Then Jesus said to those who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
One shouldn’t have to say this, but given Donald Trump’s statements during his first few weeks in office, it is a claim that needs to be stated: Truth matters.
The Bible makes many claims, but it is hard to find something more fundamental than this. Truth matters. It makes a difference. Falsehood leads to ruin and truth leads to life.
In John’s narrative of the crucifixion, he describes the encounter between Jesus and Pilate centering on the nature and meaning of truth as it relates to Jesus’ ministry and mission. Before sentencing Jesus to death, Pilate interrogates him about the claim that he is the king of the Jews. He asks him a question in the form of a statement. “So,” says Pilate, “You are a king?”
Jesus throws it back at him with a blend of irony and sarcasm, “You say that I am a king.”
And then he explains his mission: “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Although John does not say anything about how quickly Pilate responded, one imagines a pause. Possibly a very long pause.
And finally Pilate asks Jesus, “What is truth?”
Or in our present context, “What is a lie?”
Each of our previous four presidents has been accused of lying. George H. W. Bush “lied” that there would be “no new taxes.” Bill Clinton “lied” when he said he “did not have sex with that woman.” George W. Bush “lied” when he said that Saddam Hussein has “weapons of mass destruction.” And Barack Obama “lied” when he promised that under the Affordable Care Act, “you can keep your doctor.”
The first and fourth are political promises made based on assumptions about the future. Calling them “lies” is a stretch. When the meteorologist on TV tells me that I won’t need an umbrella, and then it rains, that’s not a lie. It’s a mistake, maybe, but it’s not a lie.
According to Web MD, 80% of young adults don’t count oral sex as having sex. From their perspective Clinton was not lying. If George Bush knew that there were no weapons of mass destruction and intentionally deceived the country, then he lied. But are we sure that he knew?
The situation with Donald Trump is very different. He seems to lie all the time about matters great and small.
We could start with Barack Obama’s birth certificate and end with his comments earlier this week at the headquarters of the U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida. Addressing the troops at MacDill, Mr. Trump explained his concern about the danger of terrorist attacks, first by citing a series of recent events and then by criticizing the media coverage of terrorism:
"It's gotten to a point where it's not even reported, and in many cases the very, very dishonest press doesn't even want to report it."From Mr. Trump’s perspective, journalists are not just mistaken or even lazy or indifferent to national security. They are not just dishonest or even very dishonest. They are “very, very dishonest.”
And then, with a sinister ambiguity, he told the troops that the media "have their reasons, and you understand that.”
It is impossible to imagine any previous president standing in front of his troops at the Central Command headquarters and telling them that the United States press is universally and intentionally dishonest.
The truth matters. And it matters even more when you are the Commander in Chief.
There is deep irony in choosing Steve Bannon, a major architect of Breitbart news, as a senior adviser and even including him in the National Security Council, and then complaining about bias in the media.
That irony would be much more entertaining if there were not so much at stake. We are in dangerous territory. We cannot have a free country without a free press. Delegitimizing the press threatens the foundations of our democracy.
Thank you for reading. Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. Please feel free to share on social media as you wish.