From the Gospel according to John:
Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – John 8:31-32 (NRSV) – March 7, 2013.)
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” There is an undeniable link between truth and autonomy, between authenticity and independence. Those who seek to take away liberty do so by use of falsehood, and most effective untruths are those which are the biggest. Adolph Hitler described the phenomenon:
In the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. (A. Hitler, Mein Kampf)
Hitler was not here advocating the big lie, though he and his propagandist made very effective use of it. Rather, he was accusing the Jews of founding their existence on “one great lie, namely, that they are a religious community, where as in reality they are a race.” Hitler made effective use of the big lie in his project to eradicate the Jews, but eventually the truth came out and he did not succeed.
Unfortunately, the lie as a political tool continues to rear its ugly head. We can all think of plenty of examples:
“Sadam Hussein was involved in 9/11. Sadam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. Sadam Hussein is purchasing equipment to refine uranium for weapons.” None of that was true. Thousands of Americans and millions of Iraquis are dead, wounded, or displaced as a result.
“Barack Hussein Obama was not born in the United States.” What a huge waste of time and attention that lie caused.
“Health care reform will include the use of death panels . . . . ” Um, no.
“The government will collapse into chaos if the sequestration is allowed to happen.” We’ve seen some curtailment of programs, some furloughs of government employees, but it all seems rather orderly.
Falsehood is not a very good tool for politics or governance. In fact, it’s an obstacle to both. Falsehood makes it impossible to discuss or debate anything because the productive discourse demands truthfulness. Only if our decision-making processes are based on established facts can we make effective decisions. Actions taken on the basis of falsehood and fantasy are inevitably disastrous.
Truth, on the other hand, as Jesus promised, sets us and our politics free. Free to deal with problems in the real world. Free to find solutions to which all can agree, or which (at least) all can accept. Free to look at the real world in a realistic manner. Free to face facts.
We who are followers of the One who is the Truth, the Way, and the Life, need to rise up and demand of our politicians that they deal in fact, that they live in the real world, that they speak truth to us and to one another. As the now-popular meme puts it, everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts. There is one set of facts in the real world in which we all live. Only a politics of truth that faces those facts can solve the problems we have and protect our liberty.
But no politics, not even the most fact-based politics, can truly set us free. Only the Truth can do that.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.