My senior year in high school, one of our teachers formed a forensics club. I joined the debate team and began working immediately on the first issue to be debated: Should “featherbedding” by railroad unions be permitted? None of us knew anything about formal debating, so we went to our first competition with some misconceptions.
We were each in eight debates, arguing “pro” four times and “con” four times. For my first debate, I was assigned to defend the idea I believed was true and I won the debate. The next debate I was to argue the other side, though I didn’t understand that and simply poked holes in my opponent’s position. The referee said I had successfully weakened my opponent but had failed to argue for the alternative. I lost the debate. I did learn the lesson, though, and won the next six.
And in the process I lost something. It was my first experience in which truth mattered less than victory.
Later I considered a career in law. The idea of fighting for justice appealed to my adolescent idealism (and still does). Then I learned that the task of the lawyer is to win the case for the client, not for the truth. Again I was disappointed.
Only later did I begin paying attention to politics. I quickly saw that politicians, especially when campaigning, care little about truth, only victory. Honesty seemed of little value. As commercial advertising became increasingly dominant in our culture, I saw the same thing and realized that we choose our political leaders in the same way we choose a brand of detergent.
Could it be possible, I wondered, that we see our national leaders as being not substantially different than a package of toilet paper?
Now, half a century later, I am more disgusted than ever by advertisers and politicians. They commonly mislead us and sometimes blatantly lie.
Well, certainly part of the reason is that they believe the simple truth does not serve them well. Apparently Americans actually prefer to choose the better liar than the best product or candidate. The problem, perhaps, is that America has heard so many lies, for so long, from so many different sources, that we have simply despaired of the very idea of truth.
Could that be part of the reason we pay so little attention to the one who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life”? And why we ignore the idea that “speaking the truth in love, we will grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ”?