I read Geraghty this morning like I do most mornings and it was simply depressing. He covered three stories, administration word games about last month’s shoot-em-up at a recruitment station in Chattanooga, the apparent administration shut down of investigations that might have given us some advanced notice about San Bernardino, and Ted Cruz’ “spin” post debate regarding his dust up with Rubio on immigration. Geraghty can usually bring a smile to my face about almost any subject, but not this morning.
Three stories, all of them involving some variation and degree of lying. Let’s face it, there is a scale to lying, from the polite social lie (“I have a previous engagement” when the truth is you are too tired to put up with their stuff that night) through “spin,” to the boldface “Green is actually red.” Then there is delusion. Where you actually think you are telling the truth, but you are not – like my schizophrenic uncle that once called me and told me he was Jesus. Was he lying? Well yeah, but he did really think he was Jesus, at least until I told his keepers about it and his meds were adjusted. There are lies of omission and lies of commission. We could go on all day creating a taxonomy of lying.
We make these distinctions in order to decide if the lie is good or bad. Of course we forgive the polite social lie and generally forgive the delusion. The stuff in between is where things get really sticky. Not to mention the fact that many, many people delude themselves, often in order to forgive themselves for some lie they told. Then what do you do?
In politics and government, this game gets even trickier. For example, secrets are a form of lying, but they serve a greater good. But what is really a greater good? It all starts to get jumbled in our heads, trust erodes, accusations fly, and things can get really ugly in a big hurry. It has gotten so jumbled any more that our culture tends to no longer think in terms of objective truth – there is only perception, thus we all, in a sense, speak out of our delusions and thus our “lies” are forgivable.
“Forgiveness” is, I think, the bottom line in all this. The politician that spins seeks to either not be in a position to need forgiveness, or to be forgiven by the voter so they can be elected. The polite social lie is in order to not hurt the feelings of the other so they do not have to forgive you for that slight. In a world where forgiveness comes easily, the need for lying is greatly reduced.
One of the hardest things Jesus ever said is in Matthew 5:33-37. This is the passage in the Sermon on the Mount where the phrase “Let your ‘yes’ mean ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ mean ‘no'” comes from, although that particular translation of the original language is very loose. In the passage Jesus urges us not to take an oath, to simply speak the truth plainly at all times so that there is no need for oaths. But as we have seen, to do that we need grace; for we will always screw up and therefore we will always be tempted to lie.
Who better to urge us not to lie than the person that brought grace to the world? Yesterday I wrote about responding with grace because grace always wins. Grace wins because it breaks the cycle of screw-up/lie. Once we know we have grace, we don’t need to lie and we can then fix the screw-up.
People claim to want truth from their politicians. But we are so graceless in our demands from our elected officials that we exacerbate the screw-up/lie cycle instead of break it. Like most problems we face in our society we are not going to be able to elect them fixed. We have to start with ourselves. Maybe learning more grace would be a good place to start.