False witnesses

February 25, 2008

The Christian Century has an excellent editorial entitled "False witnesses." It is about the importance of telling the truth. Here are a few highlights:

Augustine said, "When regard for truth has been broken down or even slightly weakened, all things remain doubtful." Lives are ruined by slander and falsehoods. Communities unravel when malicious gossip is slung around. Nations are led astray when their leaders use half-truths or mistruths to win approval for policies and actions. The Center for Public Integrity recently documented 935 false statements made by top members of the administration on 532 separate occasions in the buildup to and prosecution of the Iraq war.

The election season offers another context for thinking about false witness. Political candidates frequently portray their opponents in the worst possible light, offering shorthand terms—"in favor of surrender," "backer of amnesty," "socialized medicine"—designed to tarnish another's position, not address reality.

A perennial human tendency is to compare ourselves at our best to others at their worst.

... But the first test of truth telling in conflict is whether what we say about the other person, political position or religious tradition is consistent with how that person, political stance or religious tradition would understand itself. We may not like or agree with another's position; we can still avoid bearing false witness.
Amen! Some great reminders for us all as each one of us faces temptations to be less than truthful.

6 comments

  1. Brian,

    The editorial says:

    "But the first test of truth telling in conflict is whether what we say about the other person, political position or religious tradition is consistent with how that person, political stance or religious tradition would understand itself."

    What? Let me illustrate how ridiculous this statement is:

    You and I have had a few conflicts. One of them has featured you telling me repeatedly that I'm biased and bearing false witness against Jimmy Carter. Well, based on the ridiculous statement I'm illustrating, you must take that judgmental accusation back, because it's not consistent with how I understand myself! You must retract your understanding of reality to avoid bearing false witness against me!

    Now--illustration ended--back to real life. Though it would be correct, I don't expect you to back down on your judgment of my motives, intent, etc. I utterly reject, and don't hold you accountable to the editorial's ridiculous "first test of truth telling in conflict." I also declare it null and void in it's application to me.

    How and why in the world you say "Amen!" to stuff like this is beyond me.

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  2. Cat's dad: I'm sorry to break it to you, but this post was not about you. But you sure seem to have quite the guilty conscience!

    Since you brought up your baseless charges against Carter, did you not see how you have failed the test that you quoted? Your charge about Carter does not fit how he describes himself. The test is about those who bear false witness, not those who point out such inaccurate attacks.

    I say "Amen" to it because we need to be people who always tell the truth. Do you not agree with that?

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  3. Did I say the post was about me?

    I guess you haven't the spine to engage me on the specific topic at hand--the editorial's ridiculous "test."

    I could have used other conflicts in the illustration, and probably should have. You're still too emotional about Carter.

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  4. Cat's dad: You didn't say it, but your comment was all about my calling you out for bearing false witness. And you declared the test to be void when applied to you even though no one was applying it to you here, so it seemed you thought this was directed at you.

    I dealt clearly with the test and how you failed. You have made claims about Carter's beliefs that do not match how he himself has described his beliefs. Thus, you failed the test. I have called you out on that, which fits with applying such a test. The column makes it clear that when someone bears false witness, other Christians should demand that that person follow the truth. Thus, even if you do no accept my pointing out your inaccurate attack, it fits with the objective of this test and column. All I have done is point out your false attack. I have not attacked your theology as you have done to Carter. I am very disappointed that you continue to cling to your false allegations against your brother in Christ.

    You did not answer the question about if you believe telling the truth is important. If you do, then why do you disagree with this piece?

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  5. I agree with the piece except for the ridiculous "test."

    If the test is applied, then every critical observation you make on this blog regarding Richard Land, the Topeka hate-church--whoever--is subject to failing the test if Land, the Topeka church--whoever--doesn't understand itself that way.

    Let me restate this "test":

    "You're bearing false witness if the offender doesn't see himself the way you're characterizing him. It doesn't matter if he's dishonest, delusional, or incapable of accurate self-examination."

    If you agree with this "law", you'd best not say anything critical about anyone's actions or positions.

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  6. This may surprise you, but I actually pretty much agree with your latest comment. If the test is interpreted as you have, then it is not good.

    I now understand the disagreement here as we interpret the test differently. You see the editorial proposing an absolute standard that must always be followed no matter what. You have pointed out very well how that is not a good way to act. I see it more like a general rule than an absolute command. Kind of like a medical test that is usually a good idea but sometimes can give poor results or even be dangerous for some to have. It is thus not an absolute.

    I think the way I am reading it is how they intended. After all, the sentence before reads, "Sometimes we have to tell hard truths about others." However, if they meant it like you have interpreted it, then I agree that it should not always be followed.

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