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May 29, 2012
The practicality of truth
By Deacon Patrick Moynihan *

By Deacon Patrick Moynihan *

For a nation that holds truth in such high regard, we are often lackadaisical about seeking it. Disagree? Be honest, when was the last time you sought the truth in a difficult personal matter rather than simply looking for a way to move on? Likewise, when was the last time you felt you got the truth on a matter of national importance? Get the point?

Possibly, we regard pursuit of the truth as an esoteric journey better left to philosophers or theologians. We may see the truth as too elusive to be found by our amateur searching, so we give up. We may argue that truth is a thing of the courts and of science, far too impractical for everyday life. As important as we make truth in the abstract, we seem to default by habit to moving on without much deep contemplation of it.

Yet, there is a practical value to the truth. No problem is really solvable unless we are able to get to the truth of the matter. Solutions applied without a clear and true understanding often end up being fatally flawed, short-sighted Band-Aids. Lacking a basis in truth, these symptom-driven cures often end badly—usually with a return in force of the initial problem. Unfortunately, Haiti is a living exhibition of this phenomenon.

A rare and positive example of seeking the truth of the matter is Michelle Obama’s work on childhood obesity. I applaud the First Lady for helping us to take a clear look at our national weight problem. In the past, many pundits have extolled more exercise and better diets for a healthier nation, but these advocates stopped short of stating the absolute truth. Putting the word obesity and children in the same sentence finally woke us up to the heavy reality—we are not just a fat nation, we are an obese nation. If only our President and the Congressional leadership could take a page from her playbook to solve our bulging financial problems. 

On the matter of the economy, however, we need to encourage economists to be the smart, concerned mothers telling us the truth. We need to hear more from our national treasure trove of economists and less from politicians on the matters of governmental services, debt reduction and taxation. We need to hear the long, boring truth on the economy, not election-minded sound bites aimed at influencing votes. On this subject, we need the whole truth, not partisan half-truths, whether we can handle it or not.

The simple fact that we have the capacity to find the truth in things, from a Darwinian perspective, suggests that truth finding is important for survival. Seeking the truth should be as natural for us as walking or talking. It should be a drive we cultivate rather than stifle. Yet, we are probably doing more in our high schools to teach students how to run fast than to think critically and seek the truth.

Ironically, the one academic area where we may be succeeding at teaching the truth to our youth, namely the sciences, may also be inadvertently creating an obstacle to their interest in finding it elsewhere. By referring to truth in science as fact rather than simply as truth, young people are led to believe that the sciences or the physical world are the only places where truth is able to be determined. Erringly, many young people walk out of physics class believing everything else is indeterminate.

It is time to get back to the truth. It is time to reconnect with the generations of philosophers who exhorted that the truth matters above all else. Without a healthy desire for the truth and a willingness to seek it, we will not advance socially or find more than temporary solutions to any problems. Without the truth, we are doomed to a repetitious cycle of failures. Clearly, a truth-less world is empty and we cannot live in a vacuum.  

Deacon Patrick Moynihan graduated Culver Military Academy in 1983, from Brown University with BA in Sanskrit and Classics in 1987, and from Providence College with an MA in Religious Studies [Theology] in 1999.

He taught Latin and English in a Catholic High School from 1987 to 1990, traded commodities, futures and options for an international trading company from 1990 to 1995 and directed a free Catholic mission school in Haiti for academically gifted children from the poorest areas around Port au Prince from 1996 to 2006.

Deacon Moynihan was ordained in October of 2001 as a permanent deacon for the Diocese of Rockford [IL] where he was the director of formation and later the Office for the Permanent Diaconate from 2001 to 2006. He has since gone back to Haiti and is currently the president of The Haitian Project.
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