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Daniel C. Maguire Headshot

The Loneliness of the Truth Teller

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With the decline of belief in a personal God and an afterlife of bliss or punishment, many modern folk overlook the fact that, aside from their varied dogmas, the world's religions are troves of insight into human psychology, housing hard earned wisdom bred of centuries of experience.

Take, for example, the striking conviction of the Jewish and Christian biblical writers that people perversely seem to want to be deceived. The third century Christian Tertullian said that "the truth appears to be instinctively hated." The prophet Hosea lamented "there is no truth ... in the land!" (4:1) Jeremiah offered a dare: "Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem and see for yourselves; search her wide squares; can you find anyone who seeks the truth?" (5:1) Our leaders speak "lies," said Jeremiah and the "people love to have it so." (5:31) Isaiah moaned that people "prefer smooth words and seductive visions." (30:10) As a result: "Truth stumbles in the market-place and honesty is kept out of court, so truth is lost to sight." (30:10;59:14)

They dunned us repeatedly with the question: "Have you eyes and you cannot see, ears and you cannot hear?" Not surprisingly, they added another observation -- you keep falling into pits that you yourselves have dug.

An ancient Latin adage put it this way: mundus vult decipi, people want to be deceived.

The Contemporaneity of It All

These biblical and classical authors who said all this wrote before sub-prime mortgages and derivatives were ever devised, and none of them had lived through an American political campaign. What they did discern was that people don't mind deception and folks in power are more than happy to accommodate them.

One has to wonder how the biblical prophets would deal with things like our military budget and our American health care "system" -- and our refusal to face the truth about either one of them.

Squandering on Kill-power

All the debts of all the U.S. states could be canceled by what it cost in a single year to fight our unwinnable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We spend around $17 billion a day on the military. If only Jeremiah could return and address the House and Senate on that. He'd skewer them for being hell-bent on slicing education budgets and Medicaid for the poor while engorging the military/industrial complex. He'd then go out onto the steps of the Capitol and blast the press for not hammering at this madness. Next Jeremiah would excoriate both presidential candidates for not making this budgetary plunder the highlight of their campaigns.

All the Jewish and Christian prophets would have pointed out the terrible truth that we cannot bear to hear -- that military science has outwitted itself. It has miniaturized weapons, including suitcase-size atomic bombs, making them available to disgruntled individuals and small groups. Drone technology leaped from Pandora's box and democratized the possibility of small-group, remote-control sneak attacks. Long gone is the predictability of state vs. state conflicts. A raw vulnerability has dislodged superpower illusions. The prophets would draw lessons from that, just as they did from their own 9/11, the Babylonian Captivity.

Posthumous Nobel Prizes

Isaiah deserves two posthumous Nobel Prizes, one in peace and one in economics and all that for just a single verse, 32:17. He said, in what I would call the most important moral/political lesson of the Bible, that unless you plant the form of justice that eliminates poverty (Sedaqah) your weapons will never bring you peace and security (Shalom). To update that text: as long as your yearly discretionary budget gives 60 percent to war and only 6 percent to the State Department, you will have wars and rumors of wars. The State Department ought to be called the Peace Department -- the arm of government that should be diagnosing tensions, defusing crises and planning collaboration on corrosive issues like the unsettling inequality of wealth, the royal power of untamed corporations, the enslavement of workers in the poor world under the euphemism of "labor arbitrage," the ongoing ecocide that threatens all life on the planet.

Health Care Debacle

Micah, Hosea and Jesus would probably have had only two words to say on our health care mess: Nikki White. She graduated from college full of verve, ambition and delight. She contracted Lupus erythematosus, a serious condition but manageable by modern medicine. Tragically, she was born in the United States, and not in Germany, Britain, France, Italy, Spain, Canada, Sweden, etc. Because she was born in the richest country in the world, she is dead. She made too much money to qualify for Medicaid and too little to pay for her needed health care. She died at 32. Insurance companies had no pity on her; they don't major in pity. When she was finally hospitalized the hospital under federal law had to treat her. She begged: "Please don't let me die." Over 10 weeks she had 25 operations but it was all too late. Had that money, and even much less of it, been spent sooner, but no. This is the United States, which imagines itself "a kind and gentle' people.

The biblical prophets would have taken Nikki White's picture into Congress and accused those well insured men and women of murder. Those old prophets, those ancient truth-speakers, were awfully blunt. They didn't indulge in politeness when greed turned murderous and unpopular truth boldly spoken was the only possible remedy.