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Daniel Schultz @pastordan
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With this in mind, I want to say something theological about lies and liars.

Thread to follow.
1. Last week, if you recall, I taught a class on Reinhold Niebuhr's social ethics.


You *do* recall, don't you?
2. Anyway, I also taught on Martin Buber's views on human nature and evil. It was fun for the whole family.
3. Buber dissects lies and liars in an essay on Psalm 12, "The Generation of the Lie." Here's the scripture:
4. Buber begins with the observation that humans are the only animals capable of lying, because we are the only animals capable of understand what truth is.
5. And lies, he tells us, divide humans against themselves.
6. Buber acknowledges the prohibition on lying (perjury, really) in the Ten Commandments, but says the Decalogue's understanding is of the effect lies have on society.
7. However rich a topic that is, he's interested in something else - the *ontological* effects of lying. How does telling lies change who we are?
8. Now, certainly, Psalm 12 talks about lying from a social perspective as well. Its narrator is surrounded by liars, an entire generation of them.
9. This monstrous generation has perfected the art of lying: "with flattering lips and a double heart they speak."
10. As Buber points out, this psalm is shot through with language about speaking: tongues, lips, speech, saying. There is a contrast between the speech of the liars and God's speech.
11. The narrator calls on God to liberate him (presumably) from this oppression. Buber says there are two things missing in this situation: first, the goodwill that keeps society together. You can't get along with your neighbors if you're bullshitting them constantly.
12. Second, there is a lack of congruence between consciously-held values and the actions of the people who claim to hold them. There can be no integrity when one is a liar.
13. The result, as the narrator claims, is that the human heart has been taken over by the lie. We're no longer talking about humans are animals who tell lies. Humans *are* liars.
14. This has disastrous consequences. There is delusion - not a simple, mistaken view held by someone who tells an untruth, but a deliberate attempt to create a false reality in someone else's mind.
15. This, as many have pointed out, is how Trump lies. It's not much that he's bullshitting you on any particular point so much as he's trying to create a new reality in which truth is whatever he says it is at that moment.
16. To tell lies, to create delusions, is to assert power. Why do you think Voltaire hated the church so much?
17. (Side note: what do you think Buber would have thought of Trump? Could he have said "Thou" to him?)
18. Delusions do not complete others' insights or experiences: they falsify them. If you know Buber, you know that's about the worst thing he can say about somebody.
19. For Buber, lies falsify the relationships that are to his mind the source of reality itself. And when a politician tells a lie, it falsifies *a lot* of relationships.
20. Lies falsify not just our relationships with other, but with ourselves. Liars, says Buber (citing Psalm 14), have to manufacture a "double heart." They have to lie to themselves, to believe their own falsehoods.
21. That creates a lot of friction within the psyche. There's not just the anxiety of being found out as a liar, but the whole tension of conflicting beliefs. Most people let the truth slip eventually because they can't stand the cognitive dissonance.
22. It's interesting to think about that assertion on a social level. Americans have long told themselves plenty of lies, and bought into them. Which of you white folks remember the moment you realized "Anyone can grow up to be president" was utter horseshit?
23. Americans have told themselves so many lies: we didn't steal the land from Native Americans in a brutal, genocidal campaign lasting centuries! Black people have equal rights! So do poor people!
24. We all know this stuff is crap, but it gets in our brains early, and it's difficult to root out. To be American is to know you're being lied to constantly, and having to choose to believe it, yet not believe it, just to get through the day.
25. All of this serves the interests of the rich and powerful, of course. They used high-minded rhetoric, but they still keep the little people down. "A thousand points of light," anyone?
26. And when they're caught out in a lie, liars are confident of their ability to talk their way out of the jam.
27. Against this, Buber says, God promises to protect the poor and needy. The psalm says: "‘Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan, I will now rise up,’ says the Lord."

(Worth noting here that "groan" is what the Israelites do in bondage in Egypt.)
28. In a very present-world form of salvation, God speaks the truth and puts the lie to shame. God's speech enacts judgment and liberation at the same time.
29. Speaking the truth *is* the judgment: the lie can't compete. It's revealed as the nothingness it really is, and it becomes the liar's reality.
30. Through truth-telling, God sustains and frees those opposed to the lie. Again, this is very this-worldly, not pie in the sky for eternity.
31. The generation of the lie has a tendency to reappear over the course of history. Sometimes they even win houses of Congress. ;-)
32. But God will deal with that wicked generation again, as needed. Our job is to remain committed to the truth.
33. As Buber says, closing out the essay: "The truth is God's alone, but there is a human truth, namely, to be devoted to the truth..."
34. "...The lie is from time and will be swallowed up by time; the truth, the divine truth, is from eternity, and this devotion to the truth, which we call human truth, partakes of eternity."
35. I haven't spelled out many of the political consequences of Buber's ideas, but I think you can fill in the gaps.
36. When political leaders lie to citizens, it falsifies, corrupts and distorts the entire social and political system. We need truthful and truth-filled relationships to make those systems go, and we cannot get them when we are surrounded by lies.
37. So tell the truth, kids, and demand that your leaders do the same. The end. Truth is, I have to go upstairs and fetch my second monitor, so I'm out.
38. But last thought: this is precisely what John means when he has Jesus say, "You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
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