Sunday Sermon 17: Deliberate Subversion of Truth

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By Blamuel Njururi, Kenya Confidential Editor-in-Chief, Nairobi, October 8, 2017

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!

A Perusal of Prophet Isaiah testimonies brings out a man who had an unusual way with words.  He would say nice things for a few verses, and then he would follow those verses with several scathing broadsides. Isaiah 5:1-7;8-10;18-23.

An example of that phenomenon can be found in the first seven verses of the fifth chapter of Isaiah’s prophecy. It is a parable of the vineyard almost eight hundred years before Jesus gave his parable of the vineyard.

Isaiah begins, “Let me sing for my beloved a love song concerning his vineyard.”  And then he goes on to tell how his beloved had a fertile vineyard, which he carefully tended, doing everything possible to make it produce grapes.  But alas, it produced wild grapes.

Isaiah did not allow his readers to wonder for very long just what was going on in his parable; he immediately told them what was going on.  The vineyard owner speaks: “And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, between me and my vineyard.” He says that he did everything he could to enable the grape vines to yield good grapes, but the grapes turned out to be wild.

Wild grapes are really sour, and are good for nothing. So, says the vineyard owner, I will destroy the vineyard.  If it refuses to do what it should do, it shall do nothing, because it shall cease to exist. Imagine that vineyard is present Kenya and the owner is a presidential candidate.

And if you’re wondering who the vineyard owner in Prophet Isaiah’s parable is and what the vineyard is, Isaiah tells us: “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting.  And he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed, for righteousness, but behold, a cry!”

In Kenya today we have bloodshed in demonstrations ostensibly held to get some Kenyans out of jobs in a country of great joblessness. Thousands of jobless Kenyans being asked to demonstrate as a national agenda to make fellow Kenyans jobless to hurt their families and other dependants.

The orders are coming from leaders living on multi-million-shillings pension benefits or still drawing fat salaries as MPs, Senators and Governors elected in the same election they condemn as fraudulently flawed with irregularities and illegalities. People who do not allow their children anywhere near demonstrations but front them for plump public jobs.

In the Bible nobody was more encouraging and supportive than Isaiah, but nobody also could be more biting or accusatory than him.  He followed his parable of the vineyard with a string of soul-wounding woes.  Among them is the text for this sermon, elucidating its theme,  Deliberate Subversion of Truth. With withering indignation, Isaiah, speaking, he believes, on behalf of God, says: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (5:20)  As if that were not enough, “Woe to those who draw iniquity with cords of falsehood” (5:18).  People tell lies, and they do it so effectively that they keep the lies close at hand so they can do it again if over and over whenever opportunity lands on their lips.

Kenyans who hadn’t made up their minds after the obnoxious August 8th campaign may be suffering from Diminishing Mind Syndrome.  It is imperative for every citizen to vote on October 26th, however odious the obligation may be this time around. Don’t weasel out by saying “I haven’t made up my mind yet.” If that isn’t a white lie, it shouldn’t be the truth either, because on that day it is your duty to vote, and for the good of the country, you must decide. For heaven’s sake; decide.

Have you noticed how many lies are told in almost every episode of television panels about political leadership, economic crisis and unemployment? Panelists lie to one another, and people laugh.  Children lie to one another, and people laugh. Parents lie to children and children lie to parents, and the audience, usually a “canned” audience, which in itself is a subversion of truth, laughs.

Are lies funny? Are white lies humorous – – – really? We don’t want to bludgeon one another with the unvarnished truth, but do we want regularly to deceive each other with carefully-crafted prevarications, even if they are well-intended?

Isaiah was concerned that Judah was turning into a storehouse of duplicity, a defective sewage treatment plant, long before there were any sewage treatment plants.  And what really bothered him is that no one seemed to care.  Without question many felt as he did, but when prophets get into prophetic funks, they tend to lose some needed perspective. In any case, Isaiah let his accusations fly, and they equally fell on the guilty and on the innocent. And as is too often the case, it was the relatively innocent ones who took his message to heart, and his scorching words probably slid off the guilty like water off a duck’s back.

Manufacturers create products which they are convinced are safe and reliable, and happily almost always that is true.  But sometimes, with the best of intentions, something goes wrong.  Then the highest levels of the corporate officers must decide what to do.  Do they admit their error, and recall every example of a particular product, or do they hope the few failures are mere aberrations, and they try to ride out the storm?

It is a particular problem for big-ticket items like cars or airplanes or buildings with fake stucco that can trap rainwater inside the walls, or, in the old days, buildings covered with asbestos.  The number of auto recalls have cost the automobile manufacturers billions of dollars over the past several years.  But smaller things can also be big problems, like cellphones that suddenly burst into flame.  What is the right thing to do when the truth seems to decree that what the manufacturer thought is good is bad?

Then there is the presidential campaign of 2017.  We could have corrupt public servants, axe-murderers and escaped convicts running for the elective offices, but we have been subjected to so much news in the presidential race that we would never notice it.  This is surely the most dispiriting, dejecting, and depressing campaign in living memory.  The allegations going back and forth are atrocious, but the proof to back up many of the allegations is often appallingly scarce.

