In Pursuit of Truth
Where there is no guidance, a nation falls,
but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.
One of the customs of the Veritas board is the introduction to new members; instead of having new members introduce themselves to the board, the board members introduce themselves to the newcomer, ending with their reason for being part of Veritas. My stock phrase, the Russellian ‘winged-words’, is that I joined to put to discussion those questions that keep us up at night, the things people often wonder about in secret yet hide away by morning. For the Christian, questions like “Do denominations matter?” and “What is the role of tradition in faith?” come to mind; but for our secular brethren, questions like “What happens when we die?” or “Is there any objective truth?” spring up. Any group that dedicates itself to asking these questions has the potential of giving itself over to triteness or sophistry, but Veritas, I believe, has done the best job of facilitating these discussions on campus in their discussion groups; the groups are intimate enough to get honest answers, yet also high-minded enough to ask real and burning questions. But these groups should not only be for Christians, nor should they only be filled with agnostics and atheists. Veritas discussion groups offer a means of evangelization and edification for the Christian, while also drawing in those of a secular background who genuinely seek truth and want to challenge their worldview.
Looking around, it seems to me that many Christians are going through a phase not unlike that of the English Seekers of the 17th century, who believed that all existing churches and creeds were corrupted, and were known for their radical religious tolerance and nonconformism. The difference between this older movement and modern ‘seekerism’ is that the 17th century Seekers did not see their movement as an end in and of itself: they sought the True Church, which they believed to be out there waiting to be discovered or re-discovered. But this modern movement seems to be content with itself as an end. It doubts for the sake of doubt, and, as a friend of mine put it, many in this mindset “come to prize doubt, too.” I admit, it is true that Christians are all benighted in some ways, and we obviously cannot perfectly know God’s will, but, “obscure faith enlightens us somewhat like the night, which, though surrounding us with shadows, allows us to see the stars… amazingly, in the obscurity of night we see to a far greater distance than in the day; we see even the distant stars, which reveal to us the immense expanse of the heavens.” It is this faith, rooted in the Truth of God, that can help us navigate these complex questions, strengthened and proved by our brothers and sisters of the Church on earth, Holy Scripture, and the tradition passed down by the apostles. To fight neo-seekerism, Christians must consider these questions in concert with one another and with our predecessors in Christ to genuinely try to reach orthodoxy and orthopraxis. These questions of absolute truth and the differences between denominations are openly discussed in Veritas discussion groups, and should be edifying for Christians of both strong and weak faith.
But, of course, Christians are not (and should not be) the only ones attending Veritas discussion groups. Our agnostic and atheist friends and classmates also attend, whether by curiosity or, hopefully, by invitation. They come seeking answers, and stay for their honest pursuit. In some ways, at a campus that “believe[s] that moral questions are ultimately social [and] theoretical, [or] prefer[s] to see the ridiculous in everything and laugh,” to simply have these discussions and do them honestly is the greatest evangelization tool that Christians have. Although Christians can never truly be the cause of conversion for anyone, we can be used as tools for the conversion of others, and Veritas could be the place for that. Even if that is not the case, plumbing the depths of important spiritual, moral, and philosophical issues and challenging the predominant secular worldview can’t hurt either.
Now, obviously, I have been plugging Veritas in this article, but the fundamental message is universally applicable: if we were to ask our friends and acquaintances ‘life’s biggest questions’ honestly and seriously, might we do some good? Could we start a conversation that leads to a genuine pursuit of Truth, and even find it? We should keep an open mind about it, but of course “merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”
John Quinn Russell (CC ‘20) is a New Yorker/Missourian studying History and Linguistics. He is the Co-President of Columbia Catholic Ministry, and enjoys studying Arabic, the diplomatic history of the United States, and the writings of the early Church Fathers. He also likes discussing faith, campus culture, and philosophy, especially in the context of Veritas, for which he serves as Outreach Coordinator.