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Measuring the Evil of “the Big Lie”

“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will
know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  (John 8:31b-32)
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. (Exodus 20:16)
In the wake of the Trump era, truth-telling has become one of the glaring casualties of our times.  Decades ago, Trump calculated the benefits of lying.  If you tell a lie often enough, he learned, and keep repeating it–again and again–over time, many will start to believe it.  In this way, you create your own reality.  This is what Trump has done for the MAGA world and beyond.  He has created his own reality.  And anything that doesn’t fit in to that reality, FOX News calls fake news.
In John 8, Jesus observes that when you know the truth, “the truth will make you free.”  In the Bible, truth-telling is an important matter.  Indeed, the commandment truth of the ninth commandment spells this out for us: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
A word on the Ten Commandments.  In the big picture of the Bible, God is about Life with a capital L.  In the “in the beginning” account in Genesis 1, in six consecutive pronouncements, God calls the world to Life (“Let there be light,” and so forth).  Later, in Genesis 2:7, God breathes “the breath of Life” into Adam (Eve comes later, from a rib of Adam).  Over the centuries, the covenants to which God calls Israel are life-sustaining for the Jewish community.  In this sense, commandment truth is about Life.
For example, violation of commandment introduces a distorting element into community life.  When we dishonor our parents or ignore the Sabbath, our lives become disjointed.  When we kill, commit adultery, steal, lie, or covet, a disruptive and chaotic element enters our relationships.  Our lives are nudged out of balance.  All of these abuses of commandment work against the Life to which God calls us.  With his unceasing pattern of lying, culminating in “the big lie” about the 2020 presidential election, this is exactly what former president Trump has done.
How do we measure the evil of the “big lie?”  According to renowned American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, evil is always the assertion of some self-interest without regard for the whole.  Going on, Niebuhr affirms that the “doers” of this evil know what they are doing.  They understand the power of their own self-interest.  On the other hand, those who oppose them understand the need for self-interest to be subordinated to a higher law or universal principle.  The problem with this latter group, says Niebuhr, is they are naive.  And in their naivety, they underestimate these “doers” of evil.  This is precisely the situation now with the democratic party as it seeks to contend with the distorting consequences of the “big lie.”  Democrats underestimate the evil intent of the other side.
The evil of the “big lie” has an energy to it that harbors an almost incalculable power.

This energy infiltrates community life in unpredictable and uncontainable ways.  To begin with, lying destroys trust.  And without trust, what are our relationships?  Lies can only be halted by disproving them, and that takes great effort and is always more time consuming than we think.  As we are about to embark on a New Year, think about the impact the “big lie” has already had on Trump’s fanatical followers.  Part of the craziness of the lie is that–very likely–many of his hard-core followers actually believe the lie.
So, we are now in a reality where a number of Republican state legislators–under the pretext of believing the lie–are passing laws that both limit the voting opportunities for people of color, while at the same time claiming their right to determine who the winner of the election is, irrespective of the vote of the people.  If they are able to get away with this, what will this say about our democracy?  At the core of any democracy is the right to vote.  And the goal of the government “of the people, for the people, and by the people” should be to seek to make it easier to vote, not more difficult.
Why aren’t we more upset?  My question for those of us who oppose the creeping evil of the “big lie,” is why aren’t we more upset about this?  And why aren’t we pushing harder to approve the federal voting rights legislation which, when passed, would immediately annul the restrictive voting rights laws passed in Republican state legislatures around the country?
The midterm elections of 2022 will come sooner than we think.  In the meantime, the “big lie” is still out there, being hailed as truth for millions in the MAGA crowd.  However, this is not a truth that would make us free, to quote the words of Jesus in John 8; it an untruth, a mega lie, that will continue to fray our relationships and could lead to the loss of our democracy.
The Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Frantz is a retired United Church of Christ minister.  He had long term pastorates in San Diego County and in Miami Lakes, Florida.  His service as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Panama in the late sixties spurred his commitment to social-justice ministries and to a spirit of ecumenism as a local church pastor.  He holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from Pacific School of Religion. He is the author of The Bible You Didn’t Know You Could Believe In and his just published book: The God You Didn’t Know You Could Believe In. Dr. Frantz and his wife, Yvette, are now retired and living in Boynton Beach, Florida.

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