People of the Lies
Especially during the penitential season of Lent, we’re called to examine our lives in the sacrament of penance. This leads us to be in greater conformity with our faith and to better imitate our Lord. To that end, we may not only want to confess how often we’ve lied to others, but also times we’ve lied to ourselves and allowed ourselves to be lied to. Confessing, “I lied to my spouse three times this month,” or, “I told my boss a fake excuse” isn’t trivial in the context of Jesus’ warning about breaking the least significant commands, but a full examination of conscience should also consider where we get our information.
Ask yourself: How reliable are my sources of information? Do my sources think like I do and reinforce my ideologies, or do I examine alternate views outside my comfort zone? Do I accept information at face value merely because it appears in print, on social media, or on other digital platforms? Do I consider that political or special-interest groups could greatly distort the information I receive and believe?
After mounting evidence emerged in the 1980s that humans were accelerating global warming, Time reports that the energy industry began to unjustly discredit respected scientific experts. It also bankrolled contradictory opinions and research on climate change to lobby legislators against reductions in emissions.
Anytime special-interest groups and elected leaders voice opinions contrary to sound scientific reasoning—like the politicians who said falling rocks are responsible for rising sea levels—we need to be wary and research what’s behind the disinformation. “Economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected,” Pope Francis says (On Care for Our Common Home [Laudato Si’], 54).
Likewise, Pope Francis has consistently refuted misinformation about vaccines in the COVID-19 pandemic and the confusion it’s caused for those swayed by ideologies that Francis refers to as “often bolstered by baseless information or poorly documented facts.” The Pope has good reason to speak out. Recall in 2005 how fanatical Nigerian Islamic leaders lied, saying that the polio vaccine was a conspiracy by the United States against the Muslim faith, intended to sterilize believers. As a consequence of this disinformation, the disease quickly returned and spread to other previously polio-free countries.
To his credit, former President Donald Trump has repeatedly touted vaccine efficacy, calling it “one of the greatest achievements of mankind.” Nevertheless, according to a recent article in Newsweek his comments and his own up-to-date vaccination status anger and confuse his political base—many of whom support the “Big Lie,” those who believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen. On January 6, the anniversary of the US Capitol riot, President Joe Biden asked: “Are we going to be a nation that lives not by the light of the truth but in the shadow of lies?”
After all, “When whole races and peoples conspire to propagate gigantic mute lies in the interest of tyrannies and shams,” wrote Mark Twain, “why should we care anything about the trifling lies told by individuals?”