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Ever Curioser

by Fr. Jonathan Atchley

Although Alice has long been a favorite character of mine in literature, I often puzzled over the confusing struggles she experienced, unfairly, I add, over her encounters with the minions of Wonderland. Many of the characters talk nonsense and grow annoyed with her because she does not follow their idiosyncratic use of language. They criticize her for not understanding, and throughout her adventures she struggles with feelings of insecurity until she can establish her own authority. While in her quest for meaning and her own secure identity, she is rebuffed by the disordered and unjust authority imposed by Wonderland’s inhabitants.

Take, for instance, Alice’s encounter with the Caterpillar, who challenges her attempt to make sense of Wonderland with contempt.


“Who are you?” said the Caterpillar.

Alice replied, rather shyly, “I—I hardly know, sir, just at present—at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.” [Recall her having grown small and large.]

“What do you mean by that?” said the Caterpillar sternly. “Explain yourself!”

“I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, sir,” said Alice, “because I’m not myself, you see.”

“I don’t see,” said the Caterpillar.

“I’m afraid I can’t put it more clearly,” Alice replied very politely, “for I can’t understand it myself to begin with; and being so many different sizes in a day is very confusing.”

“It isn’t,” said the Caterpillar.

“Well, perhaps you haven’t found it so yet,” said Alice; “but when you have to turn into a chrysalis—you will some day, you know—and then after that into a butterfly, I should think you’ll feel it a little queer, won’t you?”

“Not a bit,” said the Caterpillar.

“Well, perhaps your feelings may be different,” said Alice; “all I know is, it would feel very queer to me.”

“You!” said the Caterpillar contemptuously. “Who are you?”

Which brought them back again to the beginning of the conversation. Alice felt a little irritated at the Caterpillar’s making such very short remarks, and she drew herself up and said, very gravely, “I think, you ought to tell me who you are, first.”


Poor Alice goes around and around with such self-absorbed characters as the White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, the Red Queen, on and on, in her quest to make sense of their foolishness. But in Wonderland, theirs is authority and power, and Alice learns that to find truth she must assert herself and impose an ordered sense of logic on a world lost in its own silly, illogical way of looking at reality. [1]

Something like this "embrace of confusion" seems to be going on in the world today, with the dominant interpersonal and subjective philosophies of liberalism, relativism, pluralism, modernism and so on. Those in power interpret truth and reality in ways far different than traditional Christians have done for millennia. Truth, for the liberated, contemporary mind, doesn’t hold for all people in all cases (which of course, makes truth really a lie); it admits of contradictions and polar opposition in an effort to be non-judgmental and welcoming. And thanks to a recently published, enlightening article by Professor Echeverria this odd refusal to see and call things as they are, which is embraced by Pope Francis, can be re-evaluated as the confusion that it really implies.

Reading the Catechism, Dr. Echeverria notes that truth has a two-fold meaning: “Faith is a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed” (CCC #150). But while Pope Francis agrees that truth cannot be essentially variable, subjective or personal—because what is true is true for all, objectively speaking--he allows logically exclusive beliefs. In an effort to befriend all, Francis says that “to dialogue [with other religions] means to believe that the “other” has something worthwhile to say…engaging in dialogue does not mean renouncing our own ideas and traditions, but the [renouncing of the] claim that they alone are valid or absolute.”

Here we have a face-off of two epistemologies: either something is true or it is not, for all people and all times. Like claiming “the sun exists” is true, one cannot say the sun exists for some but not for others. The Catholic Faith asserts that Jesus is the one true Savior. This assertion must exclude truth-claims that contradict it. But Dr. Echeverria argues convincingly that Pope Francis ignores this nonnegotiable truth in order to affirm the coexistence of diverse perspectives, locally and cross-culturally. He agrees that one can have theological diversity, but not so as to deny truths that are different and mutually exclusive. For instance, Pope Francis promotes the Abu Dhabi Document on Human Fraternity that Catholics and Muslims seek the same or a similar salvific truth. But Catholics believe Jesus is the sole savior; Muslims do not. How can we both be seeking the same truth by excluding what our faith essentially asserts and theirs denies?

“Francis denies that Christian beliefs are valid or absolute, and hence I am not sure that he can maintain the uniqueness and identity of Christianity…Unfortunately, the loss of this perspective on truth means that the DDF’s [Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith] mission for defending the integrity of the Catholic Faith, which includes defending the Faith from error and illegitimate interpretations, is lost.” [2]

In a crazy, relativistic, power-driven society such as ours, it is refreshing to reflect that perhaps one can still impose sanity on upside down standards that largely suppress truth. I find encouragement with this new understanding of Alice’s struggle to redefine herself as she confronts the confusion of her world, and am inclined to adopt that similar struggle as my own. Alice’s ongoing quest to make sense of Wonderland leaves her ever “curioser and curioser.” Catholics must question and ponder the truths God reveals to understand them, even as we are obliged to reject the ways that society would have us reinterpret those truths for the sake of convenience or amiable compatibility. It is a blessing to have a questioning mind, and part of our task on earth is to seek the truth while strengthening ourselves and others in the quest for the meaning of truth. Salvation for Catholics comes alone from the Lord Jesus. That particular truth cannot be watered down or admixed with other faiths, even if our most prominent leaders would have us relativize its understanding. Keep Alert! “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” ( 1Peter 5:8).

[1] You can go on to read for yourself the many illustrations that make the point that Alice is on a quest for truth and certainty in a world that sometimes defies logic and reality.

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Truth is true even when nobody believes it. And nowadays, few can be found to believe it.

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