Our biggest sacrifice: The truth

One of the most distressing facets of life we have to cope with these days is the erosion of our capacity to recognise, name, acknowledge and own the truth. From the highest offices of government, to corporate life, to media outlets, to interpersonal relationships, truth has no value. In the Church too we have conveniently moulded “truth” for our purposes and agenda.

We have become, as Ron Rolheiser says “irresponsible, manipulative, and outright dishonest with the truth, denying it where it’s inconvenient, bending it to suit our purposes, or labelling it as ‘fake news’,  ‘an alternative fact’, ‘misinformation’ … or as ‘political correctness’ with no truth value.”

Think of the political landscape. We have lost the capacity to speak the truth and hold people accountable. A senior politician has raked up piles of evidence of corruption and leadership says and does nothing. Or a limp answer is offered in a crook’s defence. Truth is sacrificed for political face-saving or expedience. Endless Commissions of Inquiry fail to hold people accountable. We allow people in political office to sing the praises of despots who have brought their own countries to destruction.

Think of our social landscape. Foreign Africans are attacked, their livelihoods destroyed and we will not name the problem: xenophobia. Instead, we say “criminal elements” are responsible. Men mete out atrocious violence on women and children. Femicide is now a label pinned on South Africa. We blame women for the way they dress, for emasculating men, for not being obedient, etc. The truth is that many South African men have deeply seated psychological issues that go much deeper and need to be recognised, acknowledged and owned.

Think of the Church. Many of our current models of doing things are no longer effective. We keep doing the same failed experiments longing for a different result. We have lost our voice in the mainstream and, more and more, have become irrelevant. We will not recognise, name, acknowledge and own the elements of our ecclesial life that are dysfunctional. Consider one (among many) ‘hot topic’ that was thrown around at the recent Synod on the Amazon: clerical celibacy. How much longer will we deny that, in many parts of the world, celibacy is not working? We are delusional if we think that all is ok.

As far back as the 1980s, studies by American psychologist Richard Sipe and South African priest psychologist Victor Kotze revealed that half of the clergy were not living celibate lives. They were largely ignored, at worst rejected.

In a milieu where it is politically correct to deny or spin the truth or downright lie, the danger is that we believe our own lies. It is by far the most spiritually dangerous thing we can do. It enslaves us. Jesus warns us that it is the truth alone that will set us free.

We need to recover the value of truth-telling in our society, Church and personal lives. This is not easy. It is painful. But it is the only way to real freedom. 

Fr Russell Pollitt SJ

Fr Russell Pollitt SJ is the Director of the Jesuit Institute and is interested in the impact that communications technology has on society and spirituality. He regularly comments on South African Politics and various issues in the Catholic Church.

director@jesuitinstitute.org.za @rpollittsj
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