“The truth will set you free.” John 8:32
I’m never a fan of lying. My students know that one of the worst things that they can do to me is to lie to me and that I value their honesty above all things. Even when they wish to criticize me, I tell them that I’d rather know the truth, even if it might hurt my feelings or be harsh.
We might think that we’re doing someone a favor, by lying, but we really aren’t. A priest-colleague of mine once said that he hates when his parishioners lie through their teeth when he knows that his homily was awful that day. “I would much rather hear, ‘You know, you were really off today.’ Because I’m never going to get any better otherwise and I won’t know if I am really resonating with the community.”
Lying, even under the best intentions, is always a tool of evil. Here’s one example:
In college, I was on a date and some of the guys on my floor saw me kissing my date late into the evening in my dorm room. They made certain assumptions about how the evening ended. One asked what my date’s name was and told me he knew what dorm she lived in because she lived next door to friends. I wouldn’t reveal her name and told them to stop making assumptions about what went on between us.
They pressed further and badgered me for about a half hour about it. To get them off my back, I simply made up a name. That satisfied them and I thought I preserved my friend’s reputation.
Except another woman who lived in my date’s dorm had that name. And the guys spread rumors that I had a liaison with her. She was justifiably furious at me. In lying, I was trying to save someone else’s good name and instead had damaged another’s. It was awful. And it was my fault.
Lying is always a tool of evil.
Ron Rohlheiser, OMI, the great North American theologian and the President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio says this about lying:
The unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit begins with lying, with rationalization, with the refusal to acknowledge the truth. But we don’t commit this sin easily, overnight, the first time we tell a lie. We commit it down the line, through a sustained series of lies, long after we first told a lie to our loved ones and began to hide important parts of our lives from them. The soul warps slowly, like an old board soaked too often in the rain. It’s not the first time it gets wet that makes the warp.
We commit the sin against the Holy Spirit when we lie for so long that we believe our own lies. If we lie long enough, eventually light begins to look like darkness and darkness begins to look like light.
His whole article on this is worth a read.
But it’s almost a given that we expect our politicians to lie to us. Either side of the aisle seems to take this given for granted. My favorite show, “The West Wing” has the chief of staff, Leo McGarry even say “I’m a politician, Ainsley, of course, I lied to you there.”
While I’m sure the past administration has lied to the American public, the current one seems to be making an art form out of it. How many outright lies has Sean Spicer told in his first press conference alone and then in a second one tried to back up his own deceptions? His colleagues seemed to have trouble defending him and all the President could say was that Spicer was a “superstar.”
Soon, I fear, this administration will have people think that the following things are true:
1) Climate change is not caused by human-made carbon emissions.
2) Immigrants are people we should keep out of the country.
3) We should drill in Anwar with no regard for the migration patterns of the animals that reside there.
4) All Muslims are a security threat to Americans.
And I shudder to think about what else becomes part of the daily attitudes of people who take what the President feeds them and digests it as “truth.”
As many know, I worked as a producer for a right-wing political talk show. The host, Bob Grant, was an incredibly nice and generous man. And we could barely agree upon the time of day. But regardless, there was often a lack of critical thinking not only amongst his audience members, but among others I knew.
“I heard that on the Bob Grant show…so it has to be true.” That’s an actual quote from a middle aged man who was the uncle of a friend of mine. He was semi-educated, but he essentially took anything Bob said as law.
Rush Limbaugh would often say “I will interpret the news for you.” Essentially saying that we are too stupid to understand the complex political landscape that exists. And this is the hope of the current administration. A soundbyte culture that simply accepts whatever they say as truth is what we have to fear more than anything else.
Today, I will vow to tell the truth. Not only about lies I see come forth from politicians on either side of the aisle, but also to tell the truth when it is difficult. To challenge my own assumptions. I had a spiritual director who would often ask for evidence of negative feelings about myself that I would reveal to him–and often it wasn’t there. I was able to see God in the truth, the truth that I was actually beloved by God and others and that my own failings or shortcomings weren’t all that I was.
We need to hold this administration to something we ask under oath in our American courts to the simplest of witnesses.
We need to ask them to “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”
So help us God.