September 27, 2011

Lux et Veritas

Following is a scripted version of the Chapel address I delivered at Judson College on September 20th.  Several have requested copies of these remarks as they apparently generated some on-going conversation on campus.  I can think of no higher praise.  These thoughts are offered here for those who wish to partake. 

The Judson Seal carries the Latin phrase, Lus et Veritas – Light and Truth.  A bit of reflective pondering reveals, surprisingly, that the most critical word therein is the most diminutive and most easily overlooked; the word etEt, a vital connector without which Light and Truth are left standing dimly, dangerously, and deceptively alone. 

Let us 1st affirm there is indeed Light.  The pursuit of Light and the enlightenment it brings is not only valuable, it is vital!  There are things yet unknown which desperately need to be known:  a cure for cancers, how to provide sustainable and clean energy for the world, how to feed the soon-to-be 8 billion people inhabiting our shared planet.  These critical issues, and many others like them, must be addressed by the brightest and best thinking we can produce.  But what difficulties arise from the pursuit of Light without the guidance of Truth? 

I.    Light Without Truth 

1.    Dim 
Light without Truth is, first and foremost, dim, truly an arresting juxtaposition.  To be clear, dim is a shorthand way of saying “dim-witted”.  It is fascinating that the pursuit which should produce sharpness and clarity of thought, when divorced from Truth, produces just the opposite, fuzzy thinking and dimness.  Jesus stated in His Sermon on the Mount “If then the light within you is darkness –how great is that darkness.”  (Mt. 6:23)   This pursuit of Light without the guidance of Truth deepens the darkness rather than illuminating it.

I have followed with great interest the career and thought of, perhaps, the greatest mind living among us in this age.  The fact that this marvelously gifted mind is contained within the body of a man confined to a wheelchair makes his career all the more intriguing.  Stephen F. Hawking is certainly among the greatest minds of our day and quite possibly in all of human history.  I am not intelligent enough to understand all he writes about but I did read his A Briefer History of Time (the “Reader’s Digest” version for folks like me!) and have regularly sought out his publications.  I was humored by the title of one of his latest offerings, The Grand Design.  I found it to be humorous simply because this great mind is talking about a design while simultaneously denying a Designer.  To my, admittedly inferior, mind this seems to be a dim-witted position.  Through the years I have held on to the kernel of wisdom offered to a class of undergraduates by Dr. W.T. Edwards at Samford University: “Boys, keep an open mind.  Just don’t keep it so open that your brains fall out.”  With apologies to Mr. Hawking, it might just be that his brain has fallen out.

2.    Deadly

Though Light without Truth may be dim, producing a frustrating conundrum, it is also deadly, producing all too tangible evidences of its dangers.  Perhaps chief among the tangible evidences of the deadly nature of Light devoid of the guidance of Truth is the horror of the Holocaust during World War II.  Rudolph Hess, who was 3rd in line of succession to Adolph Hitler, called Nazism “applied biology.”  This horrific application of the Light of biological sciences divorced from the Truth of the dignity of all men resulted in the death of over 6 million Jews, as well as millions of other “inferior” peoples.  6 million is a difficult number to wrap our minds around in a practical way.  Consider that a population greater than the entire population of Alabama was exterminated over a period of just a few years.  All of this done in the name of “applied biology.”  Clearly, our pursuit of Light desperately needs the corrective guidance of Truth.

3.     Deceptive

Perhaps the most startling consequence of the pursuit of Light without the guidance of Truth is that it is deceptive.  Light without Truth says, “It’s all a smorgasbord!  Indulge!”  We live in a culture awash in choices, whether it’s the hundreds of channels available for our surfing pleasure or the ever burgeoning cereal aisle in our grocery stores, we are accustomed to choices and immediate availability of all things we desire.  But this can be a deceptive descent into darkness.

This is most readily observed in our societal obsession with, and celebration of, every expression of sexuality.  A couple of recent top 40 hits, which are shockingly sung by young children everywhere, provide sufficient proof of this “anything goes” obsession.  Take a moment to rationally consider the message of Rhianna’s celebration of Sado-masochism in her hit “S&M” or  of Katy Perry who was not satisfied to “kiss a girl and like it” but decided to recall her exploits “Last Friday Night” complete with maxing out credit cards at the bars, some skinny dipping with a group, a ménage a trois and then wanting to “do it all again.”  Allow me to quote Randal Stoner on this issue:  “Uncontrolled sexual appetite, like physical appetite, can kill.  And it may feel good all the way to the emergency room or the morgue.  It kills…what is ultimately at the heart of the best sex imaginable, trust.” (Randal Stoner, The God Who Smokes)

II.            Truth Without Light

Let us again affirm there is indeed Truth – capital “T” truth.  Truth which applies to all people in all places at all times is also known as “universal Truth” or “absolute Truth.”  I continue to be amazed at the resistance to this notion when we all live with “capital ‘T’ Truth” each and every day.  There just aren’t many sane people walking out of 3rd story windows due to the universal Truth of gravity.  Likewise, people getting on a jet in New York heading to Los Angeles want their pilot to be ruthlessly absolute in selecting the route.  Or consider the patient in the operating room for heart surgery.  I am completely confident they are counting on their surgeon being anything but “relative” in this moment.  They absolutely want their heart fixed and not their liver invaded.

