The pursuit of cosmic truth

“Thirst was made for water, inquiry for truth.” 

— C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

We humans take almost every opportunity to debate our ideas and positions, and yet we still neglect to discuss what, I think, is the most basic issue: the question of what is fundamentally true—that is, cosmic truth. We bombard our minds and the public square with opinions on opinions, while altogether dodging conversations about the philosophical considerations that are necessary to hold those opinions. 

It is no longer relevant what one thinks about the nature of the universe or of life or of religion; “I’d rather not talk about all that dusty old abstract nonsense… let’s work to address the real matters—politics, or education, or social reform” we, as a society, regularly say. In the midst of our attempts to address the very real societal problems that we face, I think we often forget that our efforts towards progress are completely aimless without a solid grasp of what matters and why it matters.

Is it possible to develop a sound philosophy of government or art without a philosophy of everything to ground it? Philosopher, writer, and lay theologian G.K. Chesterton asks: “Is literature better, is politics better, for having discarded the moralist and the philosopher?”[1]  I can’t help but wonder about this as well. I don’t have much expertise when it comes to  politics, but I spend a lot of time studying literature as an English major. Jane Eyre is one of my particular favorites: Brontë portrays a shockingly individualistic woman that refuses to renounce her theological and personal convictions. Another favorite is The Faerie Queene, a poem which Spenser, the poet, intended to inspire morality and character in the reader. These works have explicitly clear moral philosophy, and they attempt to show the reader its importance.

Do our modern novels invest deeply in the moral philosophy of their characters and readers like older works such as Jane Eyre and The Faerie Queene do? In my experience, I would say, in large part, they do not (although there are, of course, bright spots). Because they routinely forsake moral development for art purely for the sake of art, they contend for nothing but their own monetary success. The stranger a book is, the more popular it is within academia, and as a result, the more public recognition it receives. Is our society truly made any better by such a neglect of metaphysical conversation? 

Chesterton argued in 1905 that the twentieth century marked this social death of the pursuit of cosmic truth: “A man’s opinions on tramcars matters; his opinion on Botticelli matters; his opinion on all things does not matter. He may turn over and explore a million objects, but he must not find that strange object, the universe; for if he does he will have a religion, and be lost. Everything matters—except everything.”[2; emphasis mine]. “Cosmic truth,” the phrase I’ll be using to denote “universal truth” or “metaphysical truth,” also comes from Chesterton.

If Chesteron lived today, I think he could take one glance at the state of modern literature and confidently affirm that his thesis of the twentieth century still stands today. The moralist and the philosopher remain discarded, replaced by indifferently nihilistic novelists showered with awards and acclaimed by high society. They discuss immigration; they discuss socialism and capitalism; they discuss environmental regulation; they mention religion, but only dismissively: everything matters—except everything.

Despite the current state of things, cosmic truth is the most important thing on this earth. Our culture has failed us by persuading us of the opposite, and we have failed our culture by not seeking to change it. It is critical to address this failure, because the magnanimous philosophical and theological discussion of truth is pivotal for the moral, intellectual, and political functioning of society and the deliverance of the individual human soul.

Our American society was founded upon philosophical discussion and the pursuit of truth. Classical Greece, which arguably provided us with the most ancient forefathers of our modern conceptions of democracy and philosophy, produced some of the most influential thinkers in history. Plato and Aristotle both remain significant today because they seriously evaluated the world in order that they could arrive at a philosophy of cosmic truth. They considered it to be foundational to all of life, and so dedicated their lives to its pursuit.

They held that one’s beliefs about cosmic truth provide the foundation on which one’s conception of justice, morality, and goodness are formed. Plato says, in his Epistle 7: “I was forced to say, in praise of true philosophy, that from her height alone was it possible to discern what the nature of justice is, either to the state or the individual…”.[3]

He goes on to claim that the human race will continually face affliction unless those who truly love philosophy and wisdom should come into political power. It is clear from this passage that he held that beliefs about cosmic truth generate opinions about the way in which a society ought to operate. In other words, each citizen’s (and leader’s) beliefs about cosmic truth directly impact the way in which he or she participates in society. Plato and Aristotle considered free discussion about this truth to be integral to society’s functioning. 

