Main Menu  


Contemporary Catholic Belief and Action


Truth and its violent consequences

Ivone Gebara (English translation by Rebel Girl)

"Do you swear to tell the truth and only the truth?" I swear. "Do you swear by God, by the homeland, by the family, by your honor, by the Bible?" I swear. What would be this truth to which one must swear and often risk one's own life?

 According to the Greek origin of the word, truth -- aletheia -- has to do with what is not occult, the unconcealed, the unmasked. It extends through diverse knowledge, situations, emotions and personal and social actions. In other words, it gambles on the possibility of the human person revealing something that only she knows, something that she has discovered, something she is hiding about facts, people, situations or about herself.

Truth would be a kind of clarity about a fact, an event, a feeling, and therefore a belief that we are able to reach into the depth of ourselves and even reveal it to others. Such behavior means to many that it is possible to find 'something', 'a thing', 'an emotion' free from deception or lies, as if it were a nugget of gold, or pure love.

Some ancient philosophers believed that there was a truth of things, that it was possible for the word to be identified with the object and the object with the word. They believed in an adequation between thought, essence and thing, and vice versa.

We moderns and postmoderns find that this quasi-coincidence does not exist, but that truth is a personal and even collective point of view on interpretations of life. A thick cloud envelops us and prevents us from reaching the place indicated by our desire. Reason and desire are in conflict.

We contemporaries are lovers of circumstances, of changes and we believe in the mutation of truths, in their multiple conditionalities and consequently we live in their social belligerence.

Truth is in social movement, in its multi-faceted personal and collective reality. This is why all attempts, whether from politics or from religion, to unify the truth have led and lead to totalitarianism and violence. And both one and the other in their historical diversity and in the diversity of their forms of truth have tried the way of unification of truth and have used weapons to defend it.

Both of them from their authority have wanted to impose their truths without perceiving the truth of diversity and the impossibility of a unification by force. However, we are well aware that the foundation of political truth expressed in the forms of government and the authority of leaders is visible, whereas the foundation of religions and in particular of monotheisms, is invisible. The legitimization of religious power is done through divine invisibility that is presumed to be represented by the clerical hierarchy.

Today, we are experiencing a certain failure of the traditional foundations of the order of truths. We understand the world differently. What we see in fact is the difficulty of total agreements from affirmations called 'truths', especially those emanating from political and religious powers.

Moreover, empirically we experience the cruelty of truth every day. When we denounce the lie and want to affirm something of the truth, of the real, we are condemned. Therefore, the truth we know in history is the mother of pain, the mother of suffering, the mother of injustice, the mother of murders. Mother in the sense of being generative, of giving birth.

If we reveal it, we are brought to court, we are expelled from parties, synagogues and churches, crucified, imprisoned, condemned to death, forced to drink hemlock and tortured by those who think they have the power over truth.

If we tell the truth we have our works burned, our teaching interrupted, expulsion from our land to guarantee the truth of those who claim to be its owners. Truth is cruel! It saves no one from accusations, from prisons, from the many Gulags in history!

In 1837, Hans Christian Andersen published a story called "The Emperor's new clothes." In it, a king is deceived by two astute tailors who make him believe that they would weave him beautiful clothes that only the intelligent and capable ones would be able to see. They spend weeks weaving and making the king try on the clothes by making flattering remarks to him.

The king himself, wearing the invisible clothes, does not admit to being either incapable or unintelligent. He decides to wear the clothing and introduce himself to his subjects. They all look at it and admire it, but no one is able to reveal the truth about the king's nakedness because it would reveal their own ignorance. In this, a child in the crowd shouts, "The king is naked." The truth came out of the mouth of a child who was not afraid of being ridiculed or called incompetent or unintelligent.

She said what her eyes saw. The truth was stated by a child. It is she who reveals the hidden, it is she who says what everyone sees but is unable to say. Revelation is dangerous, truth is threatening.

The everyday story continues to show the cruelty of truth. Donald Trump's violent 'truth' is that he does not want more foreigners in the United States. He separates the children from their families and puts them in prisons. The numbers are scary. More than 2000 children are imprisoned! The truth about immigrants is that they are seeking to save their lives, to get out of hunger and go to a place where there is work and decent survival.

The conflicts show and the cruelty of some is evident over the fragility of others. The violence and hatred of some contrasts with the fragility of others. How to live with so many 'truths' and so many lies? Is there a way to negotiate them?

There might be another way when, according to the Book of Genesis, we disobey the all-powerful Father, and, seduced by the serpent of freedom that inhabits us, we transgress orders and are expelled from Paradise ...

Truth makes us wanderers in search of our bread with the sweat of our body and the abundance of our tears. Truth makes us without a fatherland, without a motherland, without family, without the friends of our childhood, without the smell of our land, without God. Might this be the freedom of truth?

Deep down it is the lie that protects us, it is the one that teaches us juggling to carry out our intent. It is the lie that hides our face from the face of others who judge and persecute us. That is why we love lies more, although we say that we swear by the truth and seek the truth.

The fact is that we are wanderers, and in this situation and condition, we can only count on the companions of that long journey. Like the child who cried out the king's nakedness, we need to welcome each other's cry of helplessness and realize that deceit about ourselves leads us to premature death, kills life, kills forests, rivers ... It kills the planet and us with it. This tragedy is an aspect of truth.

Along these lines, we are witnessing today wandering from the truth and lack of rights from different human groups. Thousands and thousands of homeless, landless, and stateless, each seeking the most important truth -- "protecting your life and that of your neighbors." To have the right to your own life is the first written truth, inscribed in our own bodies, in our breathing in search of air.

That is why one leaves his land occupied by others who are extracting precious metals, wood, water and gold from it. They kill the earth and its population in the name of their truth called progress, human development ... It is boundless greed. Conflicts are inevitable when those who have not died go out in search of a land to live in.

And where they arrive, they are not welcomed; on the contrary, they are expelled and remain wanderers. For all this, the idea of a total integral humanism and a pure truth that harmonizes us in a single vision is not only ambiguous and deceptive but unlikely.

Perhaps the way out is not to solve problems through a single social, political or religious truth since the very truth of human history is plurality. And this plurality or diversity manifests itself in all human activities and in the whole flow of life where the unforeseen and foreseen mingle, attract one another, cancel one another, and coexist.

One step would be to promote respect for the real complexity of truth and the need to continually unmask our multiple temptations to reduce the world of others to our own truth, to eliminate the lives of others to affirm our economic, political, and religious truth. Educate ourselves at all levels for diversity to avoid totalitarian dogmatisms.

Diversity costs. It is not just a spoken word, it is an external and internal modification of ourselves when in fact we want a world where all will fit with dignity. Everything is allowed, but everything is not good for the maintenance of life, human dignity and the whole planet. Respect for the diversity of life and its total interdependence must be part of our common creed.

It is what opens us to the hope of unity in real diversity. This unity is made of a continually renewed dialogue and it is in our image, fragile and helpless, always open to betrayal and communion. It is hope, in the uncertainty of the journeys. And on these journeys, the luminous truth that stubbornly inhabits us lives and will live, mixed with the many stones of the way.
Ivone Gebara is a Brazilian Catholic nun, philosopher, and feminist theologian. In the 1990s, Gebara was tried and convicted by the Vatican for criticizing the moral teaching of the Church, especially due to comments she made in an interview printed in See magazine in regard to abortion . She was ordered to two years of forced silence . During that time, she obtained her second doctorate, in Religious Studies from the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium
Quick Links... 

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.