Truth vs tyranny

Recent events at home and abroad have highlighted the worrying situation, not only with the pandemic.

Jan 16, 2021

By Anil Netto
Recent events at home and abroad have highlighted the worrying situation, not only with the pandemic.

We have seen how certain politicians and groups spread fake news, scapegoat targeted groups, manipulate race and religion, and peddle unsubstantiated conspiracy theories. All these can easily mobilise disenchanted groups to rally behind their cause.

This was how Hitler rose to power in the 1920s and 1930s, riding on mass disaffection about Germany’s humiliating surrender terms after World War One and the ‘threat’ of the Soviet Union on its doorstep, where it was easy to target selected groups (The Other) as a threat to the nation. The consequences were disastrous. We have also witnessed how politicians will use any means at their disposal to cling to power. Global media reports have pointed out how some countries are using the pandemic to clamp down on critics, basic rights and democratic checks and balances. Other countries, however, have admirably held firm to democratic governance.

In this era of social media and “post-truth”, sometimes it is so hard to discern what is fact and what is myth or falsehood in all the messages we receive. And therein lies the danger. If we don’t know what is the truth, how do we establish justice and strengthen democ racy?

What is post-truth? It is the notion that the objective facts of certain situations are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.

Given the history of the last century, we have to be careful to guard against the rise of fascism and tyranny. We have to watch carefully the language we use as well.

Yale history professor Timothy Snyder, the author of the book On Tyranny, who has analysed the rise of fascist regimes and leaders, puts the lessons of history this way.

“Actually, what post-truth does is paves the way for regime change. If we don’t have access to facts, we can’t trust each other. Without trust, there is no law. Without law, there is no democracy.

“So, if you want to rip the heart out of a democracy directly, if you want to go right at it and kill it, what you do is you go after facts. That’s what modern authoritarians do,”  he said during a talk show last year.

“Step one, you lie yourself, all the time. Step two, you say it is your opponents and journalists who lie. Step three, everyone looks around and says, ‘What is truth? There is no truth.’ And then resistance is impossible, and the game is over.”

This is why truth is so important in upholding justice and keeping fascism at bay.

It is no coincidence that the only time when Jesus came face-to-face with a political leader, the conversation centred around truth.

Listen to Jesus’ conversation with Pilate, the face of the Roman Emperor Tiberius in Roman-occupied Judaea (John 18:36-38):

Jesus said, “It is you who say that I am a king. I was born for this, I came into the world for this, to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.”

When confronted with the truth by the  incarnation of the Truth, what was Pilate’s response?

“Truth?” said Pilate. “What is that?”

See? This refusal to accept or see the truth – even if it is staring at you in the face – is the very foundation of how a tyranny rises to power and maintains its grip.

Pilate simply could not accept the reality, the truth, that his kingdom was founded on military tyranny, oppression and injustice. Instead, he looked Truth in the face and questioned its very existence.

But in the long run, the Truth prevailed and the Roman Empire was consigned to the ash heap of history.

Our world has just got a bit darker at home and abroad. In these troubled times, it takes a lot of wisdom to recognise the truth. But God tells us that we only have to ask for wisdom – and it will be given, there’s no doubt about it.

“Any of you who lacks wisdom must ask God, who gives to all generously and without scolding; it will be given” (James 1:5).

So, if there’s one thing we should ask for in prayer in the face of tyranny, fascist tendencies and darkness, it is for the wisdom to discern the truth in all its majesty. For the truth, just like a lamp, cannot be covered.

Ultimately, tyranny in its many forms is no match for the Truth – and the truth will prevail.

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