I don’t know how theological these ideas may be, but today I’ve been reflecting on the power of truth and calling things by their real names. It’s a massive topic, really, and I hardly know where to start, but let’s begin on the negative side.
So much of exercising illegitimate power and control over others depends on calling things by the wrong names and thus confusing the thoughts of those being controlled. Right now the most notorious example of this kind of lying is President’s Obama’s mislabeling of the Affordable Care Act as a program that would allow everyone to keep his or her insurance if desired. That was a lie, and the act’s supporters knew it. But by calling the ACA by a fake name, as it were, they were able to get the law passed. As Prof. Glenn Reynolds has aptly noted, the act’s supporters wouldn’t have been able to pass the law without lying about it.
Peddling untruth is by no means limited to one governmental administration or political party. Remember, for example, President Bush’s mis-named war on terror? To my knowledge, never before in history had war been waged not against an enemy, but against a fighting technique or, more technically, an emotion. The war, of course, is not against “terrorism” but against Islamic extremists who are self-proclaimed enemies of the United States. But for some reason the Bush administration, as well as Obama’s, was reluctant to name our actual enemy. The result is, at best, muddy thinking, and at worst manipulation of the American people by means of euphemism and outright deception.
Governments are not the only organizations that benefit from misnaming and deception. You won’t have to watch more than one commercial break on network televison to see how corporations depend on subtly misleading consumers in order to get more of their money.
And it’s not just big government and big business that try to mislead. Morally we live in a culture that tries to pretend men and women are identical–in their natural predilections, abilities to do certain work, and even their ability to “marry” interchangably.
To some extent every one of us misleads both those we interact with (“I’m fine!”) and even ourselves. A little lying, it seems, helps us get through the day.
On the other hand, so much of having control over our own lives involves telling one thing from another. At the most basic and obvious level, this discernment involves telling the difference between an edible berry and a poisonous one, between a house cat and a lion, or between a family member and an enemy.
At a scientific or technical level, calling things by their real names includes knowing the difference between kinetic and potential energy, a capacitor and resistor, or a benign and cancerous growth. That’s obvious, I realize, but also it’s also so essential that it’s easy to ignore just how critical discernment is in life.
At an everday and practical level, calling things by their right names involves telling the difference between harmful behaviors (drug and alcohol abuse, poor nutrition, physical violence, illegal actions, recklessness, ignorance) and helpful ones (patience, self-control, temperance, compassion, competence, knowledge). At the highest level it involves knowing the difference between attitudes and actions that are ungodly (disobedience, uncontrolled passion, idolatry) and godly (faithfulness, love, steadfastness, obedience).
The ability at every level to discern these difference is the ability to call things by their real names. To the degree that each one of us can do so in all aspects of our lives is the degree to which we can see clearly and choose our own course.
For what it’s worth, I’ve dedicated my life to calling things by their real names and trying to help others do the same. That’s my passion in writing, in teaching English and especially in preaching and teaching the Word of God. I won’t say I’m especially good at it, but it’s what I strive for, and I think the effort is worthwhile for everyone.
We’ll stop there today. Next time we’ll look at how our own ability to call things by their real names interfaces with the world around us.
I serve as sports writer for the Manchester Times and preacher and elder for the Church of Christ at Fredonia. The ideas expressed here, however, are my own and do not necessarily reflect the official position of either the Times or the church.