Moralism and Truth

One of the great statements we have out of antiquity is this: “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (King James Version, John 8:32) It is a great promise in one sense, and a great threat to human moralism in another. It is as compelling as it is daunting.

What I love about this statement is that it implies that a direct, personal relationship with truth is not only possible, but also attainable here and now. There is nothing in the statement that requires blind faith in a set of fanciful presuppositions (e.g., if you believe this, that or the other thing you will be free); neither is there any indication that the freedom that comes from knowing truth comes later, in some nebulous afterlife.

The moment you know the truth–any truth, not just all of truth–you are set free.

Free from what?

Free from the blinders of prejudice, ignorance, and subjective opinion, for starters. From this comes freedom from the compensatory posturing, arrogance, fearfulness, greediness, and defensiveness that flourish in the presence of uncertainty and the absence of truth.

The truth needs no defense; truth need not be propped up by individual or collective toil. Equally reassuring is the fact that truth is never in conflict with itself. Any single element of truth is seamlessly connected to the all of truth.

You’ve know doubt experienced this before. When you know some truth and know that you know, you are at rest. You have full confidence in the working of that which you know. You don’t doubt, qualify, fudge, or hedge. You rest in the fact of that knowing. You are–in the sphere of the working of that truth–free from limitation, imitation, and falsification. You need not “fake it ’til you make it.” You have arrived and you know it. You are no longer wary of or actively trading the counterfeit of adulterated truth (i.e., partial truths or convincing falsehoods).

The trouble of course is that truth is often conflated with moralism. Moralism has messed things up. Moralism is taking things out of true versus false and looking at them as good versus bad, right versus wrong. In deep antiquity this process was described allegorically as eating of the “fruit of the tree” of the knowledge of “good and evil” and the consequence of touching it was described as ejection from the “garden [planted] eastward in Eden” and eventual death.

Moralism is a frame that gives a false sense of identity, security, belonging, and purpose in a seemingly unpredictable, confusing, and uncertain world. Moralism substitutes self-righteousness for righteousness as it is built not on truth, but on shared opinions about the truth.

In this sense, moralism is a crippled imitation of truth. It is the “letter” devoid of “spirit” and it constrains to death, not to life. Sadly, those who moralize are shackled by their beliefs more than they are liberated by them. They’ll fight to the death to defend their views, opinions, and beliefs (e.g., “my God is better than your god or gods” or “my ‘truth’ is superior to your ‘truth'”), which has led some of the worst atrocities wrought on earth.

This plays out in the life of the individual as readily as it does in the collective sense. If, for example, in the course of arguing a point, you focus on as narrow a point as possible in arguments, you have a good chance at preventing the argument from expanding into character attacks. Arguments tend to become all out war and whenever they do, we lose touch with truth. When the goal is to win, not to be true, we lose.

Winning on this basis alienates you from people you are trying to persuade. It also insulates you further from the truth. Both restrict your freedom. Ignorance is not bliss, neither is loneliness. Bliss is a side effect of living in accordance with the truth. Bliss is the hallmark of integrity.

On a final note, when you know the truth you are also set free from the projection of hope. One of the great falsehoods many have swallowed is the projection of hope for living in the future. The world’s great religions all promulgate this idea to varying degrees. The premise is that utopia or perfection is put off or abstracted to some heavenly realm which is known and experienced in the afterlife.

There are many reasons for this and the reasons are fascinating to explore, but the point I wish to make here is that the projection of hope for living in the future is a poor substitute for living now.

What would you have to give up to live now? Are you willing to approach the “flaming sword” which “turns every way“ (i.e., the truth) and let that which artificially limits and binds you, that which needs to be burned away be gone once and for all? Are you willing to let go of the little lies you tell yourself and others? Are you willing to step out of the moral framework that society built for you and into the integrated pattern of truth that is the bedrock of reality?

To do so is to embark upon the greatest adventure available to us on earth. To do so is to hear the words of the ancients come alive. To do so is to live, yes, but more importantly, to live freely.

Photo by Basil James on Unsplash

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