Young on Campuses and Truth on the Rise: Thoughts from Heschel

If anything characterizes the politics of our time–and the distorted media and social media in our time–it is the disregard for truth. 

Trailer of An Inconvenient Sequel, Al Gore’s follow-up to An Inconvenient Truth, tracing the spectrum of the world’s responses to the dangers of climate change. Paramount Pictures.

Rabbi Heschel underscored what is at stake when truth gets lost. Truth is severe, harsh, demanding.  We would rather hide our face in the sand than be confronted by it.  Denial is not truth; denial becomes popular when truth is inconvenient or does not serve our ideologies. 

Fascism distorts truth and sells denial.  For example, what does it mean when an entire political party remains in denial of climate change?  Why would that be?  Maybe because politicians eagerly accept fossil fuel dark money that pays them to hide their heads in the sand?

“Truth” is an apt name for Divinity.  Yet Heschel warns how a “theory of God can easily become a substitute for God” and this happens “when God as a living reality is absent from the soul.”  Selling Bibles, citing it and reading it is no substitute for “God as a living reality” being absent from the soul. 

Anti-Zionist Jews protest in solidarity with Palestinians. Photo by Alisdare Hickson on Flickr.

The mystics– including the mystic in us–experiences God as a living reality.

If God is justice and God is compassion, then carrying that reality into one’s work and citizenship is what God talk is all about.  God-Talk becomes God-Action.

These blunt words from Heschel written in 1951 seem to name the spirit of 2024: The decay of conscience fills the air with a pungent smell.  Good and evil, which were once as distinguishable as day and night, have become a blurred mist.  But that mist is man-made.  God is not silent.  He has been silenced.

The God who “is the source of qualms, conscience and compassion, finds very few ears.”  We live in a world where “truth [is] flouted, compassion sloughed, violence applauded,” says Heschel (1973).  We live in “an age of spiritual blackout, a blackout of God” and should be on the lookout for “single sparks and occasional rays, upon moments full of God’s grace and radiance.”  (1969)* 

The reinstated Gaza Solidarity Encampment at Columbia University, fifth day. Wikimedia Commons.

The demonstrations on college campuses of young people on behalf of justice are such sparks and rays of grace and radiance.

And so it is that young people are protesting the untruths and injustice and cold heartedness of the war in Gaza.  Good for them!  The adults and their sclerotic institutions of government, academia, industry and religion need such an awakening.

*See John Merkle, The Genesis of Faith: The Depth Theology of Abraham Joshua Heschel, pp. 184, 217.

See Fox, Naming the Unnameable: 89 Useful and Beautiful Names for God…Including the Unnameable God, pp. 56-59.

Banner Image: Universities with Israel–Hamas war protests in April 2024. Colleges that had encampments are marked in green, and non-encampment protests are marked in blue. Wikimedia Commons.

Queries for Contemplation

Do you see a connection between education and the search for Truth?  Between learning and the search for truth?

Recommended Reading

Naming the Unnameable: 89 Wonderful and Useful Names for God …Including the Unnameable God

Too often, notions of God have been used as a means to control and to promote a narrow worldview. In Naming the Unnameable, renowned theologian and author Matthew Fox ignites our imaginations by offering a colorful range of Divine Names gathered from scientists and poets and mystics past and present, inviting us to always begin where true spirituality begins: from experience.
“This book is timely, important and admirably brief; it is also open ended—there are always more names to come, and none can exhaust God’s nature.” -Rupert Sheldrake, PhD, author of Science Set Free and The Presence of the Past

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7 thoughts on “Young on Campuses and Truth on the Rise: Thoughts from Heschel”

  1. Avatar

    Yes! Yes! God’s Spirt of LOVE~WISDOM~TRUTH~PEACE~JUSTICE~CREATIVITY~COMPASSION… are All interrelated in the DIVINE FLOW of LOVING DIVERSE ONENESS in the Sacred Process of the ETERNAL PRESENT MOMENT in Our hearts/Souls and Lives with one another and with Beautiful Sacred Mother Earth and all Her other living creatures and Her essential and graceful abundance, along with Our Spiritual Beings & Realms in the Sacred Evolving COSMOS…. Amen

  2. Avatar

    Thank you for this beautiful and insightful meditation this morning, Matthew. I have always believed that a college education is for the opening of the mind, learning about and from the wisdom of the past, and beginning, I guess, to build on one’s own wisdom. It’s a time to hear from voices one didn’t encounter in one’s own family and environment, which is a good reason to go away to college if one can. This is what I told my kids. Sure, you choose a field of study that you are interested in, and that may lead to a profession, but that’s not why you go to college. Sadly, this is what many people think they are for today—that college is for getting a higher paid job. Info in info out. Maybe that’s why these protests bother people today. They distract from “serious” focus on the accumulation of obtaining job skills.

    1. Avatar

      I find it so sad that the concept of a liberal arts education seems to have disappeared. In my day (early 60’s), college meant finding a mate for too many young women, but at least the education was truly broad and meant to open one’s eyes to a wider world. These young people who are protesting are reviving that tradition. I admire them greatly.

  3. Avatar
    Martina Nicholson

    I am reading the book by Ilia Delio about Teilhard and Jung. It is called “the Not-Yet God”. (She got this from John Haught, another Teilhard scholar). I like this title for God! It is not an unknown God, but it shows that we are in a process, immense in size, a dancing universe moving toward the God who calls it forth and calls it home. It is not static, but unbelievably active, expanding and complexifying, and love is poured into and through it, in a constant miraculous flow of Divine energy. We each are expressions of this growth, and the drive toward wholeness. The whole thing is relational, so God is truly also participating in movement and process, in interaction with creation. It seems like everything becomes like “yeast in the dough” when we appreciate this. It increases our hope, because instead of feeling like the power-structure is getting stronger and more deadly, it feels like it may be rusting and fading away, we just can’t see it yet. This is an I/Thou relational God! The future is open-ended. It is not pre-determined! And yet, this is an infinitely creative Divine Mystery! And the emphasis is on the unfolding into the future, not the limits and misunderstandings of the past.

  4. Avatar

    Do the troops restoring “law and order” to college campuses, not realize that this will only lead to more protest songs? “The Nash’nal Guard cleared out the plaza / ‘N’ sent us home, and all becausa / We don’t agree with war in Gaza ….”

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