I have recently started to enjoy reading more of Malcolm Muggeridge, a former journalist with a truly remarkable way with words. And I say truly quite deliberately, because I would like to share what he says about truth.
In his book, the first part of his biography called Chronicles of Wasted Time – The Green Stick, he is writing about the illogicality and banality of seeing this world as the destination of humanity, which, I suppose is what many people do, especially those influenced by the rise of the new-atheism (which isn’t new at all)! He says the Christian idea of ‘he that loves his life in this world shall lose it, and he that hates his life in this world shall see it projected out and glorified into eternity, is for living not for dying.’
That is why he can say, all he has learnt over his (then) seventy years is that the only happiness is love, which is attained by giving, not receiving; and that the world therefore, becomes more habitable when we all know we are migrants, passing through as it were. Thus, as Jesus taught and meant, to view the world as a stepping stone to something greater, we don’t abandon it, nor abuse it but care for it by giving in love to all around. Muggeridge calls us migrants, but the Bible calls us pilgrims waiting for the heavenly city. The point made is the same.
As we inch towards what he says about truth, he then talks about suffering. Learning as he has from experience, means he says, ‘learning from suffering; the only school master.’ This is where it is well worth your time to read and my time to type, as we pick up his thread here:
“Everyone knows this is so, even though they try to persuade themselves otherwise. Only so is it possible to understand how it came about that, through all the Christian centuries, people have been prepared to accept the Cross, ostensibly a symbol of suffering, as the true image and guarantee of their creator’s love and concern for them. To climb the highest, stoniest mountain to set it on its peak; to carry it to the remotest, darkest, mort forbidding corners of the earth; to build great cathedrals to glorify it; to find in it inspiration for the most sublime achievements and noblest lives over the last two thousand years.”
For all the attacks of the new-atheists, they do not deal with the problem of pain and suffering any where near as honestly or adequately as the Christian worldview does. This is why Muggeridge suggests that those materialists (not his term) who only believe what they can see (ha!), reduce life to the banal. Fundamentally, they are being dishonest. Muggeridge now aims his words at truth.
Muggeridge quotes the 18th century philosopher Rousseau’s Confessions, “I desire to set before my fellows the likeness of a man in all truth of nature, and that man myself.” Now Muggeridge lets rip: After saying this, Rousseau “then proceeds to construct a vast, serpentine edifice of lies and fantasies. The hazards in the way of telling truth are, indeed, very great. Seeking it, one can so easily become enmeshed in lies.”
Quoting the poet Blake he adds, “A truth that’s told with bad intent/Beats all the lies you can invent.” And with piercing insight, self-awareness and prophetic sharpness he says, “Every man the centre of his universe; insensibly, we sub-edit as we go along, to produce headlines, cross-heads, a story line most favourable to our egos. How indestructible, alas, is that ego. Thinking to have struck it down once and for all, I find its hissing cobra-head lifted again, deathless.”
As Muggeridge continues, he reveals his sharp claws and bears his grinding teeth as he launches what some would call a tirade of rage; well, they would because they’ve probably not been telling the truth to themselves for sometime. Brace yourself reader, and don’t say I didn’t warn you:
“Yet even so, truth is very beautiful; more so as I consider justice – today’s pursuit – which easily puts on a false face. In the nearly seven decades I have lived through (he died in 1990), the world has overflowed with bloodshed and explosions whose dust has never had time to settle before others have erupted; all in purportedly just causes. The quest for justice continues, and the weapons and the hatred pile up; but truth was an early casualty. The lies on behalf of which our wars have been fought and our peace treaties concluded! The lies of revolution and counter-revolution! The lies of advertising, of news, of salesmanship, of politics! The lies of the priest in the pulpit, the professor at his podium, the journalist at his typewriter. The lie stuck like a fishbone in the throat of the microphone, the hand-held lies of the prowling cameraman!
He concludes with an anecdote from his journalist days among Moscovian delegates. A new delegate had publicly raised a simple observation, that if such and such a statement were to be put out, it wouldn’t be true! “There was a moment of dazed silence, and then everyone began to laugh. They laughed and laughed until tears ran down their cheeks and the Kremlin walls seemed to shake. The same laughter echoes in every council chamber and cabinet room, wherever tow or more are gathered together to exercise authority. It is truth that has died, not God.”
The web of lies all around us creates not reality, but simulation; and then simulation becomes what it simulates; the image becomes the man! For example, referring to John F Kennedy, “even his signature was done for him by a machine which so exactly reproduced the hand signing his name that experts cannot distinguish between his real signature and the mechanical ones. In the excitement and distress of the Dallas tragedy, no one remembered to turn the machine off. So the President went on signing genial, ‘personalised’ letters after he was dead.”
Justice is the maidservant of truth, but somehow we have allowed the overthrow of the master because it suits us, liars that we are. “Everything is true, except the facts.”
My picture above is taken from a pebble beach on the south coast of England. Although it is of the sea, it reminded me of the verse from the prophet Amos, “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (5:24). And Amos said that because he was a man of truth in a world of lies.