While affirming that Truth exists we must also recognize that Truth without Light is just as dim, deadly and deceptive, maybe more so, than Light without Truth.  Steven Weisberg, Nobel Prize winner for his work on the theory of particles and fields comments on this in his Nobel acceptance speech.  “Good people can behave well and bad people can do evil:  but for good people to do evil – that takes religion.”  While I will reserve comment on why a particle physicist would venture into the realms of sociology and theology in his Nobel acceptance speech I must say I think he’s on to something we should consider.

1.    Dim

There are those who hold to the Truth while excluding the Light.  I call these people “Joy Stealers.”  They like nothing better than to bludgeon people with the Truth without considering the Light.  Paul’s letter to the Galatians is full of concern for his friends who were being “bewitched” and “enslaved” by just these kinds of people.  Unfortunately such people continue to thrive in our day and age.  There is an old wag I share, tongue-in-cheek, from time to time concerning the “Baptist” view. 
Baptist’s don’t drink,
Baptist’s don’t chew,
And Baptist’s don’t go with girls who do.
(Furthermore, Baptist’s don’t recognize each other in the liquor store.)

We would do well to remember that Jesus was known as “the friend of sinners” and that the “Joy Stealers” of his day did not approve of the company he kept or the parties he attended.  They were purveyors of Truth without the illumination of the Light.  But let us always be cautious with this matter.  As Leonard Sweet perspicaciously observes, “There is no one soul size.  What makes one sing may singe another.” (Leonard Sweet, Soul Salsa)  Or as Paul put it, “Don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5:13).  Martin Luther summed it up nicely, “Love God and do as you please.” 

2.    Deadly

In much the same way Light without the guiding hand of Truth became deadly under the Nazi regime during World War II, Truth apart from the illuminating presence of Light has all too often become deadly.  Perhaps the most widely known example of this disturbing phenomenon is the Spanish Inquisition.  Spanning almost four centuries this terrible abuse of Truth in the absence of Light took the lives of thousands of people whose only crime was daring to espouse a belief different from those who ruled over them.  This reign of terror began during the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella (yes, the same ones who would provide Columbus a few boats to make his fateful journey in 1492).  In 1478 they petitioned the Pope for permission to “purify the people of Spain” and soon thereafter began the persecution of Protestants, Jews, and other non-believers.  Thousands were forced from their homes and thousands more lost their lives during this “purification.”  Remarkably this practice continued until 1834.

I wish this was an anomaly or a singularly unique event.  Sadly it is not.  History is replete with stories of the unhappy and deadly marriage of Truth and Power devoid of the illuminating presence of Light.  I pray for a brighter future for the purveyors of Truth.

3.    Deceptive

Truth without the benefit of Light can also lead to deception.  Sometimes people, particularly people of faith, want to close their eyes and not see what the Light may be revealing.  I sometimes tell the story of the pastor who was talking with some children.  “Kids I’m thinking of something that is grey, lives in trees, eats nuts and has a bushy tail.  Can anyone guess what I’m thinking about?”  After a few moments of uncomfortable silence one little boy slowly raised his hand and said, “I know the answer is supposed to be Jesus, but it sure sounds like a squirrel to me!”

Galileo Galieri had an encounter with thinking dominated by Truth without the illumination of Light that was only recently resolved.  Galileo was denounced by the church in 1615 for daring to state that Copernicus was right and that the earth indeed revolved around the sun.  Late in his life Galileo, in the interest of his eternal soul, recanted his statement but it was not until 1992 that the Catholic Church cleared his name, finally affirming the Copernican view of the solar system. 
How easily Truth becomes hidebound when it is insulated from the knowledge made available by the pursuit of Light.  How easily Light degenerates into harmful pursuits when not gently guided by the unwavering standard of Truth.  Light and Truth must walk hand in hand.  Lux et Veritas.

III.         Light AND Truth

The world in which we live faces serious questions which require serious answers.  How will we feed the 8 billion people soon to inhabit this planet?  Are all men created equal or are there some who are expendable?  How will we power the future?  How will we address the economic issues facing our world?  I dare say these, and other equally pressing questions, will require the best which Light and Truth have to offer.

Lux et Veritas is a pursuit which must consume our lives.  

However, Lux et Veritas is not a subject to be mastered but rather is the Master to whom we must be subject.  Jesus clearly identifies Himself as the Light and the Truth.  John, in the magnificent opening chapter of his gospel, writes of Jesus saying “in Him was life and that life was the light of men…and we have beheld His glory…full of grace and truth.”  Light and Truth are found only in one, Jesus.

“He is the way.
Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness
You will see rare beasts and have unique adventures!”
W.H. Auden, For the Time Being.