Truth and Illusion

Truth is hard.  Illusions are pleasant.  It is not in the least surprising, then, that people will shun truth and welcome illusions.  But illusions are not sustainable.  Reality keeps getting in the way.  Truth, though hard, is not only sustainable, it is rewarding.  And among its rewards is joy.

Christ came into the world to free us from illusions and place us on the road to truth.  “I am the way and the truth and the life,” he said (John 14:6). But if one is willing to journey along this path of truth, he advised, “let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23).  The Cross, then, becomes the central symbol of Christianity.  It refers not only to Christ’s death on the Cross and His redemption, but also to our death and hope for eternal beatitude.

The secular world does everything in its power to make life easier.  But the path of least resistance is the road to nowhere.  Nothing is more inconvenient than the hopeless attempt to make life increasingly convenient.  The Cross is not convenient.  But it is liberating.

     To the secular world the Cross seems to be a most ineffective way of promoting one’s cause.  The commercial world always thinks in positive terms:  “Better living through chemistry,” “The pause that refreshes,” “Just do it,” “A diamond is forever,” “You’re in good hands,” “America runs on Dunkin,” “Save money, live better,” “Have it your way,” “Don’t live life without it,” and Disneyland’s claim to be “The happiest place on earth.”  Against these positive and promising logos, the Cross seems far too negative.  And yet, it is the one thing that replaces illusion with truth.  Or, in Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s immortal phrase, “One word of truth outweighs the whole world.”

These secular logos all have a religious tone to them.  They create a false paradise cleverly luring unsuspecting people into a world of fantasy.  But they are merely logos and do not have the substance behind them to deliver what they promise.  Money is important, but its pursuit can be a problem.  “Money as a pursuit,” writes Catholic convert Malcolm Muggeridge in his book, Jesus Rediscovered, “is, in my opinion, the most contemptible of all.”  It is not the pursuit of happiness.  It is chasing after a wild goose that does not exist.

Why must life be difficult?  We should remember that we were created out of nothing.  Therefore, we have a long way to go to reach anything close to perfection.  And we cannot do it alone.  And worldly illusions do not help.  When we overcome difficulties, with God’s help, we gain a fuller appreciation of who we are as persons.  Couch potatoes do not grow.  We are created to be achievers, not parasites.

Pro-abortionists are groaning over the loss of an illusion that lasted nearly fifty years.  The Dobbs verdict means that the United States Constitution does not nor ever did contain a right to abortion.  It was a catastrophic illusion to think that it did.  We find wisdom sometimes in unexpected places.  Twentieth century British author Virginia Woolf once asked, “Why, if it was an illusion, not praise the catastrophe, whatever it was, that destroyed illusion and put truth in its place.”  She understood the worth and the indispensability of truth.  Let us, then, replace the fiction that the Constitution contained a right to abortion with the truth that human beings that are yet unborn have a Constitutional right to live.  Then, we can say, along with playwright Arthur Miller, that “An era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted.”  The empty phrase, “Pro-choice,” is unsustainable.  People make enough bad choices to make the redemptive value of the Cross a most realistic alternative.

Malcolm Muggeridge imagines a Public Relations man telling St. Paul that, in order to launch Christianity, he needs some sort of catchy logo or symbol, an image that is an attractive sign of the Christian faith.  “Well, I have one,” St. Paul retorts, “I have this Cross.”  The PR man bursts into uncontrollable laughter.  “You can’t popularize your campaign with a thing like that.  It’s a symbol of suffering and persecution.  It’s absolutely mad.  No one is going to follow a cross!”

It is the central paradox of Christianity that the Cross is the only victory over sin, tomfoolery, and illusions.  It is the truth; and that is all that matters.

Image: Shutterstock/Renata Sedmakova

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Dr. Donald DeMarco is Professor Emeritus, St. Jerome’s University and Adjunct Professor at Holy Apostles College.  He is is the author of forty-two books and a former corresponding member of the Pontifical Academy of Life.  Some of his latest books, The 12 Supporting Pillars of the Culture of Life and Why They Are Crumbling, and Glimmers of Hope in a Darkening World, Restoring Philosophy and Returning to Common Sense and Let Us not Despair are posted on  He and his wife, Mary, have 5 children and 13 grandchildren.  

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