Lib Campbell: Self-evident truth
Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 23, 2022
“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” begins the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. And yet the self-evident truth of unalienable rights has never been fully lived as what is true in America. Truth may be the intent, but it is not the reality. Truth as an ideal is under attack among us today. We are becoming a people of the lie, as phrases like “truthful hyperbole” and “alternative facts” become part of the vernacular of our time.
Gospel writers speak to truth. Luke begins with the statement, “I decided after investigating everything carefully from the very first to write an orderly account for you, that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.” In the gospel of John, Jesus says, “If you continue in my way, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
If truth sets us free, what does the lie do to us? When lies are normalized, the perpetrator of the lie may fly high for a while, but I can’t help but think a day of reckoning comes. We lose face as we get so tangled in our own web we stumble and fall. Lying is hard work – too much to remember. Too much possibility of perjury and self-incrimination. We seem to be a long way from that reckoning right now as more lies rise among us. More and more people seem to be latching onto conspiracy and what seems like an alternate universe.
How do we measure truth? Is it what we see with our own eyes? Is it what we hear with our own ears? Have you ever played Gossip? In a circle someone describes a scene, whispering it into the ear of the next person. That person repeats the details of the scene to the next and on and on around the circle to the very last person. The last person describes the scene for the others. It rarely ends up as it was told to the first person. Care in repeating facts and descriptors preserves truth. “Facts are stubborn things,” said John Adams. He was correct.
Truth gets spun to benefit the liar. When the benefits are huge and the lie is profitable, the lie takes on a life of its own. Take all the climate deniers, if you will. Will it take even more extremes in weather and physical geography to wake us up to a truth that is right before out eyes? Take the election deniers. Will it take the complete decimation of the Republic for someone to wake up and say, “Oops, maybe I shouldn’t have done that.” As the water rises, as the forests burn, as we lose our democracy, and as the boat sinks, that might be too little, too late.
Truth plays intro the great divide in our country. Truth is parsed differently on either side of the aisle. Blues tell it one way, Reds another. It’s a great yin and yang, push me pull you kind of world. It’s head-spinning and it’s scary. Who can offer solution? Who is able to make corrections to get us back on course? Is everything about money and power? Where are the leaders, those coming in hip waders through the muck and mire, who are strong enough and honest enough to be part of the solution and not just another part of the lie? It is sad to think that the 76 years of my life might be the high point of American history. I don’t want this story of self-evident truths and unalienable rights to be distorted and chipped away for the sake of anybody’s lie.
The first time I heard the term “post truth,” I cringed. Yet, “post truth” is winning elections now. Republican election deniers are winning primaries across the nation, vowing to take America back. Back to what? Maybe the dark ages. Or perhaps the mythical white Christian nation. Apparently, the GOP isn’t so G anymore.
Many of the most vocal spreaders of conspiracy and lie are Republican candidates, running for governorships or secretaries of state. If they win, everything is at risk. Guts enough to speak into the din of lies might help set us right. Liz Cheney is trying, even though she lost her primary. She says it clearly, “America cannot remain free if we abandon the truth.” Quoting a Gold Star father, she said, “Standing up for truth honors all who gave all.” Our decisions in November mid-terms are critical. The lie cannot prevail.
Lib Campbell is a retired Methodist pastor and columnist. Email her at email@example.com