ISSUES OF FAITH: Be a bastion of truth against the onslaught of lies

“A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” — Mark Twain.

IT HAS BEEN distressing to see the level of lying and deception being normalized in our society, especially amongst those espousing devotion to God. I’ve talked about the topic of lies often, and decided to revise and edit a column written more than six years ago.

Sadly, it is even more relevant today.

The Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah teaches us that every word, even every thought, has a ripple effect in the world.

We may not know how or when, but our words can have an impact in powerful ways. A kindness extended to someone may be the first shown to them in a long time and could bring them great comfort, even changing their life.

Unfortunately, the reverse is also true. Hatred and lies have their own ripple effect, and when people are manipulated by fear and anger, they feel they have license to hate.

Rage is easily incited and no amount of logic or reason can reach a person who is seething with anger over imagined insults. Facts no longer matter, and the desire to lash out becomes paramount. If someone is in a group, they feel an even stronger sense of legitimacy and justification for their anger.

The rapid spread of lies and conspiracy theories through social media compounds the problem. It’s easier to believe what supports one’s own views, without ascertaining if the source is reputable.

In this environment, Mark Twain’s words are important, “The truth has no defense against a fool determined to believe a lie.”

When lies and hatred become normalized, even good, compassionate people can decide that the ends justify the means, and “winning” becomes most important, causing irreparable harm to others and society. Leaders can decide that maintaining power is more important than standing up to lies. We see this today as an increasing number of those daring to speak the truth lose their positions and are threatened with violence.

Philosophers and religious leaders have long warned about the power of lies.

Avraham ibn Hadai, a Jewish, 11th century Spanish philosopher, physician and political figure, warned people of faith and integrity to avoid deception: “Prefer death to a lying word, for the ripple-effect of its plunder is worse. When a man dies, he dies alone, but many are slain with the lie and its curse”

Indeed, Hitler’s words are an ominous reminder of the power of lies: “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”

We are living in a “post truth” world and do so at our peril.

Our society is in grave danger when scientific evidence, fact-based education and seeking for the truth make us uncomfortable, so we ignore the facts and allow lies to become the norm.

All faith traditions warn us to avoid bearing false witness. The Buddhist Eightfold Path and the Ten Commandments of Judaism, Christianity and Islam all stress the importance of honesty. The Talmud teaches that truth is the very foundation of the world, and when falsehoods are spread, we are nudging at that very foundation.

We must have the courage to stand up for truth and not remain silent when hatred and deceit are accepted as the lens through which we view the world.

This is important not only in our everyday lives, but also when choosing our leaders. We must be less concerned with “winners” and more with who has the compassion, empathy, honesty and integrity to lead wisely.

May we follow the lesson of the great Jewish philosopher Maimonides (1135-1204): “Let the truth and right by which you are apparently the loser be preferable to you to the falsehood and wrong by which you are apparently the gainer.“

Kein yehi ratzon … May it be God’s will. Shalom.

_________

Issues of Faith is a rotating column by religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. Suzanne DeBey is a lay leader of the Port Angeles Jewish community. Her email is debeyfam@olympus.net.

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