“For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” ~ Jesus before Pilate
“What is truth?” ~ Pilate before turning over Jesus to be crucified
Last month, the federal government announced the creation of a “Disinformation Governance Board” to define whether something was ‘true’ or not. The idea of political leaders determining what is true is hauntingly Orwellian. Politicians are far better known for distorting the truth! Thankfully, this bureaucratic creation was put on hold – hopefully never to return. But don’t count on it: The desire to control what is “true” has been seen all-too-often in recent history.
After communists came to power in Russia in October, 1917, Lenin spent the next few years attacking opposition. He suppressed real or perceived political enemies. When Stalin took power, all citizens were required to give unquestioning allegiance to “truth” according to government leaders, and enforcing this was a ‘sacred social task.’ This resulted in terrible human suffering and loss of life. In Stalin’s ‘purges’ in the 1930s millions of innocent people perished. By the time the Great Terror ended, Stalin had subjected all aspects of Soviet society to strict party-state control, not tolerating the slightest independent expression or political opposition. Only accepted “truth” was allowed in education, religion, or media. Any departure from this “truth” got you deported to Siberia or killed. All told, this misery lasted seventy-four years, until the regime finally crumbled in 1991.
Adolf Hitler was dictator of Germany from the early 1930s until his suicide in 1945. Shortly after taking power, he assumed the title of führer (“leader” or “guide”). Joseph Goebbels led propaganda campaigns to silence opposition. The Nazis abolished freedom of speech and assembly, creating an atmosphere that first ostracized, then slaughtered Jews and others deemed enemies of the state. In 1933, Goebbels created the Reich Chamber of Culture. Only those who spoke the “truth” of Naziism were allowed to work in cultural professions – the arts, music, radio, films, education, and entertainment. Millions lost their lives before Hitler took his own life on April 30, 1945. The next day, Goebbels did the same.
In 1949, Mao Zedong took power in China. A “Suppression of Counter-Revolutionaries” began in 1950. “Speaking Bitterness” hearings were held for any who opposed Mao. Suspects were publicly shamed, intimidated into self-criticism, beaten, or executed. At some public meetings, more than 200 were shot. Citizens were bombarded with propaganda. Opponents were accused of infringing people’s rights. Mao boasted of executing 700,000 “class enemies.” Historians say it was more. Half a million committed suicide; more than a million were held in forced labor camps. In 1966, Mao launched his ‘Cultural Revolution’ aimed at purging all who opposed his teachings. A selection of Mao’s sayings referred to as the Little Red Book became a sacred text of “truth.” “Denunciation rallies” were held for those who were deemed in opposition. Massacres took place nationwide. Historical relics, statues, artifacts, and religious sites were destroyed. Tens of millions of people were persecuted. Education was undermined; only Mao’s “truth” was allowed; thousands of teachers and scholars were killed or committed suicide.
These are just three examples of leaders who used their power to impose their own “truth” on the masses. Leaders in China, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, and some Muslim nations continue to exercise this power today. When man sets himself up as the standard of truth, there is no truth. In a world where truth as fundamental as gender is denied, we would be wise to recall Voltaire’s warning: “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.”
We must be aware of the effects censorship and government defining what is “truth” can have on culture. Haven’t we seen this in America in recent years? As Christians, we proclaim ‘capital-T Truth.’ Truth is not subject to a ‘disinformation board.’ It is not established by an autocratic political leader or party. It is not controlled by Silicon Valley or academic demagogues.
In a world that denies the existence of God, we proclaim it. To scientists who teach the universe and life all evolved from nothing, we declare the biblical creation narrative. To a culture that has abandoned sexual mores, we assert that a man and woman united in marriage for life is the only proper expression of sexual love. To a generation that promotes killing of babies in the womb, we declare the right to life of every person. These and many more ‘absolute truths’ are grounded in the Bible, God’s inspired revelation to mankind.
The greatest truth in Scripture is the focus of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation: Jesus Christ. He declared, “I am…the truth” (John 14.6). When we declare the gospel, whether others accept it or reject it, it remains what Francis Schaeffer termed “true truth.” We were saved by the word of truth (James 1.18), our hope of heaven rests on the word of truth (Colossians 1.5), we are told to accurately handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2.15), and as the body of Christ on earth, we are “the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3.15). May we never shrink from declaring truth, even (especially!) in a land of lies.