more understanding of error and more facility in seeking its remedy.
I’ve never thought about it in quite this way, but I have to say in light of my friend’s statement that it pretty well describes the course of my intellectual life for the last few years. As I’ve become more aware of my own limitations to grasp Truth, I’ve experienced a progressive lessening of anxiety when I encounter other positions that my first instinct is to consider erroneous. I’ve become progressively less interested in controversy and debates, because such are usually fruitless ego contests between angst-ridden absolutists whose equal and opposite immoderacies simply cancel each other out. I’ve become more interested in trying to see the good in the Other and in seeking plausible avenues of reconciliation with its adherents. I’ve become less willing to dogmatize about even things which I strongly consider true, and more willing to listen to constructive critique of them. I’ve become more aware that like all viatores, all travelers through this veil of tears-in-process-of-redemption, I see through a glass darkly, and only later will I see face-to-face.
This basic peace of mind born of not thinking too highly of one’s own grasp of Truth does not necessarily exclude becoming frustrated, perhaps deeply so, with immoderate people who confuse their “Total Identity” immaturity with pristine love of Truth. This is especially the case when they make it very difficult to reason with them because as their “Total Identity” perspective comes under fire they retreat to playing the martyr or other forms of simply denying you the right to critique them with as much vigor as they’ve been critiquing you. It’s interesting how deeply insecure the most ostensibly confident people actually are. Nor is this basic peace of mind a “once for all” event that makes sure I’ll never again experience any anxiety upon encountering some strong assault on my basic views. There are always deeply personal, subjective factors in seeking Truth, and personal, subjective factors in dealings with other persons. I’ll always see the world through my own eyeballs, but I’ll never learn to see everything through them. The best of men are men at best. I can’t see my own blindspots–which is why I need significant communion with other real Truth seekers.
My friend’s reminder about the difference between real love of Truth and an immature total personal investment in Total Ideology comes at a timely moment for me. I hope it helps others, as well.