Truth & Tolerance: Ratzinger’s Book and a Popular Conversation-Starter

In 2002, the former Cardinal Ratzinger – now Pope Benedict XVI – published a little book entitled Glaube—Wahrheit—Toleranz, or Truth and Tolerance. The premise of the book, as you might have guessed, is the interplay between modern secular society and traditional religious positions: the current juxtaposition of ‘truth’ with ‘tolerance’ and – in the German – ‘belief.’ Although I’m still working through the book, the title alone was enough to inspire me to post something on this topic.

While I’m sure Ratzinger’s thesis is good, it doesn’t take reading an essay from a prominent theologian to get one thinking about the meaning of “truth” in modern culture. In fact, the topic is one that any rational being must indispensably confront. How many times do we see it throughout history: “What is truth?” And still, most people would argue that we have no real answer. The irony of the matter is that, since we are all rational persons, we require truth in order to make decisions, yet often fail to agree that such a thing really exists. It seems like the paradox of all paradoxes, and… I think it might be.

To illustrate this point, perhaps the most evident case of ‘practical agnosticism’ in today’s world – one that we can all relate to – is the increasingly popular denial of a need for God. Man no longer finds a need for God and grows more and more toward the mindset of theoretical atheism, that is to say, toward an atheism not only of practice but also of professed belief. Coincidentally, an outspoken desire for ‘freedom’ continues to rise, both in societal and academic communities (which often overlap, viz. almost any university you can think of). This opposing trend between a desire for freedom and a disgust for God strikes me, personally, as particularly odd – it seems contradictory in many senses, since a well-formed philosophical/theological notion of God seems not to be a hindrance to freedom but rather a guarantee of its quality and dignity. In other words, society’s tendency seems brashly to disregard a rather apparent ‘truth.’ Nevertheless, though, we are subjected to these and similar ideas day in and day out; whether or not we agree with them (or are even conscious of them), they easily become lodged in our minds and inspire us – or at least ought to inspire us – to consider more seriously the place of ‘truth’ in our lives.

Although this was just an example, I hope to continue this thread in future posts, addressing this modern phenomenon from a few different angles. I hope that by fleshing out some personal ideas (yours included) as well as consulting the work of noted scholars, such as Pope Benedict XVI, this topic should prove to be quite engaging and, if nothing else, thought provoking.