In the political season, telling the truth and lying are always battling for supremacy over the minds and hearts of the electorate.
That’s what’s playing out in the case of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. The scheduled Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this week offers us a different kind of challenge regarding the integrity of the judiciary and elected officials. How does one determine who is telling the truth and who is lying?
The Torah is explicit about the seriousness of lying. Mark Twain wrote, “There are 869 forms of lying but only one of them has been squarely forbidden; thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” One of the Ten Commandments says exactly that.
In ancient times, according to Deuteronomy, witnesses were asked to stand before God by appearing before the priests and judges who adjudicated disputes. The Torah goes on to say that those judges were required to conduct the process of discovery in order to determine which individual might be lying.
The consequences of lying were serious: . “So shall you put evil away from among you.” That admonition was also intended to communicate a stern message to the public that they, too, shall learn and fear the repercussions of lying in a court of law. “And your eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot”
Today, basic values which come from the Bible are supposed to be part of the bedrock of America’s ethos of integrity. Ironically, liars running for elected office like to hide behind the shield of freedom of speech to justify their words, no matter how hurtful, hateful or untrue. “I have the right of freedom of speech” becomes their rallying cry and deflects our attention from the primary issue: is what they’re saying true or a lie. On Hilton Head we have a mayoral candidate who uses the camouflage of our Constitution’s First Amendment to advance his ideas of hate by questioning the Holocaust.
The Bible and later religious traditions from Judaism and Christianity understood that lying was a serious crime because liars not only diminish themselves, If not held accountable, they undermine the social fabric of society.
Lying undermines the family unit, interpersonal relationships and public discourse. The problem is that when someone, especially a candidate for elected office, tells a lie over and over again, there is a tendency to believe the falsehood. We have seen how susceptible the public is to the charisma and persistence of a candidate who repeats a lie.
The constant repetition of lying rhetoric saturates our mindset and we then sometimes take it for granted that it must be true.
Twain warned us that religion and politics required us to be discerning about what we hear and believe. In 1908, he wrote: “In religion and politics, people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing.”
His advice on both subjects is valid.
Have all of us not violated the commandment “thou shall not bear false witness” sometime in our lives?
Despite the human inclination to lie, should we not question for ourselves and learn the truth not only about our religious teachings but also about those seeking our vote in the political arena? Aren’t we responsible to ferret out the truth as we prepare to cast our ballot?
In that way, religion and politics converge. It is our duty to question the accuracy if there is doubt about what clergy preach or what candidates exhort in their speeches.
Judaism has an ancient proverb which says, “God created everything except the art of lying.”
If God sees into the hearts of human beings, is it not incumbent upon us to use our best judgment to discern whether someone, whether he or she is running for elected office or preaching from Holy Scriptures, is telling us the truth?
Is this not faith in action, too?