Sunday, August 18, 2013

Untruth and Its Consequences

Almost half a century ago, one of my seminary professors, Dr. Norman Pittenger, opined that society would suffer much less from a loosening of pre-marital sexual mores than from a widespread breakdown in truth-telling. He was speaking at the dawning of the sexual revolution of the 60s, and we’re living in the full glare of the deception and disinformation revolution of the past decade at too many levels of our society.

Credit is tightening in China because few banks can trust the published financial data of other banks—exactly the same situation the U.S. faced in 2008. Their own published data is false, so why trust anybody else's?  The wonder gadgets on Cable TV are surrounded by an avalanche of consumer complaints about false promises.

Fox News, of course, by claiming to be “fair and balanced,” has turned the phrase into a cynical joke.
“Oh, yeah?” I can hear my right-wing cousin say, “and just why should I trust your sources?”  Dr. Pittenger’s point exactly: all too often today, you don’t know who or what to trust.   

Truth in Politics?

Conservative politicians go about crying alarm about the deficit rising at a time when it is actually coming down, and that is but the beginning of misinformation. The Republican party is still fine-tuning its “image makeover for minorities” while it works, in state after state, to restrict access to voting for minorities.

It’s little wonder, therefore, that New Jersey governor Chris Christie told GOP leaders in Boston this week that he’s “going to do anything I need to win,” and that they’d better follow his example instead of letting the far right dominate the party. “We are political operation and need to win.”

While, from my viewpoint, “I’ll do anything, say anything, promise anything to win” is marginally more a GOP tactic than a Democrat one, Mr. Christie’s statement seems to describe all too well the nature of most political rhetoric today, left, right or center. “Spin” we’ve had with us always, but today’s politics are replete with misinformation, disinformation, and downright lies. Worse yet, we seem to expect it, and some pundits seem to rate performance skill and image manipulation as more important than truth.

Those "Negative" Commandments

I’ve heard people complain that the Ten Commands are “so negative; they are always telling you what not to do.”  We may be living in one of those recurrent eras where we are destined to learn, with regret, why there are some things that, if not restrained by “thou shalt nots” will undermine society.  The Torah says “Thou shalt not bear false witness” and the Buddha taught us that “Right Speech” means being simple and directly truthful to ourselves and to others.

My aforementioned cousin is fond of sending out internet blasts full of right-wing misinformation: about Obama, Social Security, and, most especially, Muslims. But he's also a devout Pentecostal Christian, so I've challenged him again and again about the "bear no false witness" commandment. He ignores the issue resolutely.

Such rules and moral maxims are like rails for the trolley. Violate them too much and the trolley comes off the track.  And the truth-telling has to begin with each of us.

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