Sunday, February 17, 2008

Veritas Forum: Day 1

Well, tonight kicked off the 2008 Veritas Forum at LSU, Dr. Dallas Willard's Radical Relevant U. Tonight's "student-focused pre-forum special event" was pretty accurately entitled The Value of Truth, And What Happens When U Don't Have It. This was essentially a college ministry Sunday night service with Willard preaching; the sermon(I suppose you'd call it that) aimed at defining "truth", showing its importance and that the modern academic environment has insulated itself from it.

Willard kicked off by defining truth:
Truth is very simple. It is accuracy of representation.
"Please don't lose that."
A major theme tonight was that "believing doesn't make things true or false--reality makes things true or false." Willard denied the concept of relative truth again and again, and first, jokingly, by encouraging us all to try out the ideology out on an empty gas tank. This might seem like an unfair comparison to the proponent of relativism, but if one must admit to absolute truth, such as the paucity of gas in the tank, then frankly I don't see how one could perfectly dismiss any other absolute truths.
Apparently Willard would not use the phrase absolute truth(he told me later that he tried to avoid "absolute"), but would simply say "knowledge", which he defined as "established truth".
You know something if you are able to represent, think of it, deal with it, as it is, on an appropriate basis of thought and/or experience.

He then moved onto the value of truth.
Truth allows us to deal with reality successfully, if we know it and act upon it.
He also quickly noted here the popular form of a saying of Christ's that we see today: "the truth shall set you free." The condition of first knowing the truth is now oftentimes conspicuously absent. He also noted another recent change--that in Harvard's slogan, veritas is seen, but the words "Christ" and "church" have been removed; they are no longer associated with the "accuracy of representation" of reality, as was once the case.

Next we moved on into a major topic of the evening: the impotency of the modern university to address truth.
The Western Association of Schools and Colleges Handbook asserts that "an institution of higher education is, by definition, dedicated to the search for truth and its dissemination." Yet, Willard counters, while it was once assumed that universities answered the "big questions" of life, this is no longer the case; instead, university courses simply meet requirements, and if we aren't careful this "slips into a place of first emphasis".
A. T. Kronman's work was referenced in regards to all of this.

Briefly, a few more points:
People reject knowledge and truth because it restricts their freedom and does not suit their feelings.
Again and again Willard stressed that truth does not "adjust itself" to our desires, choices, etc.

God has left a gap between reality and choice that human beings can choose.
The most perfect evidence of this is, of course, the Garden of Eden.

Character is the issue.
Our human challenge is to master desire on behalf of what is good and right.
The case of Cain. “Sin’s desire is for you, but you must master it.” Genesis 4:7
God’s plan for each of us is that we should grow to the point where He can empower us to do what we want.

Though he did not elaborate much on this last sentence in the service, he later pointed out to a young lady that he is here meaning "what we want" in the same sense of the Aristotelian "that at which all things aim", i.e., the good, as opposed to what we desire.

Finally, he offered us what he considers to be the four "big questions", or the "great teachings":
1. What is reality?
2. Who is well off?
3. Who is a really good person?
4. How can one become a really good person?

Willard did not hesitate to say that he felt that the teachings of Christ answered all these questions(unlike the university), and in the Q&A session was obliged to offer several scripture references wherein some of Christ's answers could be found.

After the service I had the chance to talk to Dr. Willard briefly--in case you were wondering, the man has an extremely firm handshake. I asked him what he thought about Charles Williams's "no one can possibly do more than decide what to believe", and if he felt we could have actual knowledge(by his definition) about the claims of Christianity. I enjoyed his response: if someone is honest with themselves then they can know there's a God, and we can know with "historical credibility" that Christ resurrected. Further Christian ideas, he said, like Trinitarian doctrine or ideas about justification, we may not be able to know, but if he is right about the two that he affirmed, well that's certainly a good start. He also went on to talk about Kierkegaard a bit and how he disagreed with much of the modern consensus concerning the "leap of faith" in S.K's thought, but that's a whole other topic, perhaps for some other post.

On the whole I thoroughly enjoyed this precursor to the Forum. I know that this was a whirlwind trip--and not without omissions--through a rather long and full lecture(I took 5 pages of notes!), so if you have any questions or would have me elaborate on anything, then by all means, comment away! Otherwise, check back in at the wardrobe tomorrow, as Dr. Willard will be kicking off the actual series.

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