Objective and Subjective Truth in the Catholic Classroom
November 10, 2023
In today’s classroom, students often come to us with their own understanding of “truth.” The definition of the word “truth” is the conforming of one’s mind to reality as it is. Truth resides outside of us, not in our own ideas and concepts. This can often cause confusion as to what is subjective truth vs. objective truth. Subjective truth is based on the personal perspective, experience, or preferences of a person. One student may state, “Math is hard, and it is the worst subject”. They are speaking based on their feelings. These feelings and what is viewed as “their truth” are based on who is speaking. Another student may love math and regard it as their best subject. They are both accurate as they speak on their feelings about math, but that does not apply to the nature of math itself. There is no contradiction about these two students having different opinions about the same thing (math).
In contrast, objective truth is not influenced by or based on a personal viewpoint, it relates to God’s design of the world itself. These truths describe the world as it really is, and they do not depend on who is speaking. A simple math example would be that 1+1=2. This is true no matter how someone feels about math. This leads us into a broader discussion and understanding of truths within our rich Catholic faith.
We know that the existence of God, the saints, and the authority of the Catholic Church are objective truths. They describe facts about the world that are true no matter how we feel about those facts. They have been designated true through divine revelation, the inerrant word of God, as well as the magisterium of the Catholic Church’s dogmatic teachings, which are protected by God from error. Pope St. John Paul II offers some insight into this when he observes, “The splendor of truth shines forth in all the works of the creator and, in a special way, in man, created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1:26). “Truth enlightens man’s intelligence and shapes his freedom, leading him to know and love the Lord” (Veritas Splendor, prologue, Pope St. John Paul II). By infusing all school subjects with the Theology of the Body (derived directly from scripture), the Bible, and references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we can help our students to learn and live their Catholic faith through these objective truths. We offer them a beautiful, good, and truthful lens with which to view the world, with God’s plan, and purpose as the filter in everything they are learning.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1776 explains, “Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself, but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment … For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God … His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.”
By encouraging our students to develop a prayer life, read Holy Scripture, and seek opportunities to experience the sacraments through mass, adoration, and confession, we allow them to develop a deeper relationship with Christ. This in turn helps them to hear and listen to that “internal voice” which speaks the truth. As our students go forth into the world, we want to have established this strong foundation of the objective truths of the Catholic faith so that they can make informed decisions and choices with a well-formed conscience.
“No darkness of error or of sin can totally take away from man the light of God the Creator. In the depths of his heart there always remains a yearning for absolute truth and a thirst to attain full knowledge of it” (Veritatis Splendor, 1, Pope St. John Paul II). We recognize that the world is exposing our students to many subjective experiences presented as “truth” through social media, YouTube videos, and the misinformed influencers of today. Catholic teachers can represent the voice of objective truth and reason within our Catholic classrooms so that God’s voice and their “internal compass” can be heard above all of the world’s noise and confusion. Our brains were indeed created to seek truth, and in fact relish in it. Our brains are designed to be meaning-seeking, rational structures.
Continue to discover objective truths (as determined ultimately by God). Be devout in your own prayer life, and serve wisely, and fruitfully in your vocation as a faithful teacher in a Catholic School. There is abiding hope for us all in Pope St. John Paul II’s encouragement, “…. Only the freedom which submits to the Truth leads the human person to his true good. The good of the person is to be in the truth and to do the Truth” (Veritatis Splendor, 84). If we are to rightly love our students, our family, our neighbors, as God intends by seeking their genuine good, we must strive to infuse our words and actions with His objective, authentic truth. We must teach the difference between objective truth, and subjective “truth.”
Written by, Dena Reany,
Curriculum Consultant, West-Southwest for Ruah Woods Institute