Often, the difference between a man that believes in virtue and a man who doesn’t comes down to one distinction: is truth true or is truth relative?  Most reading this know that “moral relativism” is a plague easily diagnosed and dismissed by sane men, but not truly believing in truth has more manifestations than we might think.  Many of us are relativists by a different name by our attempt to create false images of ourselves and ask the world to believe in what we have created.  Our screen time fuels this error.

Descartes is famous for saying, “I think, therefore, I am.”  Cartesian thought stems from stripping all other forms of knowledge away, being instinctively skeptical of all received so-called “truths” and being sure only of one’s own thinking.  All knowledge in this mode comes from what can be proven by empirical evidence, but really what we end up with is just thinking that whatever we think is right.  “I think, therefore whatever I think is what is.”  Moral relativism flows easily from here, since morality needs philosophy and theology, not just empiricism.

Mix relativism with a little narcissism, and it’s not hard to picture the thousands of uploaded images, comments, etc. that we post on the internet and hear ourselves say clearly – by our actions – “I post, therefore I am.”  We think what we slap on the wall is what we are, because we don’t actually care to know what we are.  That can be ugly and hard.

Few of us want to do the work of really knowing ourselves, yet this is the true path to virtue and wisdom.  Socrates expanded the Greek maxim “know thyself” saying, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”  Gazing at ourselves online – adoring what we have marketed – is not self-examination.  It’s looking at the self as we have created it, not as God has.  Holiness, which is the graced reality of virtue, must be found in asking God to show us to ourselves.  Few of us have the courage and humility to see our self as it is, let alone the courage to persevere in correcting its faults.  Seeing and correcting the faults of others is much easier, especially done through our created persona.  To understand the self, we have to look away from it, especially by looking away from our screens, and look to God:

We shall never succeed in knowing ourselves unless we seek to know God: let us think of his greatness and then come back to our own baseness; by looking at his purity we shall see our foulness; by meditating upon his humility, we shall see how far we are from being humble. (St. Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle)

  • Doyle M. B. Baxter

    Not that I often find myself jumping to the defense of Descartes… but I think all of phenomenology that gets dismissed as irrelevant when you say that “I think therefore I am” implies “I think, therefore whatever I think is what is.” Contrary to the claim that the cogito leads to relativism, for Husserl and his students, the cogito is the fundamental basis for an absolute discourse of the world.

    Nonetheless, it was a catchy title, a concise article, and a well articulated point that modern man is the sum of his posts–and that indeed is a problem.

  • Mike Donodeo

    Very well written. It gets right to the point about how we, as humans, tend to display an image based on what we want others to see and feel about us rather than who we really are. Also it seems sad that many will “post” the good deeds they do just to make themselves feel better. Just look at all of the Facebook posts about Blahblah#STRONG. Sadly we tend to post how we feel about a certain cause but never really do anything about it.

    -Mike D

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    • Phil Alcoceli

      Well said, Mike D. In ancient times (and still some today as in Satanists imposing their statues) humans built false idols not only to glorify a false deity or spirit but themselves as well. The idol makers ride coattail with the worship of the idols to glorify themselves (ask those promoting some “celebrity”). Now we also choose to skip that step and make false idols of ourselves through electrons and computer bits in social media, etc. It’s delusional self-worship and willful insanity which leads to a total lack of self-respect, self-appreciation and self-love to who really God made us to be. That’s why idol makers, old or modern, are always begging for more and more false human respect and recognition (a bottomless pit), and are always predisposed to violence (Acts 19: 24-34). The solution is John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, TOB, which restores our high value even today when not just babies but our God-given identities are being aborted daily (“These Beautiful Bones” TOB by Emily Stimpson).