One of the biblical psalms (Psalm 12) composed several millennia ago speaks of a time when lying and boasting had become a way of life for those with power and influence. Funny-strange how something so ancient can feel so relevant and fresh.
The psalm suggests that when truth and reality no longer seem to belong together the very foundations of human life are shaken. Community, especially democracy, cannot exist for long if it is not based on truth and built upon what is real. Illusion and delusion offer no firm or lasting ground on which to stand.
A biblical commentator on Psalm 12 wrote more than 50 years ago this warning: “Language becomes a dangerous instrument of power and a deadly weapon when used by someone who disassociates himself from the obligations he is placed under and thus falls into the hubris of an arrogant pride in power, caring for nothing but himself.”
Clearly, we are at risk when alternative facts are no longer called lies or when conspiracy theories that belong in adventure books begin to shape government policy and political affairs. Ours is suddenly a time when enemies are called friends and friends enemies, when bold-faced lying and self-indulgent boasting pours forth unashamedly from the highest offices in the land.
The Protestant reformer Martin Luther wrote a hymn more than 500 years ago based on Psalm 12. Portions of his verses sing out with words like these: “Ah God, from heaven look down and see a sight which may well move Thee; Fictions they teach with cunning art and lies of man’s invention …their heart breeds naught but strange dissension; One chooses this, another that, untold division they create (claiming); we have the right and might alone, and what we say must stand.”
No. It must not and will not stand for long.
Those leaders among us who build their power on boasts and lies might well study the end of the psalm. It concludes this way: “Because of their oppression of the weak and the groaning of the needy, I will arise, the Lord says. I will protect them from those who malign them, will keep them safe from such people forever.”
Finally, a promise both real and true and an answer to our leadership’s delusions.
Kim Latterell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.