Real Catholic education yields a Truth-seeking thinker
I was a history major in college. One of my history professors loved to tell us that our job as students was to be our own historians. He meant we should not simply read a history book and then believe we understood the topic, without further exploration of what we had read. We should study other books on the same topic and compare what the different authors put forth as explanations. In short, we were to become informed, independent thinkers who made critical judgments of the ways facts were chronicled and evaluated. Just because something is in a book does not make it true. It may be true, or partially true, or totally false. It is up to each student/historian to exert the effort to discover what is reliable, accurate, and reasonable, against what is mere conjecture or outright falsehood.
The professor’s advice applies to more than just studying history. University students should realize that much of what they’ll be taught needs to be analyzed and considered in the light of other facts and approaches. They need to be aware that in many fields of knowledge there is enormous pressure to conform to one set of ideas that reflect the modern secularist outlook. That outlook rejects the notions of eternal truths and natural moral laws. Instead students are confronted with subjectivism. Robert Cardinal Sarah describes this problem in his book God or Nothing: “Subjectivism is one of the most significant traits of our time. Feelings and personal desires are the only norm. Often modern man regards traditional values as archaeological artifacts.” Thus a college student will be told that the reason he should agree with (or at least not criticize) a blatantly immoral lifestyle is that everyone gets to decide what is right or wrong for himself. Making a judgment that certain ways of thinking or acting are wrong and harmful is treated as a violent intellectual assault on someone else’s unquestionable right to do whatever he wants, free from any criticism or disapproval.
Cardinal Sarah continues: “Since the social revolution in the sixties and seventies, it has been common practice to pit individual liberty against authority. Within this context, even among the faithful, it may seem that personal experience becomes more important than the rules established by the Church. If the individual is the central point of reference, everyone can interpret the Church’s message in his own way, adapting it to his own ideas.”
To be a faithful Catholic, especially in today’s university setting, a student must be aware that being a truth-seeking thinker means treating Christ’s doctrine as the basis upon which to judge everything else. Going along with fashionable trends and drinking in politically correct relativism that admits no other way of thinking is a sure formula for drifting away from the Church’s teaching and demands of the Gospel. Going along to get along can easily lead one down the road to denying certain teachings of the Church in the illusory pursuit of showing love and respect to people who reject those teachings. True love and respect for others involves sharing with them the liberating truths of the Gospel as taught by the Church. If they refuse to hear you, you at least have made the effort to help them. They have had the perhaps unusual experience that someone out there does stand firm when the world wants him to be silent and capitulate to the coercive worldview of relativism.
My history professor was a wise man. Being your own historian is a good way to approach the rest of life. For the Catholic student, it means looking at everything we encounter with the mind of Christ and not caving into the demands of a relativistic spirit in which there is no truth, only opinions.
FATHER GERALD MURRAY is pastor of Holy Family Church, New York, NY. He holds a Doctorate in Canon Law from Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, and appears as commentator on religious topics on TV and radio, including EWTN, Fox News, Fox Business, MSNBC, NY1, Radio Maria, Relevant Radio, Fox News Radio, and the Voice of America. He writes a monthly column for The Catholic Thing website. He served in US Navy Reserve Chaplain Corps from 1994 to 2005.