To hear each candidate talk about the other leads one to suppose that our nation shall utterly collapse if either candidate is elected. Almost certainly that will not be true in either case.  But if it is true that you can put lipstick on a pig but it is still a pig, is it also true that if you smear someone with enough mud enough times, the smears will stick permanently?  Neither candidate can be praised for running a smooth and utterly honorable campaign, but has one candidate more often engaged in simply outrageous allegations than the other?

“Woe to those who draw iniquity with cords of falsehood….Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” Has our current political malaise come upon us suddenly, or has our mild to major disgust been slowly building up over the years?  Have many people lost respect for politicians and politics because they have placed too much authority in the hands of politicians and too little authority in their own hands in terms of the ballot box and the political process?

Are they the primary culprits, or are we the primary culprits?  Or are we all culpable?  The people hold the politicians accountable, but do the politicians convince the people that they are also accountable?  Do politicians curry votes too much and do it far too much of the time, rather than trying to convince the people what must be done?  Do the people collectively realize that political progress is very difficult, and requires patience and negotiation — and money?

Do the people try to force the politicians to do the hard but necessary things rather than the easy and cheap things? Politicians tend to support cheap and easy, because they think that is what the people support.  And are voters willing to vote, and if so, are they willing to study the issues sufficiently to cast informed votes?

Anyone who thinks politics used to be a widely-admired profession and that most politicians used to be universally likely has a very poor memory and a very limited understanding of history.  Many people have always called the good evil and the evil good.  That is nothing new.  If Isaiah observed the tendency almost twenty-eight hundred years ago, it certainly is nothing new.

But what are we to do, as they say in the literature classes, in medias res, in the middle of things?  When this presidential campaign is not some abstract hypothetical situation concocted in a political science lecture in some college or university somewhere, but is what we are actually confronted with, what are we to do?  To refrain from voting on principle is unprincipled cowardice and abnegation of a citizen’s obligation.

I am assuming that as always no candidates of any of the other minor political parties stands any chance of winning.  I also assume we all know both the major candidates have had some dirty linen come to light in their laundry baskets. Therefore the question is this: Which of the two has spoken truth more frequently than the other, and which has spoken falsehood more frequently than the other?  Who is the more culpable for subverting the truth more often?

No candidate can speak the truth 100% of the time in a campaign, which last for almost four years.  There is so much pressure from so many directions that it is astonishing all the candidates did not end up in the Inside George Orwell’s Animal Farm from the skies. In the 2017 campaign there were a total of 8 candidates for the presidential race. That anyone is left standing the day after the election is nothing less than amazing.  It is a testimony to the tenacity of the human species and to the sheer political pluck of those who choose to run for the nation’s highest and most demanding office.

Kenya is not about to collapse because truth has become falsehood and falsehood truth.  Nevertheless, the seemingly endless drudgery of this campaign is an example of a societal decline in devotion to Biblical values.  As the oft-repeated dictum declares, God is not mocked. Truth cannot be forever suppressed nor can falsehood be forever promoted.

Sooner or later we must personally as well as collectively resolve with more diligence to seek truth and to avoid falsehood.  We seem not to have done that sooner.  Are we able now, later, to begin the long and laborious process? Falsehood may on rare occasions need to take precedence over the strict truth, or truth may need to be kept secret (not to alarm the public). Sometimes political figures must refrain from telling the whole truth, or even much that is true.

Generally, however, we all delude ourselves too often about the purported validity of —, as we say — “stretching the truth.” In the past one year, truth has been stretched far too much by far too many political campaigners, especially about one another.

Nobody is close to dying from too much truth in this year’s campaign.  And if too much falsehood is dispensed in hard-fought political battles, it can be a factor leading to the inner dissolution of the values, which hold nations and societies together. Playing fast and loose with truth always means that we are playing with very volatile social explosives.

The God who created us created us to live in and to abide by truth rather than falsehood.  One of the Ten Commandments is “You shall not bear false witness.”  That means that we should not tell lies about anyone or anything. It has long since become impossible to calculate how many times the 9th Commandment has been broken in election campaigns.

Both leading candidates are guilty, but has one person clearly engaged in far more slander than the other?  And if the answer to that question does not seem to be immediately evident, what does that say about how far the Kenyan electorate has lost the ability relatively to distinguish truth from falsehood and good from evil?

The United States of America has survived many crises as one of the nations with the longest history of democracy. A son with Kenyan blood survived two terms becoming the first African-American to be elected President in that Great Nation. He was a humble man of rare leadership honesty and profound humility even as the President on the most powerful nation in the world.

Kenyans have so far survived November 8, 2016 tremors.  But in the process, too many citizens have become too skeptical about the importance and the very necessity of politics to national well-being and progress – free and fair election. Too many lies are being told and too many demands being made. If too many of us wash our hands of the whole mess, the end is near.

The end is not here, nor is it necessarily near. Then leaders begin talking of Vote again on October 26th. For God’s sake, for the sake of our country, and for your own sake, vote, if you are determined to be a responsible and reliable citizen. So come October 26th vote – Don’t be part of anarchists determined to drive Kenya the Somalia or South Sudan direction.

Additional extracts by John M. Miller of The Chapel Without Walls

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