Disclaimer: This is long and possibly even earnest. Call it a Saturday essay perhaps, though perhaps a Sunday one would have been better given Jesus appears (only literaturely, but miracles do still happen).
This week my book club were discussing the Tove Jansson book The True Deceiver
in which Jannson invites the reader to decide which of her principal characters are 'the true deceiver.' A dark philosophical work in which truth, deception and self-deception are laid bare; the way one looks at and perceives things and the way one is perceived by others is another focus. By the time the novel closes both characters have had their psychic landscape stripped bare and have changed their 'position,' regarding the truth of a situation. Genius stuff.
In the news this week I was struck by the reporting of the interview by Oprah Winfrey of Lance 'Pinocchio' Armstrong's 'toxic' tales, regarding his use of drugs and the manipulation of public sympathies in portraying himself as a heroic overcomer of testicular cancer when basically this guy had a nose as long as a telephone wire. His pants were on fire! A ball buster to anyone who questioned his stories (he threatened them with and began legal action), he also seemed to think his lies were acceptable as they took place on a 'level playing field.' http://www.standard.co.uk/sport/other-sports/i-was-a-liar-and-a-bully-lance-armstrong-tells-oprah-winfrey-as-he-admits-to-cheating-in-all-7-tour-de-france-wins-8456715.html
Perhaps his deception was so deep rooted and he had told his lies so often that he had begun to believe them himself? This cautionary tale could have begun with: Everyone does it so it's okay.
This sentiment is expressed in society in diverse ways. Taking a sickie? Lying to the tax man? Further: to friends, partners, family members. The school place lie. Post code untruths. Do you become a Catholic or C of E pewster come year 5? "Sorry guv but your duff education system made me do it?" Either that or a lack of faith.
"Darling, if anyone asks, we're Catholics."
"Mum, what's a Catholic?"
"Er...someone that is universal with the truth?"
To claim immunity is to liberalise the truth, we've all lied along the way. But is it ever okay given the downward (and often growing) trajectory of the lie and the potential destructive diversity of its landing areas?
A teenager, when caught lying about drinking or going to a party when he was supposed to be doing something else, claims immunity by stating 'all teenagers lie.' And because they do, so many accept it as a fact of life and do nothing about it, by default raising shoddy human beings. Rot, when perceived, must be 'amputated' in order for the 'whole body' to be saved. This can be applied to the self as well as to society - not in fascist or witch-hunty terms obviously. Of course this depends on whether one values ones 'insides' as much as ones 'outsides.' As JC said during his sermon on the mount, the eye is the lamp of the body. "If your eyes are good your whole body will be full of light." Should the eye become dark and not perceive the truth so will understanding become darkened: http://niv.scripturetext.com/matthew/6-22.htm
And Enlightenment hopefully proceeds and does not falter.
I was also struck by the case of Pola Kinski, daughter of Klaus Kinski, who has stated that her recently deceased father raped her as a child. The young Pola describes her conflicting feelings, including the internalisation of guilt http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jan/10/klaus-kinski-rape-claims-daughter
(why are victims so often made to feel blame?). At age 60 she is still tortured by her conflicting feelings: she is still being punished for her father's actions. Last night over dinner with two friends, one friend related the case of her friend's sister who is accusing her father of raping her as a child. The other sister denies it ever happened to her sister. The sisters are not speaking and the sister claiming abuse is having nothing to do with the father. The father (lying to everyone else and perhaps to himself too?) denies it. I hear this kind of thing over and over again: one or more child claims trauma or abuse, other children (perhaps repressing or suppressing the truth or having had another version of childhood that they understandably prefer) deny it. Sides are taken. I suggested to my friend that the abuse claiming sister is either telling the truth or mad: perhaps in the grip of a serious personality disorder. I have taught art and creative writing to vulnerable women, some with personality disorders and these women tell lies like they are the truth. They are very unwell and this becomes apparent sooner or later.
At book club, I expressed my desire to always try to discover and communicate the truth. A woman asked me why. I expressed the notion that it is fundamental to our being: as sentient beings we seek out the truth of existence in all things. It is our highest aim. Surely it is a given? Jesus stated that he was 'The Way, The Truth and the Life.' As C.S Lewis said in his BBC recordings later published in Mere Christianity
, this man was either stating the truth or he was mad. The Bible states that the heart is deceitful http://bible.cc/jeremiah/17-9.htm
above all things. Lying to oneself seems to me to be true deception. Believers (I no longer use the term 'Christian' for a follower or disciple of Jesus as the term, in my view, is no longer tenable) are therefore invited to ask the Holy Spirit to heal their heart so that they are able to receive more and more of the Truth, who is also the person of Jesus Christ. The disciple James suggests that they confess their hurts to one another so that they will be healed, and St Paul urges that we speak the truth in love. Of course different people experience versions of the truth in which case grace needs to factor.
I am disturbed that it is harder and harder for believers to speak 'the truth' at all, though the case of Nadia Eweida is cheering. Told by BA that she could not wear her cross to work, she took her case to the European Court of Human Rights and won. Hopefully believers will always be able to model 'truth,' not least by showing love and tolerance to those that persecute them. Laugh but believers are persecuted in sorts of ways these days, mostly through 'intellectual' mockery, though usually these 'intellectuals' fail to see the irony in their stance particularly since they stand on the rock of hard won (by Christian thinkers and reformers) democratic principles whose historic laws enshrine and protect them. Let us avoid the dark ages: our own darkened thinking in ourselves and towards others and in our often coddled culture, by examining ourselves thoroughly and endeavouring to speak the truth in love.
Forgiveness is key to overcoming trauma. But for true reconciliation to flow the truth must first be heard and seen as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission following the apartheid years so brilliantly endeavoured to do. Without the acknowledgement of the truth of what may have happened to a victim, anger is a valid emotion, and left to boil over not a helpful one. In our post-Christian (no eternal consequences?) for want of a better way of putting things, society, we need to seek and speak the truth inside and out as vigorously as we are able and entertain as much help in this area as we can access, in order to continue to exist in an atmosphere of tolerance and dare I say it? - love.