Fr. Glenn: The Tangled Web

By Rev. Glenn Jones
Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church
Los Alamos

Find yourself bored? Need a little excitement? … an adrenaline rush? This week all you may need do is find a crowded room and shout “Kavanaugh!”… and dive for cover. Let the melee begin.

The Kavanaugh hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee was quite the divisive spectacle last week. Now that issue has been passed on to the Senate, we are no doubt going to be afforded even more drama. One cannot but weary of it all … saddened as we watch the nation subjected to yet another trial of faith in its government. It seems that one of the antagonists is, how shall we say … “diverging” from truth rather a bit. But … which? That’s the quandary for both honest spectator and nation. Did the one do what she has alleged and is lying with his denial? Or is the other telling a fictitious tale for political purpose? A proverbial “he said, she said” dilemma.

We may never come to a full knowledge of the truth unless one being untruthful ‘fesses up, which hardly seems likely … and always there will linger doubts by proponents of either “side” regardless—members of which possibly more motivated by ideologies than a real search for truth. After all, “the first casualty of war is truth.” The same very often goes also for politics.

But, the larger moral issue being showcased in all its nefarious infamy is the damage which can be accomplished by deceit. Though President Trump is often pilloried for his references to “fake news”, it doesn’t take a great deal of perusal to realize that he is not altogether incorrect, and slanted news not all that difficult to find, regardless of political position. Certainly, mistakes happen, but purposeful obfuscation, confusion or downright deceit by media—be it national, local or (un)social—can be a most destructive force.

The media is sometimes referred to as the “fourth branch of government”, and the Bill of Rights includes very pointedly: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” Such freedom, however, presupposes—and imposes a grave duty—of seeking and transmitting truth. After all, how can a person possibly make well-reasoned, informed decisions when facts are purposely slanted, skewed, omitted or just plain fabricated? Because this often happens in various publications, we find ourselves having to be like those in the intelligence community … or, more applicably for Los Alamos, scientists: piecing together what is known with certainty, what seems likely, and deciding which data are adulterated, aberrations, or simply wrong. 

It’s quite the misfortune for our nation that all sides can’t simply adhere to truth. After all, does not truth help advance society toward greater good rather than toward regression, as it seems like we’re heading? After all, can we so certain of our own position and reasoning that we cannot brook challenges or honest debate? Have any of us never been wrong? Why do we not demand truth? Sometimes, though, many seem determined to prove the truth of the cynicism: “Lying is the only art form that the public sanctions and instinctively prefers to reality.” (Jean Cocteau, Diary of an Unknown). 

And so, as always … to fortify ourselves to seek the good, we resort to the wisdom of scripture, which exhorts us to “…[put] away falsehood, let everyone speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” (Ephesians 4:25) St. Paul here speaks of the greater body of Christian believers, but the sentiment works as well for the members of a nation … or a family, or any group bound together by common loyalty or community. One Proverb seems most applicable in our day: “There are six things which the LORD hates, seven which are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue … a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and a man who sows discord among brothers.” (Proverbs 6:16-19)

“Oh! what a tangled web we weave / When first we practise to deceive!” … the wise words of Sir Walter Scott in his poem “Marmion”. Sadly, many believe that they can “get away” with lying, yet each incident brings with it both destructive force and personal disgrace—proving even more adamantly that the person is unworthy of trust. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “Every violation of truth is not only a sort of suicide in the liar, but is a stab at the health of human society.” (“Prudence,” Essays:  First Series (1841))

“…you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free…” (John 8:32), Jesus says in reference to Himself and His teaching, but applicable in every aspect of life. Only in truth will we find freedom, else we get stuck in that tangled web of Sir Walter—whether it be of our own, or someone else’s, weaving. In falsehood there is cowardice—fear of truth. Let us, then, have the courage and integrity to always seek truth … first and foremost by observing it in our everyday lives.

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