- - Friday, August 9, 2019

You know the story. 

Narcissus was the son of the river god Cephisus. He ran in the foothills and forests of Greece. He joined with the fawns and dryads in the woodland sports as they ran the streams and climbed the mountains. He was incredibly handsome, so handsome that the beautiful nymph Echo followed his every step, pursuing his love.

One day after an exceptionally good hunt, Narcissus was running through the woods and came upon a calm, clear pool carved out in the bend of a river. Exhausted and fatigued he stooped down to take a drink and saw his own image in the water. Struck by the beauty of the reflection, he thought he was looking at a river god living in the pool. Narcissus stood by the fountain’s edge gazing with admiration at himself.  


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Overwhelmed with self-infatuation, Narcissus stayed by the river’s edge, day after day, hovering over the pool, gazing at his own image. He could not tear himself away.  

As time went by, the image he cherished consumed him. He lost all thought of food or rest. He lost his color, he lost his vigor, he lost his strength, and in one final attempt to embrace his own fading beauty, Narcissus leaned over the edge of the pool, fell in and drowned.  



In love with himself, Narcissus died, leaving nothing but the faint hint of Echo’s voice in a distant valley as she mourned the loss of such wasted beauty. 

This story came to mind recently when I was confronted by a young student who disagreed with my conservative worldview. His comment went something like this: “The problem with you conservatives is that you are arrogant. You think you have all the answers. You think you are always right.”

Now I have a point of clarification and then a question.

First, clarification: The difference between conservatives and progressives is not that conservatives think they are right and progressives don’t. To the contrary, any healthy debate presupposes that one person believes his or her ideas are right while contending that another person’s ideas are wrong. By definition a disagreement assumes mutual dissent.

Common sense (as well as Webster) tells us that a dispute involves arguing one thesis against another. Both parties think they have the correct answer. Both are confident in the accuracy of their position. Both believe the other person’s ideas are mistaken. Wouldn’t it be a silly waste of breath to disagree if we had no confidence in the “rightness” of our own position and the consequent “wrongness” of our opponent’s? 

Surely, we can agree that both parties are equally confident in thinking they have the better ideas. It seems obvious that my friend who believed he was right in criticizing me for believing I’m right needs to remember that one accusing finger pointed at others is often outnumbered by several pointed back at yourself. 

At the end of the day, it isn’t the degree of confidence that distinguishes one “believer” from another, but rather it is the source of confidence. My progressive friend claims there is no final answer. All truths are subjective social constructs. People are the source of their own truth. I disagree and say truth is bigger than this.

Truth is not a product of collective opinions, it is an objective absolute. As Os Guinness says, “Truth is true even if no one believes and falsehood is false even if everyone believes it. Truth is truth and that’s’ the end of it.” Truth is a fact. Truth is real. 

Thus, the difference between the progressive and conservative is that one man claims to be the source of truth while the other claims to be its recipient. 

Now, my question: Why is it arrogant for me to say “I don’t have all the answers but I believe there is one” and yet humble for my young friend to proclaim with narcissistic confidence that “There is no final answer. Truth is what I decide it is. I am the final judge”  

This past week, as we listened to Joe Biden mindlessly shout, “We believe in [our] “truths over facts,” maybe we would all do well to remember the story of Narcissus and my young friend. 

As we stand at the edge of the pool of competing worldviews we have a choice. We can arrogantly chose our own image or we can humbly choose to turn away from self to the self-evident; to the “eternal fact: the Father of all facthood” (C.S. Lewis); the Creator who endowed us with the ability to have this debate in the first place.

Maybe it would serve us all well to take a look in the mirror as a reminder that it isn’t arrogant, after all, to fall in love with something bigger than oneself.

• Everett Piper, former president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, is a columnist for The Washington Times and author of “Not A Day Care: The Devastating Consequences of Abandoning Truth” (Regnery 2017).

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