Christian Clarity Trumps Orwellian Goodthink

News: Commentary
by Fr. George Rutler  •  •  September 12, 2020   

Grace is the antidote for progressive propaganda

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In our city, which is accustomed to protests and demonstrations of all sorts, a recent event was particularly dismaying (and even frightening). The anarchistic chants were bad enough, but the frightfulness was in the glazed eyes of the expressionless marchers, like the "pod people" in the 1956 cult film Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Carrying signs supplied for them, they chanted refrains called out by a leader as they moved through one of our pricier neighborhoods.


Protagonists flee in Invasion of the Body Snatchers

As a boy, the black-and-white film was scary; though in later years, it was amusing to watch again. But now it has taken on an unsettling reality in the living color of live people.

Mind control is a signature of corrupt politics. George Orwell said that "Political language ... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." It is easy to appropriate the brains of people who are disturbed or idealistic or both.

In the 18th century, the physicist and satirist Georg Lichtenberg volunteered that "The most dangerous untruths are truths moderately distorted."

That is the essential psychology of heresies in religion, and it is also true of platforms in politics.

In any election season, when information is twisted by "disinformation," one can learn with profit the experience of the Church as She has confronted distorters of the Gospel.

A vital instance is the way St. Paul detected the errors among the first Greek Christians on the island of Crete. Being a man of erudition (which his true humility allowed him to remark without affectation), Paul quotes a minor poet of about 600 B.C., Epimenides: "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons."

The most dangerous untruths are truths moderately distorted.

Epimenides is the same sage that Paul cites when he speaks to the philosophers of the Areopagus in Athens. The verse sent to Titus is paraphrased by the Apostle in Acts 17, when he speaks of the One "in Whom we live and move and have our being."

Bust of Epimenides

A discovery of the full text of Epimenides' poem "Cretica" in the early 1900s by the formidable English scholar J. Rendel Harris makes clear that the lying was a specific lie — namely about a tomb built in contradiction to the supposed immortality of Zeus.

This resolves what has been called the "Epimenides Paradox": If Epimenides said that all Cretans are liars, how can we trust Epimenides, who was himself a Cretan? But in fact, the deceitfulness of the Cretans was only about trying to entomb immortality.

Saint Paul invoked the gift of diakrisis, which is the discernment of truth from falsehood (see 1 Corinthians 12:10). Never — and especially not in times of political propaganda — should lies intimidate so long as one has that discerning gift to know the difference between what comes from Christ, the Head of the Church (Colossians 1:18), and the talking heads on television.

Father George W. Rutler is pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Church in the archdiocese of New York. His Sunday homilies can be heard here. Father Rutler is author of multiple books, including Calm in Chaos: Catholic Wisdom in Anxious Times, and Grace and Truth. To make a donation to his parish, please click this link.

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