“It Is The Truth That Is At Stake”

“It Is The Truth That Is At Stake” October 3, 2018
Swearing-in Ceremony for Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Oval. Rose Garden.

A single line from a statement from one of Brett Kavanaugh’s former college friends has captivated me: “It is the truth that is at stake.” As I wrote a couple of posts ago, we are living through a crisis of truth. Though many other things disturbed me about Kavanaugh’s nomination hearing, it really bothered me that he couldn’t even concede that he drank too much when he was younger, despite having bragged about his drinking and sexual exploits in his high school yearbook.

One of the basic assumptions I make about Christianity is that Jesus’ cross is supposed to enable us to face our past sins without flinching. That’s the point of atonement: to make integrity possible. Whatever Kavanaugh did or didn’t do with the women who have accused him of sexual assault, he denied engaging in sin that he specifically bragged about as a younger man. And that’s a big problem. If I were Kavanaugh’s Roman Catholic priest, I would consider it my duty to deny him communion on that basis until he could repent and be saved.

Of course it wouldn’t be fair to blame Kavanaugh entirely for the mendacity of our PR-obsessed culture that undermines the possibility of his repentance. Truth has to be brushed aside for the sake of building a compelling narrative that maintains momentum and withstands every attack. That’s what you have to do to survive politically in our country. Kavanaugh’s integrity is a casualty of the marketization of truth in our culture. Truth is no longer empirical reality, but a marketplace of competing narratives.

And the market itself has replaced God. Instead of having some sense that we betray or mock a transcendent God by flouting the truth, we construct our narratives out of fear and obedience to the market. There was a time when conservatism meant a stubborn devotion to the truth regardless of how hard it was and how many people hated its implications. (Or at least there was a time when conservatives cared about thinking of themselves in this way.) But not anymore. Now “conservatism” is just like any other political movement that has no problem sacrificing truth for the sake of achieving its special interests. And that’s a tremendous loss in our society because we need people who are stubbornly committed to the truth.

One of the hardest things for me to admit as a pragmatist who justifies all sorts of truth-bending for the sake of a perceived higher goal is that this pragmatic mindset is the problem. At the very least, my “mercy not sacrifice” perspective needs to be counter-balanced by someone else’s “truth not pragmatism” stance. I need truthful people to call me out and keep me in check when I try to indulge in narratives that diverge from reality in the pragmatic view that these narratives will help accomplish some political purpose.

This past week, I attended an immigration court hearing with my refugee friends. We had a kind judge who was very committed to following established procedures. So when we tried to ask her to do something that was outside her understanding of the protocol, she told us to follow the protocol. As disappointing as it was to not get the result that we wanted, I had to respect her integrity. I could not do her job because it would be too hard not to try to cut deals with every person who stood before me in an inconsistent, unsustainable way.

I don’t know what to do with the fact that we now have a presumptive Supreme Court Justice whose open lack of candor is now a matter of public record. It’s depressing to think about how the poor and marginalized are going to have their rights taken away by this Supreme Court. What I can try to do in my own life is to be more truthful and to care more about being honest and fair than writing things that viralize the furthest even if it’s for a good cause. Fighting for integrity is much less glamorous than fighting for noble political causes, but I need to do a better job of it.

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