Havel and John Paul II on Witness to Truth

and Vaclav both took a deep interest in theater; they were both called to act on the world stage; they both understood the vital importance of — and the whole truth about man and God. Havel wrote an influential essay entitled “The Power of the  Powerless” in which he explained the importance of truth and the rejection of the system of lies and the atmosphere of mendacity that surrounds the powerful bureaucrats. He spoke of a revolt consisting in  “an attempt to live within the truth.” Here is his description of one who refuses the slogans and the superficial explanations of the powerful bureaucrats:
 He has exposed it as a mere game. He has shattered the world of appearances, the fundamental pillar of the system. He has upset the power structure by tearing apart what holds it together. He has demonstrated that living a lie is living a lie. He has broken through the exalted facade of the system and exposed the real, base foundations of power. He has said that the emperor is naked. And because the emperor is in fact naked, something extremely dangerous has happened: by his action, the greengrocer has addressed the world. He has enabled everyone to peer behind the curtain. He has shown everyone that it is possible to live within the truth. Living within the lie can constitute the system only if it is universal. The principle must embrace and permeate everything. There are no terms whatsoever on which it can co-exist with living within the truth, and therefore everyone who steps out of line denies it in principle and threatens it in its entirety. . . .

 The original and most important sphere of activity, one that predetermines all the others, is simply an attempt to create and support the independent life of society as an articulated expression of living within the truth. In other words, serving truth consistently, purposefully, and articulately, and organizing this service. This is only natural, after all: if living within the truth is an elementary starting point for every attempt made by people to oppose the alienating pressure of the system, if it is the only meaningful basis of any independent act of political import, and if, ultimately, it is also the most intrinsic existential source of the “dissident” attitude, then it is difficult to imagine that even manifest “dissent” could have any other basis than the service of truth, the truthful life, and the attempt to make room for the genuine aims of life.

In his reflection on Pope John Paul II’s critique of the culture of death, Fr James Schall said: “The role of Christianity in politics is a philosophic one. It is to maintain an accurate statement of the truth of things, of what is, even the truth of science when science will not stand up for itself. It is to perform this clarification even when the words we use, like ‘choice,’ do not accurately describe the fact to which they refer. We destroy millions of already begun human lives with no scruple and little compunction.” (see his second essay, The Role of Christian Philosophy in Politics, at this site). John Paul said: “People lose sight of the fact that life in society has neither the market nor the State as its final purpose, since life itself has a unique value which the State and the market must serve. Man remains above all a being who seeks the truth and strives to live in that truth, deepening his understanding of it through a dialogue which involves past and future generations.” (Centesimus Annus, .)

Truth is a rare thing in a world of dictators, bureaucrats, and technicians. Searching for truth and speaking truth demands rare courage. That is why we celebrate the life and work of Blessed John Paul II and Vaclav Havel.

 

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