He appeared almost nightly on the news, saying things with a straight face that nobody believed.
In the face of numerous eyewitness reports, intelligence reports and just plain indisputable facts on the ground, he would herald his alternative view of reality and insist that others do the same.
When confronted with numerous reports contrary to his word, he would cite his “many credible sources” and question the motives of those who disagreed with him. When asked about contradictions within his own words, he would never retreat, but would simply hunker down and repeat his latest version of himself.
Who was this resilient, self-contradictory, shameless purveyor of lies? There are two answers, the simple and the more difficult.
The simple answer: This is a description of “Baghdad Bob,” the spokesman for the doomed Saddam Hussein regime, whose nightly updates on the “successful” Iraqi resistance to the U.S. invasion would evoke a mixture of bewildered looks and howling laughter.
The harder answer: This is a description whose name is legion, because we are many. It’s the CEO whose company works under the blanket of “plausible deniability” until they can’t anymore. It’s the PR firm that finds a way to say “mistakes were made” without actually identifying any mistakes or who made them.
It’s the athlete, whose initial response to a positive steroid test is always to assure the fans and endorsers that it is a mistake. It’s the politician who tells the human rights group that he did not read a report that would challenge his policy, saying “we have chosen a path of intentional ignorance.”
It’s the oil company, paying professional pseudo-scientists to weave a veil of objectivity over what is a manifestly self-interested and harmful path of deception. It’s the habit of pretending that a whole people can be summed up in a sweeping statement of judgment and suspicion.
We’ve grown so adept at the art of resilient, self-contradictory, shameless purveyance of lies that we cannot begin to name them all. The casualty in all of these cases is truth itself.
But, to repeat an ancient question, “What is truth?” Is truth a menu item, a selective exercise between “facts” and “alternative facts”? Is it a political football, subject to a contest between “news” and “fake news”? Or, is truth simply a personal matter, a choice we can own as “my truth,” which is impervious to anyone else’s version of truth? What is truth, anyway?
March 1 began what Christian communities call the season of Lent. While people observe Lent in different ways, one way to think of it is as a time of walking as a companion with truth. It is opening oneself to truth that might not work in one’s own self-interest.
It is listening for a truth that is higher, nobler and more compelling than the rationalizations that we love so dearly. It is questioning, wrestling and ultimately yielding to a truth that is greater than the sum of our ambitions.
Simply, put, Lent is a journey with truth itself.
It was Pontius Pilate who dismissively posed the question, “What is truth?”
That alone should alarm us. In the moment that we consider ourselves capable of judging truth, without considering truth’s judgment of us, we have descended to a level of all the Baghdad Bobs of the world. In such a world, truth is nothing more than what the loudest voices among us claim it to be. I am not willing to relent to a world without truth.
MARK DAVIS is the pastor of St. Mark Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach.