Era of Delusion

From the Daily Office Lectionary for Monday in the week of Proper 26, Year 1 (Pentecost 23, 2015)

Nehemiah 6:8 ~ Then I sent to him, saying, “No such things as you say have been done; you are inventing them out of your own mind.”

Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem, enemies of Nehemiah and opponents of the rebuilding of Jerusalme, wrote to Nehemiah and tried by various means to end his efforts. Finally, Sanballat wrote warning Nehemiah that he would write to King Artaxerxes of Persia, Nehemiah’s patron, that Nehemiah was planning to set himself up as a rival king. It is in response to that threat that Nehemiah writes this letter.

Today, the national news services reported that representatives of the campaigns of several of the presidential candidates vying for one of our two major party’s nomination had met about the format and conduct of debates. The candidates, it is said, are unhappy about the way earlier debates, hosted by their party’s national committee and moderated by reporters from different news services, have been handled. Their complaint (in my opinion) boils down to the simple fact that they don’t like the questions they have been asked and the challenges the news people have made, some of them sounding occasionally like, “No such things as you say have been done; you are inventing them out of your own mind.”

We live in an era of delusion. Candidates make things up; one candidate made the statistically outrageous claim that 92% of job losses during the current president’s first term were suffered by women (never mind that the cause of those losses were the policies of the former president elected from her party). When challenged, she refused to justify her claim, later making the absurd defense that the numbers might have been wrong when she claimed them but had been right an earlier time, and finally today acknowledging that they were erroneous all along. Her initial defense, however, was that she and her questioner simply had a difference of opinion.

This is a frequently heard defense when challenges are made to factually inaccurate claims, that it is all just a matter of belief or interpretation and that one is entitled to one’s own opinion. The often heard retort to that is, “Yes, you are entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts.” You are not entitled to go around “inventing them out of your own mind.” Someone who does that is delusional and not fit to lead or govern.

Sanballat, who was a Samaritan, was never able to defeat Nehemiah. He is believed to have retreated to a village at the base of Mt. Gerizim and to be the Samaritan leader responsible for the building of the Samaritan temple on that mountain. It is this temple to which the Samaritan woman at the well, with whom Jesus converses in John’s gospel, refers.

From the time of the exiles return up to Jesus’ time and even into our own times, there has been “bad blood” between Jews and Samaritans. There are many reasons for that and not a few of them can be laid at the feet of the Jews. But among them are the simply untrue assertions of Sanballat, the things invented out of his own mind. This is what happens when people refuse to acknowledge and agree on facts, on the reality which jointly confronts them. Opinions may differ, but facts are facts; if we cannot agree on the facts, there is no foundation for mutual trust, no foundation for reconciliation.

In our era of delusion, with politicians and their supporters inventing things out of their own minds, is there any hope for mutual trust, for mutual governance and shared leadership . . . or are we doomed to generations, to centuries of our Nehemiahs battling with their Sanballats?