The, in my opinion, rather despicable act of lying with the truth seems to be an epidemic today. I can’t even count how many instances I’ve run across in just the last few hours. I bring this up because of how many times I found this act being perpetrated while researching last month’s posts on the First Ecumenical Council and historicity of Christ. Having to constantly look out for it and remain suspicious of every statement I ran across has helped me to be more conscious (and critical) of other things that I’ve heard or read since then.
What is lying with the truth? One very typical example is from Dan Brown’s (in)famous book The Da Vinci Code. I think that this is the first instance of it that I remember actually identifying as lying with the truth. In the book, the character Sir Leigh Teabing juxtaposes two entirely truthful statements: 1. the Aramaic word for “companion” also means “spouse” and 2. in the Gospel of Philip (a Gnostic gospel), St. Mary Magdalene is referred to as Christ’s “companion.” As I said, both statements are indeed true, however, the juxtaposition of the statements creates an implication which is a lie, namely, that the author of the Gospel of Philip intended to indicate that Mary Magdalene was Christ’s spouse.
This patently false. Why? Because the Gospel of Philip was written in Coptic, not Aramaic. Coptic does not have this linguistic quirk of “companion” meaning “spouse.” In Coptic, a “companion” is a “companion” and a “spouse” is a “spouse.”
The fringe element (although I don’t know if I can even still refer to the anti-Christian party as a “fringe element” anymore, as popular as their positions are now) are not the only ones who do this, though. Our politicians and our media do it to us everyday. I’m sure everybody remembers former president Bill Clinton’s “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” and the debate about terminology that followed.
Another example that comes to mind is Fox News‘ reaction to a Newsweek story of May 2005 about detainee abuse at Guantanamo Bay. In the story, Newsweek alleged that a guard there had thrown an inmate’s copy of the Qur’an in a toilet. Fox News aired a story questioning Newsweek‘s sources (and themselves alleging that there was, in fact, no detainee abuse going on at Gitmo) and, as a result, Newsweek was forced to recant their statement. In part, the same Newsweek story led to an investigation of detainee abuse at Gitmo by the Pentagon. The Pentagon’s report did not substantiate the claim of a Qur’an being thrown in a toilet, but did surface an instance in which a guard had urinated on a Qur’an. Also in the report were multiple independent attestations that a red fluid had been rubbed on the skin or clothing of detainees accompanied by the claim that it was menstrual blood and that female interrogators had squeezed inmates’ genitalia in order to humiliate them, amongst many other instances of detainee abuse documented. And what did Fox News have to say about all this? Without mentioning that instances of detainee abuse which had been found they ran the “truth” on their news ticker that the Pentagon report had found no evidence of a Qur’an being thrown in a toilet.
The answer to this epidemic of lying with the truth is a good, heavy dose of critical thinking. The individuals and groups who use this as their method can only continue to do so as long as we continue to let them. When we stop accepting it, they will realize it doesn’t work anymore and stop doing it. To this end, I’ve added a link to the website MediaWatch.org, which itself includes links to multiple organizations whose mission it is to expose just this type of behavior by the media and hold them accountable for it, in my “Links” section to the right. ———->
There are two rules which can be almost universally applied and make a good basis for critical thinking. The first I learned from my mother when I was very young and the second I learned from watching a little bit too much CourtTV:
- “If it sounds too good [or bad] to be true, it probably is.”
- “The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” – because anything else is a lie!