Editorial: Truth will set us free

  • February 2, 2023

We need only look at the Gospels to see how doubt and even denial camouflage critique. 

In Mark’s telling of Jesus calming the waves, the disciples’ palpable fear covers a core criticism of Our Lord for getting them into the swamping boat in the first place. 

In Matthew’s narrative of the Saviour bidding Peter to walk across the waves toward him, the future pope’s panic is a form of contesting Christ’s reliability. 

And, of course, in the Last Supper and Good Friday accounts of all four evangelists, Peter is first a disputatious gainsayer and ultimately an adamantine contester of having even known the Son of Man.

Yet it is a vital part of the human and humane beauty of Christianity that the process of oppositional probing implicit in these and other Gospel examples resolve as a heightening of trust, a deepening of faith, a realization of Truth. 

Most starkly, Peter’s very rejection becomes the catalyst of his redemption.

Or as Pope Francis put it with his magnificent bluntness in a recent Associated Press interview: “(Criticism) is like a rash that bothers you a bit (but) helps you grow and improve things.” 

It’s credible to infer that the Holy Father’s phrase “you grow” applied to both source and recipient of dissent. He was responding to a question about the late Cardinal Pell’s description of Francis’ papacy as a “catastrophe.” But he broadened his answer to include more general deprecation of his 10 years leading Holy Mother Church. 

Criticism is, he said, part of the normal “wear and tear” of the papacy that arises when people perceive flaws and proceed to identify them publicly.

If his refreshing categorization helps put paid to the pettifogging Petrine politicization of the relationship between Francis and the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, it will have done the Church a world of good. Even better would be if Francis’ elevation of the good found in critique moved the wider world away from its “safe spaces” of suffocating solipsism and ideological insularity.

We live in a world that now habitually conflates critique and conflict. To oppose an idea or a set of ideals is deemed indistinguishable from inflicting insult. To deny a claim is to denounce the claimant. To question an approach is to attack the integrity of the advocate.

The negative effect on the life of the mind is evident in anecdotal reports and survey data showing the anxiety of those born in the new millennium who, in generalized traits, bear far greater resemblance to the passengers of a sinking boat than previous generations have ever shown. Worst of all is the leeching away of the God-given human instinct to seek out and identify the truth by holding it up to the light of doubt and even catalytic denial. 

Francis reminds us that critique “means there’s freedom to speak.” And as Jesus taught us, it is the truth that will set us free.

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