This is indeed a surreal Holy Week.
Truth be told, I confess that present circumstances being what they are, it requires some additional effort on my part to experience the hope that, as a Christian, I know I have every reason to hold.
The Great Panic of 2020, the Great Un-Reason, the most profound an exhibition of mass irrationality as any that we’ve witnessed in our lifetime, has made it more trying.
At the same time, however, given the glaring nature of the folly and the fear that seem, at the moment, as omnipresent as God Himself, the Christian is occasioned with an ever-new appreciation of his calling.
In John’s gospel, the evangelist tells us that Christ is the Logos. The latter is a Greek term that is translated variously into English. The most common English translation of the term as it is employed in the fourth gospel is “word”:
Jesus is the Word, the Word of God.
The ancient Greeks, too, had a concept of logos. It was Heraclitus, a pre-Socratic philosopher, who first used the term to characterize what he took to be the rational, orderly, law-like structure of the cosmos. In ancient Rome, Cicero and the Stoics also affirmed the logo-centric character of reality.
In China, Lao Tzu drew the attention of his contemporaries to the Tao, “the Way” of all things. Not unlike his counterparts in the West, the man who is regarded as the founder of the wisdom tradition that is today known as Taoism perceived the universe as being the expression of thought, even if a thought without thought, so to speak, an effortless thoughtfulness.
Christ’s disciples, though, recognized what the pagans couldn’t fully conceive. They came to discern that the Logos or Tao was not an impersonal law or organizing principle or mechanism but, rather, a person.
Jesus, they finally came around to discovering, was exactly what He claimed to be: The Way, the Truth, He in whom “all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).
Whether it be in a pagan or a Christian form, affirmation of the logo-centric character of the cosmos is rejection of the myth, embraced by contemporary Western atheists no less than ancient polytheists, that the world is ultimately chaotic, irrational.
To embrace Logos, the Tao, is to embrace Reason and Truth.
To embrace Christ as the Logos, the Tao, is to embrace Reason and Truth in their fullness.
Because, however, the Logos is a Person, to embrace the Logos is to embrace—resoundingly, unabashedly, joyfully embrace—life.
It’s no coincidence that Jesus, in self-identifying as the Way and the Truth, also proclaimed Himself the Life.
I submit, then, that to accept Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, is to submit one’s will to satisfying the requirements of two imperatives that, though conceptually distinct, are in fact inseparable from one another.
The first imperative demands of us that we live courageously.
Yet in order to fulfill this first imperative, we must fulfill another:
We must think.
More precisely, to embrace Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, we must be willing to think both critically and honestly.
All throughout the Bible believers are admonished to seek wisdom, knowledge, understanding, discernment (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 3:13; Philippians 1:9; Colossian 3:16; Hebrews 5:14; James 1:5; James 3:17).
We must be able to think so that we can exercise the right reason, which in turn will enable us to distinguish reality from appearances, goodness from evil. We can be courageous only if we have knowledge of what we should fear and the extent to which we should fear it. This is an insight possessed alike by Christian thinkers and such pre-Christian geniuses as Plato and Aristotle. Lieutenant-Colonel Al Ridenhour, United States Marine Corps, himself a Christian and founder of the World War II Close Quarter Combatives system, Warrior Flow, expresses this point in a slightly (but only slightly) different idiom when he repeatedly drives home to his students the ever-crucial distinction between fear that is “rational” and that which is “irrational.”
Fear that is rational is healthy, necessary, for it is designed to protect us from danger. Colonel Al and the Warrior Flow instructors at Warriors Way Combatives (in Bergen County, NJ, the “epicenter” in New Jersey of “the Coronavirus Pandemic”) and around the country teach their students how to embrace and channel their rational fears so as to crush any who would endanger innocents.
As for irrational fear, it is an enemy to be acknowledged, yes, but only so that it can be surmounted.
Yet the relationship between thinking critically and courage is symmetrical: the ability to think is essential to strengthening courage, but courage is also essential to thinking critically.
It takes courage to exercise that one God-given gift that fundamentally distinguishes human beings from plants and animals. It takes courage to dare to challenge the conventional wisdom, to embrace the Logos and seek Truth, for doing so often comes at a not insignificant cost, namely, the cost of being alienated from the world.
This past week is as great a reminder of this as any, for it was on Good Friday that the Truth Itself was arrested, harassed, pummeled, mocked, humiliated, abandoned, and, ultimately, murdered.
Such was the world’s love for its own narrative that it preferred it unto the point of contempt for Truth—i.e. contempt for God.
Hannah Arendt, a German-Jewish 20th century philosopher whose family had to flee Nazi Germany, attended the trial in Jerusalem of Adolph Eichmann, architect of the Holocaust. Expecting to witness a monster, she was shocked to discover that while Eichmann’s actions were monstrous, he exhibited no “particularity of wickedness, pathology” or even “ideological conviction [.]”
What Eichmann did display, she wrote, is “a curious, but quite authentic, inability to think.” He was incapable of, or at least unwilling to, think beyond “clichés,” “stock phrases,” and “conventional, standardized codes of expression and conduct,” i.e. the bumper sticker slogans, hashtags, and memes of his day.
Arendt knew that what was true of Eichmann is no less true of untold numbers of human beings. It was this realization that there is an inseparable connection between the ability (the willingness) to think and moral goodness:
“Could the activity of thinking as such, the habit of examining and reflecting upon whatever happens to come to pass, regardless of specific content and quite independent of results, could this activity be of such a nature that it ‘conditions’ men against evil-doing?”
When human beings refuse to subject themselves to the hardships, the potential dangers—degradation, alienation, violence—that can and have attended those who have dared to think critically, exercise reason, pursue truth, comprehensively, embrace the Logos of God, then they choose to dissolve their identity into the abyss of the irrationality of the mob.
There are, in the final analysis, but two choices: One can choose, on the one hand, Reason, Truth, Courage, and Life or, on the other, Un-Reason, Lies, Cowardice, and Death.
One can choose either Christ or chaos.
During this Easter Season, we can take heart in knowing that while on Good Friday Truth was crucified and relegated to the pitch darkness of a tomb, on the third day, the Truth rose again, more powerful, more undeniable, more glaring than ever.
On this Easter Sunday, as I write this, Christians who have been forced to endure the locking of their church doors, the violation of their Constitutional rights and liberties, the loss of their jobs and livelihoods, the straining or even severing of their family and personal relationships, and the shuttering of civil society, should be filled with hope that Reason and Truth will prevail, as it always prevails, over the chaos to which the world has succumbed in the era of “The Virus.”