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Canadian Trudeau: What is truth?

Originally Appeared in : 9814-7/5/18

I recently had the joy to attend my nephew’s college graduation at Yankee Stadium after his four years of hard work at New York University. I am proud of his accomplishments and look forward to his future achievements. I was intrigued when I learned that the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would be the commencement speaker. This superstar politician was welcomed by a cheering crowd as he processed towards the tent over third base. 

 

I was impressed with his optimism and enthusiasm. His overall theme somewhat reflected Pope Francis’ frequent exhortation to listen to others, especially those with whom we disagree. Trudeau rightly stated, “There’s not a religion in the world that asks you to tolerate thy neighbor. So let’s try for something a little more like acceptance, respect, friendship, and yes, even love.” His speech pivoted on our shared humanity, criticizing “tribalism” where individuals only interact and listen to those who agree with them. Interesting enough, among the examples he provided of exclusive tribes was the “pro-choice” tribe. He said, “it is not the belonging [to a tribe] that is a problem, it’s the corollary: You are not part of my tribe.”

 

His challenge to the graduates was to “let yourself be vulnerable to another point of view… open yourself to another’s convictions, and risk being convinced… of the validity of their perspective. Now that’s scary: discovering that someone you vehemently disagree with might have a point. Might even be right.” He invited his audience to listen and to understand, seeking the common ground where solutions are found. He reminded the graduates that when you show respect towards those you disagree with, you have a better chance of being heard yourself. 

 

Though Trudeau invited the graduates to engage the world without fear, and to listen attentively to others, he made a brief statement that revealed what was lacking in his presentation. He stated, “Let me be very clear: This is not an endorsement of moral relativism or a declaration that all points of view are valid.” At first glance, this brief statement appears to conform to the teachings of the Church where truth exists and not all points of view are valid. Trudeau stated that female genital mutilation is always wrong, and that anthropogenic climate change cannot be denied. This begs the question: Who then determines what point of view is valid? The state? International political consensus? The individual? Trudeau spoke eloquently about the need to listen and to understand diverse points of view, but never indicated how one determines the rightness or the wrongness of them. Christians recognize in Christ the measure of truth, but in a post-Christian secular state, who determines truth in Trudeau’s argument if there are certain points of view that are wrong and others that are right? Though he believed not to endorse moral relativism, I believe his speech’s lack of appeal to who determines truth leads to moral relativism, or perhaps even worse, a totalitarian state or a secular religion which determines truth. 

 

The prime minister called the graduates to be courageous leaders unafraid of diversity. “The leadership we need most today… is leadership that brings people together.” He criticized polarized politics that divide rather than unite. Trudeau’s excellent speech was uplifting because it recognized the need for unity, dialogue, and inclusivity, but unfortunately remained unclear as to who has the final word as to what is right and what is wrong. Our Catholic faith invites us to listen to others, to dialogue, to engage, and to show respect, while never losing Jesus Christ as the Truth that holds and measures all things. 

 

Father Pablo Migone is chancellor of the Diocese of Savannah and resides in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Savannah.

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