Monday, February 4, 2013

Lies That Tell the Truth

One of my favorite lines from a movie ever comes from V for Vendetta. The two protagonists, hiding from a dangerous dystopian government, have taken refuge in V’s underground lair, and are discussing the value of art. Eve remembers her father, a rebel leader who was killed by the oppressive government, and quotes one of his favorite phrases:

“Artists use lies to tell the truth, while politicians use them to cover it up.”

That line has always stuck with me. As a Christian, a politically active member of America and as an artist, those words strike at the very marrow of my being, and many times I have thought that I understood them rightly. I have not always been correct. In fact, I have often been incredibly wrong.

See, one of the things that these words can cause you to justify is living a life of endless entertainment, because “artists use lies to tell the trust.” This was the line I sold myself, or something very nearly like it, for most of high school and a large portion of college as I spurned news coverage and world reports in favor of movies and television. At least what I was watching was better for me and more wholesome than the lies and panic that I would be sold by buying into “the man.”

That was foolish.

Now, the quote is correct... there are indeed lies that lie and lies that tell the truth. The proverbial rub lies (heh) in discerning between the two. A lot harder than you might originally think. 

I have realized that there are more than just two different kinds of lies... in fact, there are many. But for the purposes of this exercise, I will limit the number to four: (1) lies that say they are the truth, (2) lies that tell lies, (3) lies that tell truth and (4) truth that looks like lies. To be fair, the fourth isn’t really a lie at all, but is included for purposes of symmetry and in order to illustrate a point a bit later.

First things first: lies that say they are the truth. This is the most obvious one to those who are naturally suspicious of lies, and is why many people hate the evening news. Sometimes, as the example of television news shows, these are not straight up lies, but exaggerations meant to play upon our emotions or feelings in order to get what someone wants out of us. We realize this, sense the manipulation, and resist. This one usually works poorly against the strong willed, and this is why Satan uses it the least often. 

The second takes a little bit more unpacking to understand. Lies that are lies are a bit more pernicious, or “sticky” as someone once described that word to me. Lies that are lies are the little things that we KNOW aren’t true, but because we come at them knowing that they are falsehoods, we assume that they can’t really hurt us. We know the bear trap is right there, so it won’t catch us.... right?

What kinds of lies take this form? Easy... McDonalds. Whether this is literally McDonalds or a metaphysical McDonalds makes no difference. These are the things that are bad for you, and you know it, but you like them anyway. Perhaps the most prevalent form of these lies come in the form of entertainment. A movie, a TV show, a novel... we know these things are “lies” in that they are fiction, and because they are fiction and we approach them as such, we assume that they cannot hurt us... what we fail to realize, however, is that fiction shapes our reality. Fiction tells stories about the world around us, because even though the places and faces change... and sometimes even the laws of physics change... the metaphysics of love, truth, hate, humanity and morality do not change... and every story... fictional or not, plays by a set of rules that elaborate on these principles.

And often.... far too often in fact, these “lies” (works of fiction) lie about the metaphysical aspects of reality. They are lies that lie, and we don’t even pay attention or care.... all because they are fiction..... they can’t “hurt us.” This is one of the greatest lines that Satan has sold us as Christians.... and we are paying for it out the nose.

I will skip to the forth kind of lie next, or rather the truth that looks like a lie. Truths that looks like lies usually become this way because of too much exposure to the first and second kind of lie. Even if you recognize the underpinnings of lies number one and two, if exposed to them long enough, you will start to question the truth when you see it. It will look strange, like a word you have spelled out far too many times, it will begin to look like an unfamiliar scribble which no longer holds any grasp on reality. This is a sad sad truth.... the truth of the truth that looks like a lie. It is a result of deadening yourself against truth. It is a disease.... a disease that is self-inflicted. And often times, there is only one cure. 

That cure is lie number three, the lie that the quote from V for Vendetta describes: lies that tell the truth. Lies that tell the truth are far more elusive than you might think, but they can be found. When I say “lie” in this context, I am again referring to the idea of a “fiction” not a straight up falsehood. Because we as modern 21st century humans have deadened ourselves with fictions that are rotten through and through, we need to reinvigorate ourselves with fictions that portray metanarratives that are TRUTH instead of falsehood.

Ok... enough vague mumbo-jumbo. What the hell are you talking about Josiah? Speak plainly for one!

Alright, I will. This is what I am talking about. 

Lies that tell lies = stories that say that Satan wins.

Lies that tell the truth = stories that say that Jesus wins.

It is really as simple as that. This is why I am such a big fan of happy endings, because happy endings (while not always the case) exist in a universe where good wins and evil is defeated, where sad endings (again, not always the case; it depends on the story) exist in a story telling universe were evil triumphs. The obvious counterexample to this would be Oceans 11, but that is exactly why such wisdom is called for when choosing which “lies” (fictions) you listen to.

We live in a time where what we believe is being increasingly dictated by what we watch on TV, listen to in music, and read in books. We are surrounded by fictional universes, and all of their creators have an agenda.... they are all pointing towards a greater metaphysical goal.... whether for good or ill. It is more important than ever to be someone who can discern which is which. 

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