‘Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.’ St. Paul to Philippians 4.8
True of False? Right or Wrong? Life or Death?
It used to be that being True was Right and being Right was True. It was the only way you realized how often you were wrong. Honesty was the infallible voice of conscience. It placed you on the right side of Life, Life way bigger than how partisan politics defined it.
The moral world used to work like this but something has gone radically wrong. Being a decent human used to mean, regardless of faith or none, that we all shared a higher calling to ceaselessly pursue what was Right. There was no way you could be Right if you were not True. When you play fast and loose with TRUE and FALSE, when what is patently False is package stamped TRUE, then is it any wonder we don’t know what is Right and what is Wrong anymore? That is our moral crisis.
LIES THAT TAKE LIVES
If every Mexican immigrant is a criminal, a rapist, the worst of the worst, then it must be right to build a wall and separate families to deter these deplorables. But our decision about what is right is built on a lie, and we have compounded the first wrong told to us by the President, with the second wrong of giving it our uncritical assent. And because of the lie, innocent lives have been threatened or lost. We are complicit for our uncritical belief. But does our conscience trouble us? What a stupid question.
Two white, self-appointed mavericks patrol the streets to deter burglars and confront a young black runner. In defense of their lives, they shoot him dead. They had no choice. If we believe that, we will be led to think that, as sad as it was, it was the only right thing to do. For two months, the local authorities were led to believe that too.
But once again, someone has fed us the lie upon which we have made a judgment about what is right and wrong. And in so doing, we have joined these White Supermacists in their pick up truck. We have condoned their act of cold blooded murder. We accepted the lie and based upon it, made a judgment of who was right. And it cost someone their life.
Extremists left and right, know their moral psycholgy better than most of us. Better than the priests and rabbis. They know that the way you undermine our sense of Right is by undermining our sense of what is True- and reducing people to quarrel, confusion or acquiesence.
ON THE ROAD TO FASCISM
“They are ALL lying,” we end up saying, granting the ruling powers permission to kill the truth in us. That is the primal act of murder. All the rest follows from that. It has been that way since bible times, Adam and Eve and Applegate, the original cover up, or soon after, Cain killed Abel and lied to save his life. This is also textbook tactics on how to create a fascist state. As Hannah Arendt wrote in the Origins of Totalitarianism:
“The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (ie the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (ie the standards of thought) no longer exist.”
If we no longer know what is true, then we can no longer know what is right. And sure, that makes it harder deciding who to vote for in November. Its election campaign season. But that kind of politics now shapes our everyday life, and exacerbates the epidemic with its appalling death toll. Those in power thought they were only saving votes, when in reality, they were sentencing people to death.
THE RIGHT TO KNOW
What do citizens do in such a situation when something emerges so life threatening that it is a danger to us all? We need to know if the nearby Nuclear Plant has melted down, or the River in full Flood is 10 miles away, or the retirement home where your mother is has 65 cases of COVID, or the workplace you dutifully report to each day and work with no protection has 30 cases. In politics, we expect lies. It is an election. But when life is at issue, we need the truth. We demand the truth. Life depends on it. Spare us the spin.
Our President told us not to worry. Our President tells us to drink disinfectant and self-medicates on an unproven drug. He does not insist on testing because it only adds to the numbers. Tracking will only alarm people.
DON’T WORRY, HE HAPPY
Here is a leader who treats truth so cheaply that you can safely assume he will treat “doing the right thing” even less. You cannot diss the one and enlist the other. Ultimately, such a leader will consider your heroic death from working unprotected at the meat plant as a small price for the nation to pay to get back to work. Like those inane Fox TV commentators who offered to give up their life for Wall Street, life is like buying futures. Bless these Martyrs of the Market who died that we might spend.
We face a fundamental collapse of the moral code. Usually the church and synogogue claim this back as their territory and make the Emperor wait outside, deep in the snow for days till he proves his genuine penitence. But Cardinal Dolan joined Fox and Friends and welcomed the President to his mass and thanked him for his spiritual leadership. Of course, Catholic schools need PPP and bailouts. Our Cardinal, in the tradition of Richeleau and Wolsey, knows how to thread the Gospel camel through the eye of a needle.
ITS ONE OF THE TEN SUGGESTIONS
Plato, Jesus, Moses, the Prophet, they all knew. After all, it used to be the ninth commandment. Telling what is true allows us all to do what is right. Doing what is right is right because it is true and being true, it can save a village, a kid’s life, a career, or a nation. Flee the flood. Wear the mask. Vote out the corrupt judge. Ban the pesticide.
But if nothing is true, then nothing is right, and life is a lie. Our corrupt politics has pathologized into a cancer resulting in mass murder, a murder that began with the murder of truth. And that is too high a price to pay.
The nation must soon mark a day to remember the 90,000 plus people who have died. That is what we will be thinking Memorial Day. And most of those elder citizens died ten years before their time. How many families lost their sage, how many kids lost their poppa or nanna, or their parent, their teacher.
And to add irony to the tragedy, many victims were Trump voters. So many believed that a President would never lie. They believed that if the President never wore a mask, if he never seemed to shed a tear or show empathy, that it had to be all a bit of an overreaction.
By Easter, he said we would be back in Church. What a God-fearing man! Or that Memorial Day is when the Vice President called it over. How patriotic! Many of us were true believers.
A DAY OF TRUTH
We hope we get through this. We hope we learn. But if infection doesn’t, then imagination can take us to that one last place where truth has to matter in the end because it is the end. It is that day that must come eventually for all of us, and that is the final truth.
As we lie on our bed, as the ICU nurses get the ventilator ready, as we sense that we are in ER, and that noise is not some political ad but the doctor speaking in our ear, what do they owe us? Is the doctor saying “Its all going to be OK? or a nurse advising “This is just a bad flu.” or a janitor saying “Drink this cleaning fluid and you will be fine. Works wonders for the floors.”
No. Someone is telling us to listen, to believe them, to trust the truth when they say we may not make it. They will do their best, they will do the right thing because they are honest, decent human beings, but our lungs cannot hold air, our heart is seizing up, our vitals are fading. Too little, too late but mercifully they will tell us the truth.
GOD IS NOT UP FOR RE-ELECTION
At those moments on the edge, what is true? What is right? Surely, this is where we are owed the truth. There are no primaries in heaven. God has the electoral college sown up. When it’s a matter of life and death, lies kill us. And those of us who believe them are as guilty as those who peddle them.
Perhaps truth will save our lives in the end, save our family, even save the nation. But if it is too late, we will go to our eternity knowing what killed us was no virus. What killed us was a lie. Our “Sickness unto death” was not the sin of our behaviour but the sin of our beliefs.