The tragedy of untruthfulness

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Joseph and Tammy TkachThere are two little-known, rarely-observed holidays in the U.S. that address the issue of truthfulness: Honesty Day (April 30) and Tell the Truth Day (July 7). Has truth-telling become so rare that we need two holidays to get people thinking about this essential value? Though a lack of truthfulness is not exclusive to politicians, the current U.S. election cycle has brought forth a flurry of fact-checking activity calling into question the truthfulness of statements made by just about all of the presidential candidates. Sadly, honesty is no longer the norm in daily life, politicians included. I could cite many examples, but below are four statements—see if you can correctly match each with one of these four candidates: Rand Paul, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. [1]

  1. “My mother named me after Sir Edmund Hillary after she read an article about his climbing Mount Everest.” (According to Snopes.com, Sir Edmond climbed Mt. Everest five years after this politician’s birth).
  2. “I received $1 million for a speech in 2005.” (According to various sources, this politician actually received $400,000).
  3. “Climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism.” (According to Politifact.com this is an overstatement).
  4. “A man was put in prison for conspiracy just for having dirt on his land.” (According to FactCheck.org, the man was convicted of mail fraud, conspiracy and environmental violations for developing 67 mobile home lots inside federally protected wetlands without approval).

In providing these quotes, I’m not making political statements for or against any candidates. I refuse to do that, and it’s GCI policy that pastors not promote one candidate over another, or use their influence to sway members to vote one way or another. My point is that commitment to truth-telling is not the norm in our politics. Studies show that people expect politicians to lie. Dan Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University, put it this way:

People want their politicians to lie to them. The reason…is that people care about politics. [They] understand that Washington is a dirty place and that lying is actually very helpful to get policies implemented.

Though I care about politics, I do not want politicians to lie to me and I think it is tragic that politicians believe they can’t get anything done without lying. But enough about politics. My main point is this: over the last several years, we’ve been witnessing a growing tragedy of untruthfulness in which lying is becoming the norm. When one liar succeeds, others are tempted to follow. Even more tragically, when a lie remains in active play, it has a lingering effect even after it has been refuted. Think of someone who has been falsely accused—though they prove their innocence, the damage continues.

A long history of lies

Adam and Eve
Adam and Eve
(from an Ethiopian church mural)
Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Though it seems to be on the rise, lying is nothing new—it started with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and has continued ever since. Harvard PhD and social scientist Bella DePaulo, who has been studying the psychology of deception for decades, summarizes some of her research in The Hows and Whys of Lies. She shows that people often do lie and examines their motivations. In one study, she put recorders on students for a week and found they lied, on average, in every third conversation of ten minutes or more. For adults, it was every fifth conversation. A few years later, Robert Feldman at the University of Massachusetts taped students in conversations with total strangers and got similar results. University of Toronto professor Kang Lee has done extensive research on children and lying. He set up an experiment in a video-monitored room and told children that a toy has been placed behind them, which they can have, but only if they do not peek. The adult then leaves the room and when they return a minute later asks the children if they peeked. At age 2, 30% lied; at 3, 50% lied; at age 5 or 6, 90% lied. Though Lee said he worries about the 10% who did not lie, I worry about a professor who has that worry!

Don’t believe everything you read

Though people tend to rely on scientists to tell the truth when making scientific claims, the facts indicate otherwise. According to Retraction Watch, retractions of scientific claims have increased 1900% in the last nine years. They also report that, in the first decade of the 21st century, “retractions of papers published by medical journals went up 19 fold, although the number of manuscripts being published only increased 44%.” Natural News reported that, according to the Committee on Publication Ethics, publication fraud occurs through fabrication, falsification and plagiarism. Most people (including most scientists), want to be honest, but if they live in a country where half-truths and bald-face lies are rampant, many begin to think, “Everybody cheats, so if I cheat here, then I guess that’s OK.” And so unfolds the tragedy of untruthfulness.

Believe (and follow) Jesus—he is the Truth

Lying, of course, is contrary to the way of Jesus, which is the way of truth. As Christians, we live in the truth of who Jesus is and of who we are in union with him. We value truth because we know who truth is—Jesus Christ! He says to us, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6 NKJV). These three dimensions of human existence are one in him and from him we receive all three. Take one away and the others collapse as well. While we cannot ourselves be the truth, in the light of who Jesus is we look for, live by, and depend upon all other truths relative to him. As followers of Jesus, we reject untruthfulness because it does not lead to participation in his life and love.

I thank God that many people are truth-tellers. But because untruthfulness abounds in our world, I long for the fullness of the kingdom when Jesus brings truth to bear in a renewed earth where all live in the truth of who they are in Christ (Isaiah 65:17; 2 Peter 3:13). At that time there will be no more tears—all will be healed and made whole. What an everlasting party that will be! And that, dear friends, is the truth!

Celebrating the truth that Jesus is and will always be,
Joseph Tkach

___________________

[1] Here is who made each campaign statement: (1) Hillary Clinton, (2) Donald Trump, (3) Bernie Sanders, (4) Rand Paul.

4 thoughts on “The tragedy of untruthfulness”

  1. I suppose that one could argue a value distinction between lies and false statements. One definition suggests the following : “A lie is a statement made by one who does not believe it with the intention that someone else shall be led to believe it” (Isenberg 1973, 248). Lying implies a moral flaw on the side of the responsible agent (i.e. the intention of deception) while the holding and/or dissemination of false statements does not necessarily include a conscious morally flawed choice on the part of the responsible agent. If this difference in nuance is valid, a person can well hold on to erroneous data and beliefs while being sincerely self-deceived. Guess we have all fallen at one time or another into that category.

    An honest person, who can find? The current political landscape in the world today does indeed not provide easy answers.

    “Integrity is telling myself the truth. And honesty is telling the truth to other people.”

    ― Spencer Johnson

  2. Thank you. I think this is well put. Jesus is and will always be the The truth.

    Interesting to note that everything associated with humanity will always hold some element of falsehood. This includes theological treatises, regardless of how universally accepted as truth that may be.

    When taking line by line, every thing said by Jesus, one feels discouraged, because of glaring errors that have been universally incorporated as truth.

  3. Sadly, there is a predominant thread woven through the fabric of our culture at all levels (politics included). That thread is one of playing “fast and loose” with the truth. In some cases it is born of carelessness (we see this a lot in the press). In other cases it is born of self-promotion, beginning with a few “white lies” to inflate one’s resume. Then in other cases untruthfulness is simply bald-face lying. How grateful I am that Jesus, the living Word of God, is absolutely trustworthy. Indeed, he is Truth itself—truth expressive of his inner being, which is love. May we join him in exemplifying truth, always in ways that show forth his love.

  4. Human beings, whether Christian or not, do not easily recognize what is truth. In the Christian realm, there are two great theologies: Arminianism and Calvinism with an assortment of lesser but similar theologies in the mix. Yet these two major theologies are very different. Their separate Christian proponents testify that these theologies are truth revealed by the Holy Spirit. Yet if Arminianism is true, Calvin was one of the worst liars in history, making modern day politicians look like rank amateurs. The same can be said of Jacobus Arminius in the reverse argument. I was a member of a church for 30 years that sometimes referred to itself as “The Truth” and yet it was unmitigated heresy.
    ‘As followers of Jesus, we reject untruthfulness’ presumes that we know what the truth is. Jesus, of course, knows what truth is. The question is “Do we?”

Comments are closed.