A friend posed a question last night that echoed one I had been mulling over. It has to do with dialogue...namely, how can I be certain of Truth and tolerant of other beliefs.
Some of you may have read, or have at least heard of Cardinal Ratzinger's book entitled Truth and Tolerance. I will have you know that I have not yet read this book, though I did just place a hold on it at the library. But, I'm actually happy that I'm tackling this question first on my own, basing it solely upon my reason and experiences. Only after I've attempted to draw a conclusion based upon these criteria, I will check out Ratzinger's book and see if his reflections mesh with mine.
I remember coming to the realization the summer before teaching in Denver, that the meaning of life consists in coming to understand the Truth. Why? Because only Truth can satisfy, and when we are satisfied, we are happy, we are full. This realization, then, called me to literally be willing to give up everything for the truth. If my life has meaning and is satisfied by Truth, then that Truth is worth everything, even my reputation, even my preconceived thoughts about the way things are, even my life.
This pining for Truth is within all of us. It was within me prior to that summer...but I hadn't done the work. Many of us are too lazy to do the active searching, and so we sit around complaining of our boredom.
Now, the search for Truth is based upon experience. Why would I believe something if I can't actually experience it, or if it isn't reasonable? I can believe in the moon, not because I've been there, but because I can see it. I can believe in the sun, because I can see it and feel it. I can believe China exists, not because I've ever been there, but because I see reasonable proof (that I can experience) such as friends who have vacationed there, people I know from China, and of course, Google maps.
Every human heart has the same longings.
That is a bold statement. I didn't believe it at first, until I started paying attention to intimate conversations I was having with people and to, believe it or not, ancient mythology. I was blown away as I was learning and teaching about the Greeks and Romans that they wanted the same things I did. These ancient peoples yearned for Truth, understanding, justice, goodness, beauty, love. My students started picking up on this as well. If human beings, each of which is completely unique and unrepeatable, have the same core desires, there must be a singular Source of satisfaction. I'd liken this to the fact that all humans experience a real desire for food, called hunger, and there is actually food that nourishes and satisfies. The same can be said for all of the other natural desires that all humans experience (notice that word again).
I spent most of my life searching for goodness, beauty, love, understanding, and nothing satisfied. It was as if I was insatiably hungry, and kept eating shards of steel. As if I was indulging in everything that attracted my senses. None of these were very satisfying and the longing persisted.
Here, my search led me to Christ, whom I had left behind back in Junior High. Could Christ actually satisfy my longings? Could He be Truth itself?
This is the moment of conversion...admitting that all of your failed attempts and flings to satisfy did not succeed in converging your entire being onto that point of satisfaction, of happiness.
As I've asked this question since that awakening in college, and continue to ask this question on the journey, Christ continues to answer. Nothing, no one, no situation, no earthly thing (not even marriage, the best Thanksgiving dinner, or most incredible Halloween haul) has satisfied my longings as Christ does when I allow Him to (because Christ respects our freedom). No living being has gone to the depths of my sorrow (Mt. 27:46) or the heights of my joy (Lk. 3:22) as completely as Christ has. Nothing has pierced my heart, torn down my idol of moralism, or changed my entire manner of living, of seeing, as Christ has. Nothing has brought peace so completely as Christ has. No one has been as alive as the only Person in the history of the world who conquered death itself and lives now (Mt. 28:20)!
The craziest thing is, other people have experienced this as well.
And this makes sense to me because the human heart is one and the same. Every human being, throughout the course of history, across every continent, longs for the same satisfaction. Any genre, any type of literature for thousands of years teaches us this.
Christ satisfies the human heart. Of this I am convicted, based upon my search and experience.
But not everyone is, which is where tolerance comes in to play.
Not everyone believes that Christ is the Answer. But, nearly everyone would agree, if you can have an intimate enough conversation or dive into the thoughts of a character in a book, on the universal longings of the human heart.
I can easily tolerate those who have not come to believe that Christ is the Truth, if there is a genuine searching of the human heart for a fulfillment of desire. And in almost every case, there is. Occasionally one will come across a person who is so closed, or bound by preconception, that he or she will not even be open to listening. And, as I understand tolerance, I, in continuing the journey of questioning in order to understand Truth and seeking meaning in life, must be open to listening to those who have beliefs that differ from my own. My pursuit of Truth requires such a humility. As I continue to grow in this virtue of tolerance, and actually tolerate what others believe, I should find that my understanding of Truth becomes clearer and that my conviction grows.