The Personalist Project

Accessed on September 26, 2023 - 4:25:55

A key difference between objective and subjective truth

Katie van Schaijik, Jul 12, 2017

Objective truth is available to anyone with the requisite time, training, and rational capacity for grasping it.

Subjective truth is very different. No one can have it unless the subject chooses to reveal it, and not always even then. Human persons are such complicated creatures, prone to illusion and denial; affected by events, dynamics, and influences beyond our conscious awareness. Accessing our own interior reality, never mind someone else's, is often a difficult and delicate operation, requiring much time and patience; discipline, skill, and prayer.

The deeper and more complex—or personal or painful or precious—the truth in question is, the less likely we are to disclose it, except to a person whose trustworthiness has been tried over time—someone who has consistently shown us profound love and respect, tenderness and compassion.

Imagine I have had a mystical experience (I wish it were so!!). Jesus has appeared to me and told me that He loves me and has chosen me for a very particular mission—one that will involve great suffering as well as deep consolations. Am I likely to discuss it with my atheistic colleague, who habitually mocks religious belief? Will I share my experience with my chronically jealous and gossipy neighbor? Do I tell my gruff, dismissive parish priest? Do I phone the local TV station to report a supernatural event? Or won't I rather keep it to myself or reveal it only to my spiritual director, who knows my soul intimately?

Suppose I was sexually molested as a child. (I wasn't.) Is this something I am likely to share with an acquaintance known for mocking "victimhood" and scoffing at the idea that there's any such thing as "a rape culture"? If I found in myself a persistent and deep-seated homosexual tendency causing me a lot of confusion and alienation from family and friends, who frequently denounce homosexuality as an abomination in the sight of God, what would I do? Wouldn't I be on the lookout for someone I can really talk to? A "safe person for me", in the going phraseology? Or someone with a reputation for deep compassion and wisdom on this issue?

I know people—lots really—I used to be one of them—who have so concentrated their moral and intellectual attention on the defense of objective truth that they seem to have forgotten that it's only one kind of truth, and that, at least in certain respects, it's not the most important kind. They don't seem to understand that their constant focus, even insistence, on objectivity creates a sort of "hostile climate" for sincere subjective exchange. Scoffing at the very idea of "not-judging"—as if it's tantamount to relativism—is like displaying a giant, neon "Not safe! Do not share anything personal!" sign on your forehead.

Such people not infrequently also develop a tendency to misunderstand or deny their own inner reality, in so far as it doesn't line up with the objective ideal. For instance, if they have been taught that the appropriate response to an offense is sorrow, not anger, they will say, "I'm not angry, I'm grieved," even if in fact they are furious.  And the more they lose touch with their own subjectivity—not to mention that of others—the more inclined they will be to identify subjectivity with subjectivism and double down on objectivity, creating a vicious cycle of personal alienation.

It's sad and tragic and diabolical.