Trashing the Truth

The great theologian Karl Barth once said that the faithful Christian should read both his Bible and the morning newspaper before breakfast. I took his advice this weekend and nearly lost my appetite. Roaring across the front page of the Washington Post were loud artillery salvos in the culture war. The burning question today is simply this: Is there anything that binds people, irrespective of their feelings or opinions? Here is how the headline stories answer. One story was about Judge Eugene Nickerson's decision that the Clinton administration's "don't ask, don't tell" policy concerning homosexuals in the military is unconstitutional. For Judge Nickerson, what mattered was the right of homosexuals to express themselves freely, not the needs of those charged with defending the country. He ignored the effect of open homosexuality on unit cohesion and morale. The decision reminds me that the principal fruit of the loss of truth is a commitment to unfettered autonomy. We have become a nation of 260 million very jealous supreme beings. Nothing outweighs our right to autonomy, not even the need to defend ourselves. In a second story the Post reminded me of the response that one who challenges such nonsense can expect. Senator Arlen Specter is running for president to save the Republican party from what he calls "the intolerant right." And just who are these dangerous folks? Specter says that they're people who would "pursue a radical social agenda . . . [who] would end a woman's right to choose and mandate school prayer." Note what Specter calls intolerant: It's our insistence that human "freedom" has limits. But note also the anger, the depth of hostility against those who insist that there is a set of binding moral truths. Our leaders' refusal to believe in binding moral truths won't make them go away. On the same page of my newspaper, next to Arlen Specter's diatribe and Judge Nickerson's decision, were the words of Pope John Paul II. The pope had just released his new encyclical, and it was a reminder that the Truth binds us, whether or not we choose to believe it. An immoral law is no law at all, he insisted, even if judges and senators approve. We can call abortion and euthanasia "choices," but that doesn't change the nature of what it is we're choosing. We fool no one but ourselves. And the price we pay for our refusal to acknowledge the Truth? Ironically, it's the freedom we prize so highly. The pope points out, "Democracies that permit abortion and euthanasia in the name of insuring freedom and human rights instead are destined for totalitarianism." He's absolutely right. What else do you call a state with the power of life and death? We can't escape the truth. Without it, there's nothing to ensure our freedom. What makes freedom possible, John Paul argues, are "those essential and innate moral values which express and safeguard the dignity of the person; values which no individual, no majority and no state can ever create, modify or destroy, but must only acknowledge, respect, and promote." Amen. The next time you hear the sound of our leaders firing artillery salvos in the culture wars, you and I ought to remind our neighbors that what's at stake is Truth itself . . . whether the Washington Post, Judge Nickerson, or Senator Arlen Specter realize it or not.


Chuck Colson


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