This interaction between faith and social opinion can be seen in the American Founding Fathers’ application of their faiths in writing the Bill of Rights. They ensured that America as we know it would never enforce a state religion because of their grounding in the Christian worldview. They explicitly wanted to ensure that every American had the freedom to worship according to their own conscience, and believed that free dialogue enabled society to come closer to the truth than if there were state mandated beliefs. The Founding Fathers considered cosmic truth to be so important that they created a country in which they could finally discuss it openly. It makes sense, then, that Thomas Jefferson said: “Reason and free inquiry are the only effectual agents against error… If it be restrained now, the present corruptions [of Christianity] will be protected and new ones encouraged.”[4] Only respectful debate and inquiry can refine a philosophy or a personal doctrine. 

We Americans weren’t freed from the throes of the Middle Ages when people were burned at the stake for theological disagreement, nor the Heresy Laws of England, in order to dodge religious discussion: Chesterton points out that such laws were repealed in order to promote the discovery of religious and philosophical truths. He says, “Their idea was that the cosmic truth was so important that everyone ought to bear independent testimony.”[5] 

A lack of conversation about truth can only lead to the end of any civil, noble society that strives for the greater good. We can’t idealize without reference to a truth which governs what is good. How do we determine what is good if not through discussion of ultimate truth? How can we foster intellectual growth, civil political discourse, or the creation of enlightening literature if we’re simply working for the sake of success or retirement or efficiency? Shouldn’t we be working for the sake of liberty or reform or love? How can we better a society without striving towards the higher moral goals which cosmic truth provides? 

There are, I think, also implications of this “cosmic neglect” on an individual level. Discussion of cosmic truth is integral because it points men toward the Ultimate Truth. There is indeed universal Truth, goodness, and beauty; it is constant and eternal, determined by the Lord. Therefore, I believe that societal “cosmic neglect” truly matters, because I care for my fellow people.

We can work, in our own particular ways, to address the error that I have been describing. We can seek to know the Truth. This seeking, this conversation, is the objective of the Penn Epistle’s Truth section. If we only as a society, Christians and non-Christians, would sit down together—in the spirit of our culture and nation’s foundation—to discuss cosmic truth. Hopefully this section will be the table at which we can sit and deliberate.

So, to Christians: It’s my sincere hope that we won’t become inconsistent or hypocritical as I think we tend to become. We have to instead view the Lord’s Truth as the highest thing to be sought. We shouldn’t ever stop adjusting our personal doctrine to align more with the objective Truth of God; holding our doctrines and interpretations with a fist closed to Jesus’ correction is the very opposite of the humility Christ calls us to have. Seek to be challenged, because we sharpen one another as iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17). We must follow Him wherever He leads, because He will always lead us to His Truth. If we want to spark a gracious conversation about Truth, we need to be seeking it ourselves. 

To those who don’t believe in Christ and those who are questioning: I hope that we can provide a welcoming, intellectual atmosphere here to introduce you to Christian theology and cosmic truth. I believe that Jesus is the Truth, and I truly think that if you take the time to humbly, sincerely seek to find Truth, you will find Him. 

To all: Let us inquire with one another. Let us lead our society back into the light of open discussion for the sake of finding and following perfect Truth. “Let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18). Let us pursue and discuss cosmic truth, because it matters more than anything else. Let us consider the state of our souls.

Out of belief in Jesus Christ, we at the Truth section endeavor to come to know the Lord more deeply through philosophical and theological conversation and meditating on His Word. We’ll look at the original Greek of the New Testament and Hebrew of the Old Testament, exegete Scripture, reflect on the life of the early Church, and host candid conversations about the joys and trials that come with living out the application of His Truth. 

We hope that this will be a hub for conscionable intellectual conversation regarding the beautiful cosmic Truth of Christianity so that you may be edified, encouraged, convicted, and ultimately, so that each of us may be pointed in the direction of the fountain of life which quenches our thirst.

Because, in His grace, God promises that if you seek Him, you will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13); if you seek to know this Truth, you will certainly find it.

Will you seek with me?

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”.

— John 14:6

Notes

[1] G.K. Chesterton, Heretics (London: John Lane Company, 1905), 17.

[2] Ibid., 13.

[3] Plato, trans. John Cooper, “Letter VII” in Complete Works (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1997).

[4] Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (Philadelphia: Mathew Carey, 1794), 232.

[5] G.K. Chesterton, Heretics, 14.

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