I think having to treat deliberate misinformation and outright lies with the same weight and veracity of verifiable facts in discussions around protocols and safety – especially in our community and religious gatherings – ranks second in the most exhausting parts of the pandemic. Trying to lead a congregation through the difficult, painful, and heated discussions around safety protocols and protecting the least and the lowest while misinformation took an equal breath to – or greater breath than – truth simply amplified an already difficult and painful situation and made it unnecessarily worse.
Truth is cold, boring, flat, emotionless. It does not care about your desires or wants. It has no interest in your partisan leanings or political aspirations – only your acceptance and transmission of truth do. Truth does not care if you like it or not; in the wise words of Gloria Steinem, “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”
Misinformation, deception, and lies, though, are anything but cold, boring, flat, or emotionless. It works by using the things that make you want to look away from truth – discomfort, sadness, weariness. The bad actors who create and spread misinformation, the deceivers, say truth and truthtellers take good and holy things away from you – like community, corporate worship, closeness in this season – and tell you believing and following their lies will give those things back.
Truth has no charisma, and truthtellers do not have the benefit of having something people want to hear; they have to make truth understandable, digestible, and attractive because truth provides none of those things. Deceivers, though, can create a product with inherent understandability, digestibility, and attractiveness to their intended targets, and they do not have any rules to follow but to make something people want to hear.
Truth also suffers from how humans understand truth. Truth is truth but our understanding of truth – especially in a rapidly developing health crisis like a pandemic – is somewhat of a moving target due to our learning and inability to just inherently know things. Truthtellers have to correct and adjust their telling of truth in response to changing understanding – even if our understanding conflicts with previous understanding – and do so in humility. Deceivers use this to make their message of lies more attractive, attacking the truth on the contradictions raised by changing understanding of truth despite regularly conflicting with previous lies and changing to make their deception more attractive.
Neither truth nor lies care about you; care can only come from people, not statements. Truthtellers care about you, knowing truth will set you free, protect you, and make this world better; deceivers care only about themselves, often personally acting in ways that betray the lies they tell because following their lies harms the follower. Truthtellers will act in your best interest and the best interest of all, especially if you dislike it; deceivers will tell you what you want to hear and convince you they act in your best interest despite always acting in their own self-interest.
How do you tell the difference? Truthtellers sacrifice their own safety, security, and comfort to tell the truth – and almost universally speak truth that will help the least and the lowest while asking much of the enriched and elevated; deceivers sacrifice nothing of themselves and benefit greatly from you believing their lies – economically, politically, and personally – while the least and the lowest often suffer for those benefits.
Masks work, the vaccine is safe and effective against serious illness, and lockdowns saved lives and prevented suffering; early reversals of mask mandates and lockdowns caused suffering and death, and vaccine refusal combined with not wearing masks and participation in congregate settings further causes unnecessary suffering and death. Your personal, anecdotal experiences do not negative or even conflict with those truths.
How long, O Lord, will you children accept deception and reject truth? How long will they choose temporary comfort leading to long-term suffering? How long, O Lord?