The Simplicity of Truth

God’s teaching, while rich in its depths for theologians, is remarkable in its simplicity for ordinary men. Simplex, the Latin word for simple, means “without fold”—one sheet or layer with nothing hidden under a fold. Complex in Latin means encircled, embraced, and enfolded—“with fold,” something not easily seen or understood. The Ten Commandments are straightforward and direct (without fold), not subtle, nuanced, or roundabout. What is complicated about “Thou shalt not commit adultery” and “Thou shalt not steal”? God’s moral law is explicit and lucid. What is incomprehensible about the Golden Rule or the Two Great Commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”? While the Christian faith has profound mysteries that surpass human reason like the Trinity, the Resurrection and the Immaculate Conception and teaches in paradoxes that transcend logical reasoning (“He who is greatest among shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted”), the moral law is explicit: adulterers and sodomites will not inherit the kingdom of God as St. Paul teaches. “The dictatorship of relativism” in modern thinking identified by Pope Benedict XVI produces the artful complication and obfuscation of truth that confounds the simple meaning of right and wrong.

reniWhat is simpler, the moral law that teaches that contraceptive acts are objectively sinful and inherently disordered or the ideology that argues that it is a subjective matter of individual conscience that varies from person to person and couple to couple? If the truth is simple and one, then evil is legion or many, a number of pieces of parts with no unity. The more exceptions, the more qualifications, the more distinctions—the more obscure the meaning. What is simpler, the Catholic teaching that abortion is an unspeakable evil that is always wrong or the reasoning of the Supreme Court that no one knows when life begins and that it is a private matter between a physician and patient? What is more intelligible, the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” or the argument in Roe v. Wade that killing a child in the womb is legal the first and second trimester but illegal in the third trimester except in the case of a threat to the health or life of the mother? Can anything ever be absolutely true or right if it is always mutating with more modifications? What is more luminously true, Christ’s teaching about divorce, “It was not so from the beginning,” or the legal sophistry that anyone at any time for any reason without any fault may divorce?

God does not speak in equivocal language, use technical or philosophical jargon, or communicate with specialized vocabulary. Christ often teaches with the words “Verily, verily, I say unto you,” that is, truly—that is, without any second guessing or confusion. The Beatitudes also have an unambiguous clarity: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” The innocent, the childlike, those without guile have a clear vision of the light of God. When the Word becomes Flesh in the miracle of the Incarnation, again God reveals Himself with the utmost visibility and light. When Christ asks Peter, “But who do you say I am?” Peter answer with undeniable certainty the self-evident truth: “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” The simplicity of truth means without confusion, complexity, equivocation, or doubt. Modernity, however, is notorious for what Melville in Moby Dick calls “bland deceits and civilized hypocrisies”—clever, sophisticated, intricate lies that torture the truth by burying it under layers of conflicting opinions, up to date reports, recent studies, scholarly research, recent articles, and repetitious propaganda.

Which is simpler, the Church’s teaching that all human life is sacred, precious, and of inestimable value, or eugenics theories and population control programs that only superior races, classes, or ethnic groups (the “thoroughbreds” and “the fit”) have a right to life and procreation? Which is grounded in common sense and right reason, the Church’s teaching that only God, the author of life and death, determines the moment that a person passes from this world or the freethinking that physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia are matters of personal choice with no reference to God? When every man decides for himself, then the name of evil, “legion,” exalts the chaos of the many opinions above the unity of the one truth. Which teaching is more luminous and based on the accumulated experience of the world, the idea that man is an image of God with a rational, moral, and spiritual nature—a person with inherent dignity and worth who possesses an inviolability of conscience—or the modern view that man is a product of evolution or creature of the state with no God-given rights, not even the freedom of conscience to reject dictates of government that contradict natural law or revealed religion?

What could be clearer than God’s commandment “Be fruitful and multiply,” and what is more self-evident than Nature’s design and God’s purpose for marriage in the exchange of love between man and woman? What could be possibly more perverse than reinventing the meaning of marriage and the family, the most universal of experiences? What could be more complicated than taking pills, resorting to implantations, and suffering tubal ligations and vasectomies with all their medical effects and consequences? What could be simpler than living a chaste, pure life that never risks sexually transmitted diseases or infects others with hepatitis or AIDS? What is more convoluted, unnatural, and irrational than high-risk, promiscuous behavior that invites suffering and tragedy? What is more sensible, planting seeds to bear fruit and engaging in acts that have a natural purpose or planting seeds and then killing the fruit to frustrate the act?

What is more simple and direct than the way God performs miracles: “Go, thy faith hath made thee well,”  “Take up your pallet and walk,” “Do you want to be healed?” God’s ways are not labored, devious, or bewildering. They are forthright expressions of divine power and supernatural intervention that serve a deep human need or answer a sincere prayer. In one simple act God multiplies the loaves and the fish to feed the five thousand.  In the marriage at Cana Christ makes a simple request (“Fill the jars with water”) and instantly performs the miracle of changing it to wine. In one word God heals: “Arise.” Who complicates everything more than modern man who takes a devious course and never a straight road; who resorts to a hundred measures when one will do; who needs cancer-causing pills, problematic surgeries, harmful abortions, and complicated procedures like in vitro fertilization and surrogate motherhood; and who relies on elaborate legal reasoning and artful rationalizations to make evil good and good evil? What could be more plainspoken than Christ’s unequivocal words, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”

Nature’s language and God’s word resound with simple Yes and No answers: Yes to life, No to death; Yes to the fruitfulness love, No to barren lovemaking; Yes to marriage, No to divorce; Yes to truth, No to lies. But sophisticated modern man who shuns those two simple words and their most basic meanings chooses complexity over simplicity. As Christ reminded Martha, “You are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful” (emphasis added). While modern man can think of endless ways of bypassing, circumventing, twisting, and reinventing unchanging moral truths and traditional norms, he cannot see that truth is one, simple, universal, and eternal—for all men, in all times, in all places, and in all cultures.

Mitchell Kalpakgian, Ph.D. has completed fifty years of teaching beginning as a teaching assistant at the University of Kansas, continuing as a professor of English at Simpson College in Iowa for thirty-one years, and recently teaching part-time at various schools and college in New Hampshire. As well as contributing to a number of publications, he has published seven books: The Marvelous in Fielding’s Novels, The Mysteries of Life in Children’s Literature, The Lost Arts of Modern Civilization, An Armenian Family Reunion (a collection of short stories), Modern Manners: The Poetry of Conduct and The Virtue of Civility, and The Virtues We Need Again. He has designed homeschooling literature courses for Seton Home School, and he also teaches online courses for Queen of Heaven Academy and part-time for Northeast Catholic College.
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