Friday, January 08, 2016

When a lie becomes the truth

At what point does a false statement become an outright, deliberate lie?  When we pass along information based only on its source or its content without actually checking out the information, we think we are doing a service.  The possibility that the information (or opinion) could be false or, at the very least, misleading does not seem to be of great concern as much as doing damage to those with whom we disagree.  That we merely “heard” something we wished to hear seems to be enough for us to consider it to be true.

Thinking of some of the more contemporary controversies we are faced with on an almost daily basis, there seem to be ways to tell the truth without actually knowing the truth.  Politics is the big one especially in this charged atmosphere about the president’s attempts to strengthen gun control.  Second Amendment advocates call him a “liar”, but gun control advocates (including the president) insist it is the gun rights lobby that is being less than honest or downright dishonest – and only for political gain.  I propose both sides are not taking the time or giving the sufficient energy and attention to fully understand what each is saying, but I also think both sides are allowing (or deliberately manipulating) emotions, as opposed to facts, to achieve what they each intend.

“These are the things you shall do: speak the truth to one another, render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace, do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath; for all these are things I hate, says The Lord.”  Zechariah 8:16-17

The pretext to The Lord’s commandment to His people indicates The Lord means to “do good to Jerusalem and to the house of Judah” (vs 15).  In order for “good” to prevail, however, “good” is required of The Lord’s people: they must “do good” to one another: “speak the truth”, “render … judgments that are true”, “do not devise evil”, and “love no false oath”.

There is more to this declaration than to merely refrain from lying or misleading one another.  In rendering judgments that are true (which requires a knowledge of facts), we are to render judgments that make for peace.  Righteousness is not defined by what is not being done or said; rather genuinely righteous and moral behavior is marked and defined by what is actually done and said. 

It should go without saying, then, that each of us is responsible for the well-being of the whole society, the whole congregation by what we choose to do and to say; and if we choose to pass along information that is not vetted by us personally, to have heard with our own ears what we choose to pass along as “fact”, we will also be responsible for the harm done by information that does not take all known facts into account, including what has actually been said as opposed to having been “translated” by opinion writers.

It boils down to this: how can we possibly claim to know something we do not actually know?  It is not about what we believe or suspect or even what we wish to believe or suspect to be true.  What is actually known, fully known, can be based on nothing less than first-hand knowledge and direct experience. 

Passing on a rumor, the direct knowledge of which we knowingly lack, knowing this rumor to be less than favorable to the subject matter (or person) and has the potential to do great harm is to be directly engaged in a “lie”.  We know we do not have first-hand knowledge.  We know we have not been party to the original discussion; but because of the disdain we happen to feel about the subject matter (or person), we gladly, gleefully, eagerly pass it along.  What is true is not nearly as important as the harm we can do to those with whom we stand opposed.

The Lord prohibits this conduct and behavior.  There are no caveats, no exemptions, no exceptions as to “informed opinion” (which is based less on “information” and more on “opinion”).  Those who consider themselves “people of The Lord”, those of the Church, those who call themselves Democrat or Republican and at the same time men and women of faith cannot love a false oath” (eagerly passing along incomplete, unknown, or outright false information) and still claim allegiance to The Lord.

There are very few among us who can escape this indictment.  Our passions for what we believe in can often overwhelm our sense of right and wrong – especially when we feel threatened in any way.  Yet we must be always mindful of The Lord’s desire to “do good” to those who likewise “do good”.  We can attempt to do some theological gymnastics to try and find exemptions for ourselves by quoting any of the Reformers of the Church or even a favorite preacher who also tells us what we wish to hear, but ultimately we cannot escape what is actually written in the Holy Scripture for us to know; that which is written for our good and for building up one another and the congregation of the faithful – not for tearing one another down.

A deliberate attempt to destroy or degrade another human being or even a careless passing along of information we have not bothered to vet is to “love a false oath”, a thing The Lord directly speaks of as “things I hate”.   If The Lord “hates” it, how can we embrace it and still call ourselves children of the Most High God?  For it is the peacemakers [not the troublemakers] who will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).

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