Truth matters, even in an election year. I realize that tomorrow we’ll be having an election and that many people are very invested in the outcome of that election. No matter how invested you are, though, there’s no excuse for setting aside the rigorous pursuit of truth.
In the past few days, I’ve seen people making a series of accusations that aren’t just wrong, they’re utterly laughable. Using emails leaked from Wikileaks, a few Trump supporters put forward the idea that John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, had, in the various forms through which the story developed, either been invited to, taken part in, or hosted a satanic ritual. This was based on an email in which ridiculous “performance artist” Marina Abramovic invited Podesta’s brother to a “Spirit Dinner,” named after a “cookbook” which she passed of as a work of “art” in 1996. The book contained various intentionally disgusting recipes, including several involving bodily fluids. The Trump supporters seized on this, and concluded that the dinner was a satanic ritual that Podesta attended (actually, he never responded, and other email exchanges make it clear that he didn’t attend). The problem is that reading Abramovic’s absurdity as an actual collection of recipes requires taking literally other recipes, which call for “13,000 grams of jealousy” and hanging about on volcanoes until “your tongue becomes flame,” both things that seem a little far-fetched as a recipe. In reality, had these Trump devotees bothered to check the fliers for the event, they’d have realized that the event — a prize for Kickstarter supporters — actually ran more toward traditional soups and little-known Tibetan recipes than it did bodily fluids and the open worship of Beelzebub.
A somewhat more eclectic group of people also managed to invent equally credible subtle accusations of pedophilia for Podesta. According to InfoWars, in the emails Podesta was caught “throwing hot tub parties with children.” That sounds more than a little creepy, until you read the actual emails, which a friend of Podesta (not Podesta himself) inviting a number of people over for a party. The friend notes that they’ll be heating the pool (not a hot tub) if anyone wants to got for a swim, and that her children will certainly be in the pool, even if no one else is. Trump’s zealots don’t note this, but she goes on to express regret that Podesta wouldn’t be able to be there.
In other words, Trump’s partisans have taken the Wikileaks emails, completely misinterpreted the context of two events that Podesta didn’t attend, then used them to conclude that he is a Satan-worshiping pedophile (and I’m ignoring the handful of deranged Trump supporters I encountered who argued that Podesta and his brother’s attempts to coordinate a time to grab pizza were evidence of a nefarious “Somalian pizza party,” whatever that is). This is insanity.
That’s not to say, of course, that Podesta is a role model or that his political positions are anything other than destructive. He’s been a longtime ally of the Clintons, and defended them during Bill’s lechery and perjury (and possibly rape). He’s adamantly opposed to a view of government that values individual liberty, and, despite his pretense at Catholicism, advocates the legal murder of unborn children. Wouldn’t it be better to attack him for that, though, rather than inventing absurd conspiracies? John Podesta may not deserve the respect, but the truth does.
I’m sure most of the people reading this don’t need to be told not to invent hilariously absurd lies like those Trump’s supporters have thrown at Podesta. These are an extreme example, but there’s a more insidious trap: it’s tempting to allow the desirable outcome to overwhelm our commitment to truth. Not in obvious ways, like Trump and his diehard supporters, but in more subtle ways. Looking back at more than a year of political campaigns, it’s likely easy for those who’ve been politically involved to see ways that a desire to expose an opponent’s flaws strays out of strict honesty (for example, I have myself repeated the fact that Trump has been accused of raping a child, but that accusation likely isn’t credible). It isn’t the flamboyant, my-opponent-worships-Satan-by-drinking-menstrual-blood style of attacks that present a danger — any honest person can see through those — but rather the quieter, more believable variety, that need only a small suppression of the inner voice that says “I wouldn’t believe this if it were directed at my candidate.”
As Christians, as followers of the God who proclaims Himself the Truth, we need to be rigorous in our pursuit of truth. “Buy truth,” as Proverbs says, “and do not sell it.” It should matter to us that what we say is true; it should pain us to have passed on a falsehood, even inadvertently, and we ought to be willing to go to great lengths to avoid doing so. The truth matters to our Lord, and therefore it should matter to us, imperfect as we may be.
That’s easy to affirm, but harder to live out in practice, as politics often shows us. It’s worth pursuing, but we will never, in this life, be as unflinchingly honest as we ought to. For now, though? Let’s just wait until we have solid evidence before accusing people of holding satanic rituals.