Earlier today a member texted to ask whether I knew of answers to Walter Kaufmann's The Faith of the Heretic. He said it had caused him to reexamine his own faith. I had never heard of Kaufmann, so I googled, and read a few paragraphs. Then I put it down, comme d'habitude, as they say in France.
Later, thinking of something else entirely, I was recalling a moment years back. We were living in Steubenville. It was some anniversary of Newman's. We invited John Crosby to come over and speak to a small circle about his life and legacy. Someone asked him to describe Newman's essential greatness in brief. John said that the more he read and "walked with" Newman, the more he was impressed with his absolute honesty.
The answer deflated me a bit at the time. I had been unconsciously anticipating something a little more exalted, more distinguished. Honesty seemed so basic, so bread-and-butter a virtue.
I know better now. Now I know how rare and precious it is. I know, too, how much more essential it is to the philosophical and artistic—not to mention religious—vocation than things like intellectual brilliance and erudition. Even wisdom and insight. Honesty is the necessary condition for wisdom and insight. And honesty is hard to find, harder to achieve.
The culture of death is also the culture of denial, illusion and dishonesty. The Prince of this World is also the Father of Lies. Our world, our relationships, our society, are sorely afflicted with falisty—so afflicted that we are unaware of how skewed and dysfunctional our relation to Truth, and to each other, is.
I was thinking about this, because I now have a number of once-friendships that have fallen apart because of dishonesty and denial. I have found that many people--even sincere good Catholics--prefer illusions and half-truths in relationships, and I have developed a kind of allergy to those things. I don't pretend to have aquired the virtue of honesty, only to yearn for it, and find the lack of it intolerable. To me, dishonesty kills friendship like disharmony kills music.
I mark this down mentally as something that needs more thought, more consideration, more careful analysis.
Then I go back to Kaufmann and find this about the philosophical quest for truth. [Emphasis mine]
In the process of teaching and writing one must constantly consider the thoughts of men with different ideas. And prolonged and ever-new exposure to a wide variety of outlooks--together with the criticism many professors seek from both their students and their colleagues--is a more profound experience than most people realize. It is a long-drawn-out trial by fire, marked by frequent disillusionment, discoveries, and despair, and by a growing regard for honesty, which is surely one of the most difficult of all the virtues to attain. What one comes up with in the end owes quite as much to this continual encounter as it does to any other experience.
My love for Newman grows and grows.
As for Kaufmann, I find his review of religious belief thoroughly unconvincing and unreal. He has completely missed its essence. It's not a man-made ethical system, but a personal encounter with the God who made us and who offers us redemption—God, who reveals Himself, as the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Besides honesty, to attain religious truth we need another virtue, which Kaufmann plainly lacks: humility.