“You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” –Jesus (John viii)
“You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd.” –Flannery O’Connor (?)
The second quote is a popular one to pull out when trying to explain Flannery O’Connor’s odd appeal to a non-believer (in her greatness, that is). Many things are accomplished in this tiny, quotable passage: it proves her religious credentials by its direct reference to Sacred Scripture, it demonstrates her cleverness by modifying the inspired text in a way that does not disrespect the source, it gives the reader a sense of her literary method of unexpected juxtaposition, and it’s funny.
The problem is that it’s not hers.
In my attempts to track down the source of this quote, I scoured through her stories, letters, and essays. Every time it’s been quoted, it has never been accompanied by a direct reference to one of her works. It was quoted in Marian Crowe’s Aiming at Heaven, Getting the Earth, but in the endnotes even she admits, “I have been unable to locate the source of the quotation” (p. 29).
Is this saying simply a fabrication? Is it something copied covertly out of one of her journals? Maybe it’s a saying remembered by her friends, passed down through oral tradition?
Whatever the case, the saying is most definitely Flannerian in spirit. If it’s not something she said, it is something she could have said, and (one thinks) should have said. There’s another Scripture passage that is relevant: “For the letter killeth, but the spirit quickeneth.” If “the truth shall make you odd” is perfectly Flannerian in spirit, who am I to quibble about the letter of the law?
Let’s drink to our oddness and put this quote on a tee shirt.
The reader of today… has forgotten the cost of truth, even in fiction. I don’t believe that you can impose orthodoxy on fiction. I do believe that you can deepen your own orthodoxy by reading if you are not afraid of strange visions. Our sense of what is contained in our faith is deepened less by abstractions than by an encounter with mystery in what is human and often perverse.
–Flannery O’Connor (“The Catholic Novelist in the Protestant South”)