The Weaponization of Truth

February 1, 2005 — Leave a comment

Once upon a time, there was a princess named Aurora, who was given some gifts from some fairies . . . oh you know the story of Sleeping Beauty. Anyway, after a whole bunch of stuff happened, her true love, a guy name Prince Phillip, was captured by the evil fairy Malificient. The good fairies came to his rescue (bippity, bopity, boo) and presented him the “Sword of Truth” to battle evil and get to the princess, so that they could marry, have kids, a split level, a stationwagon, a dog, and live happily ever after. The Prince after his true love, wielding his sword, hacking away at the weeds and brambles along the way, until finally he slew (or is it slayed) the evil Malificient, who in a fit of moral relativism, had turned herself into an evil dragon. The End.

Alright, I I took a little artistic license. But as I was reading Anna her bedtime story from our Disney Stories book, the phrase “The Sword of Truth” jumped out at me.

Isn’t that, in fact, how truth is used in modernity, as a weapon to be pulled to root out the confused and evil ones among us? Are we teaching our kids from an early age that truth is something to be used as a sword, to attack others, not to engage in dialogue? I hear folks talk about their fears regarding postmodernity and emerging and often their greatest fear is that truth is being de-weaponized, that we are turning swords into plowshares and taking claims of truth out of the arsenal.

Of course, I can just hear someone say in response to my last sentence (with the hairs raised on the back of their neck) “Are you saying that all is relative, that there is no truth?”

Nope. Sorry. You can’t write me off that easy. In de-weaponizing truth I (and others) aren’t claiming that there is no truth in the world. I do believe that truth is separate from fact (as the great myths of our world demonstrate), yet to deny that truth and beauty exists is to fail to look around and smell the roses.

What I am saying is that truth (and knowledge as well) were never meant to be used as weapons of power. Isn’t that part of what the Adam and Eve story tells us? Isn’t one of the great sins of the past (for there is not one but many) the desire to have the knowledge of God as a weapon of power? Truth is meant to be experienced, to be shared, to be a catalyst for relationship, not to be slung upside the head as a means of declaring who is in and who is out.

Truth is a dangerous thing in the wrong hands. It’s like a light saber in the hands of a child before Obi Wan teaches the rudiments of the force — it might work for good, but more often than not a few innocent hands are going to get cut off along the way. It is always the ones who are the least rooted in the depths of the scriptures, who approach faith and life at the surface, who are most dangerous with claims of truth. Too often I’ve seen them pull out the sword, leaving death and destruction in their midst.

Yes, there are times when the truth must be proclaimed. it’s what Ghandi did. It’s what King did. Truth was part and parcel of the prophetic utterances of the Hebrew Bible on behalf of the oppressed. If there is ever a time to weaponize truth, it’s on behalf of those whose backs are up against the wall, those who Howard Thurman called “The Disinherited.”

But more often than not, it is the powerful who are hacking away, attempting to use misunderstood claims of truth to justify the continuation of their power.

“Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life–to God!-is vigorous and requires total attention.

“Be wary of false preachers who smile a lot, dripping with practiced sincerity. Chances are they are out to rip you off some way or other. Don’t be impressed with charisma; look for character. “Knowing the correct password–saying “Master, Master,’ for instance–isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience–doing what my Father wills. I can see it now–at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, “Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? “You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’

Matthew 7:13-23 from The Message

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