The first headline, “The truth will set you free,” and the second, “Claims about MPs don’t add up”. It doesn’t matter who we are, whether a minister of religion, politician, ariki, business person, parent or child, we are all going to have to work out how we are going to deal with truth in life.
In the very beginning of earth’s history, Satan, while in the form of a serpent, told the first lie to Eve. He told her that if she disobeyed the command of God not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, she would “not surely die,” even though God had expressly warned her that “in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die:” (See Genesis 3:4; 2:17)
Scripturally, our basis for truth is plainly set out as one of the 10 commandments. The eighth commandment states, “You shall not bear false witnesses against your neighbour.” You will find this in Exodus 20:16.
The eighth commandment teaches us not to lie. Lying means consciously and intentionally speaking or acting against the truth. Someone who lies deceives themselves and misleads others who have a right to know the full truth on the matter.
Every lie is an offence against justice and charity. Lying is a form of violence; it introduces the seed of division into a community and undermines the trust on which every human community is based.
What does our relationship with truth have to do with God? Living in respect for the truth means more than being true to oneself. More precisely it means being truthful, and being true to God, for he is the source of all truth. We find the truth about God and about all of reality quite differently in Jesus, who is“the way and the truth, and the life.” John 14: 6)
Those who really follow Jesus bring greater and greater truthfulness into their life. They eliminate all lies, falsehood, pretence and ambiguity from their accomplishments in life and become transparent towards truth. To believe means to become a witness to the truth. Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’.” (John 14: 6.)
How strongly obligatory is the truth of the faith? Every Christian must give testimony to the truth and thereby follow after Christ, who before Pilate said, “For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth.” (John 18;37.)
This can even mean that a Christian lays down his life out of fidelity to the truth and love for God and humankind. This ultimate form of commitment to the truth is called martyrdom. If you have not seen it, I recommend you see the movie just out called Silence in which Christian missionaries to Japan in the 17th century are persecuted by Buddhists when they claim Christianity is the religion of truth. Was truth worth the painful martyrdom to uphold it?
What does it mean to be truthful? Truthfulness means that one acts sincerely and speaks honestly. The truthful individual guards against double dealing, misrepresentation, malicious deception and hypocrisy. The worst form of untruthfulness is perjury. Perjury is the crime of lying under oath, and is a serious offence because it can derail discovering the truth in the justice system. A great evil in all communities is slander of other people and malicious gossip: A tells B “confidentially” something derogatory that C said about B.
Why does telling the truth require discretion? Communicating truth must be done prudently within the context of charity. Often the truth is wielded as a weapon and thus has a destructive rather than constructive effect. When conveying information, we should think of the ‘three sieves” of Socrates: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it helpful?
Truth in Modern Times
It was my personal interpretation that the whole world gasped when a White House spokesman in the new Trump administration repeated false claims describing them as “alternative facts.” How easy it is for us to use language to hide the truth by being clever with words to dress up or gloss over the reality.
“It is commonly said we live in a ‘post-truth’ culture”.1. This statement should alarm us in a nation like the Cook Islands that prides itself on being Christian. Most of us if we were asked to list the virtues that are important to us, would have honesty or truth in the list somewhere.
I list some of my concerns where I think we can brush up around the topic of truth.
1. The perception that if we have a majority supporting a particular point of view that it is presumed right. The truth can very well be with the minority and majority are in fact wrong. Eg. It is not too long ago when the majority thought smoking was good for you.
2. Those with the loudest voice presume they are right. This is often at the expense of the rights and dignity of those who do not have access to the media and whose voice goes unheard. Deception, dishonesty, manipulation, lies, self delusion and denial all need to be sifted out to discover the truth.
3. Many people, especially children, think that whatever they see in the media is real. If in the name of entertainment, violence is glorified, anti social behavior is approved of, and human sexuality is trivialized, then those publishing such entertainment ought to be responsible for the harm they do. To be more explicit how much depression, suicide, anti social behavior, use of pornography can be laid at the door of the entertainment industry and those supervisory authorities that ought to put a stop to it. Truth ought to give freedom, not addiction.
4. The use of “spin” by politicians. “Spin is a pejorative term often used in the context of public relations practitioners and political communicators. It is used to refer to the sophisticated selling of a specific message that is heavily biased in favour of one’s own position and that employs maximum management of the media with the intention of maintaining or exerting control over the situation, often implying deception or manipulation”.2
5. Silence. When truth is hidden by keeping quiet. In the workshops that I have been associated with here in the Cook Islands on “abuse” how often do we hear how domestic violence against women and children is hidden by a culture of silence. In the area of sexual abuse my own church is guilty of having been silent on this topic to its great shame now.
Truth is still worthwhile promoting as it does set us free. Admire and promote the truth tellers in our midst. “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:21)
1. Bishop Peter Cullinane: Truth still Matters.
2. Suzanne Braun in Encyclopedia Britannica.
(Bishop Paul Donoghue Catholic Church. )