Adolf Hitler deceived his own people and the appeasing world-leaders as he methodically annexed Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland to the German Reich (1938–1939), ostensibly to defend Germans in those lands, but with the manifest justification that the Germanic race is superior, and therefore destined to rule. While accusing others of brutalizing the Germanic diaspora, he was systematically murdering Jews and dissenters in the homeland. The choice was “Heil Hitler!” or elimination.
Hitler had written in his proto-Nazi manifesto, Mein Kampf, “The great masses will more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a small one.” He built his Reich on this conviction. But it wasn’t just the masses who proved gullible. It was major allied powers.
How do you deceive a whole nation and much of the world? You use unbridled power to control the dissemination of truth. You stigmatize detractors as dangerous to order, and disrespectful of good authority. You inspire young people with utopian hopes and racial supremacy. And in time, you eliminate dissent with punishment, not persuasion.
In the week before the unprovoked German invasion of Poland in September, 1939, the newspapers in Germany delivered headlines that were government-dictated and false. The papers claimed that chaos ruled in Poland and that the German population was at risk. This prepared the German people to praise the invasion. The Big Lie continued to work.
Free Press and Free People
Meanwhile in Britain, the mood of the people, and the open press, were gradually setting things in motion that would expose and remove the folly of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who had given Hitler everything he wanted in the vain belief that he was not being lied to in all his attempts to satisfy Hitler’s claims.
In a free democracy, Chamberlain could not keep the truth of German aggression from the English people. He could not blind them to their immanent peril.
Truth: Real, Precious, Powerful
The primary lesson that I draw from this history for America at this moment is the reality, the preciousness, and the power of truth in the public square. When I say America at this moment, I am thinking of 1) the killing by police of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in St. Paul, Minnesota, 2) the sniper killing of five police in Dallas, 3) the FBI non-indictment of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after her repeated, FBI-acknowledged falsehoods and “extremely careless” handling of classified material, and 4) the continued defense by national leaders of the legitimacy of killing children in their mother’s wombs.
The events underline the vital necessity of embracing the reality, preciousness, and power of truth in the public square at this moment. Let’s take them in reverse order — power, preciousness, then reality.
The Power of Truth
The fact that most people carry cameras now — in their smartphones — has made the killing of black men by the police a matter of powerful truth. Of course videos can lie. They are only part of the story, often limited to a short clip of the end of a larger event, offering us only one angle. But they also deliver truth, undeniable truth. Whatever stories and rationales for these killings are brought forward, they will have to square with the visual truths of these videos.
This means that the enormous power that resides with the police will be increasingly accountable. This is a good thing. And any political move to make it legal to prevent videos at crime scenes, or confiscate videos without a warrant, or destroy audio-video evidence should be viewed as Nazi-like silencing of truth in the public square.
Or Is Truth Powerful?
While the power of truth is rising with the ubiquity of the smartphone, truth seems less powerful in holding high-ranking people accountable. The five hours of testimony by James Comey, Director of the FBI, on July 7 before Congress left many of us speechless at the concessions of Secretary Clinton’s falsehoods, concessions of her recklessness in handling national security, and the insistence that law-breaking, in her case, would need to include intention to break the law.
But even if the former Secretary comes through this scandal unindicted, the power of truth is not dead. It may yet press itself on the people — if not the investigators. Where the media remain free, and dissent is not punished by the law, the power of truth will track down every deceiver. And sooner or later, it will be shouted from the house tops.
The Preciousness of Truth
Truth is also precious. Suppose a black man is seated in his car with his hands raised, having just told an officer that he has a weapon and a concealed-carry permit. And suppose the policeman tells him to hand over his ID. The man in the car knows that if he reaches for his wallet he may be shot, and the story may be told that he was going for his gun. Among the many precious things at this moment, one of the foremost is this truth: You should not shoot me for reaching for my ID the way you told me to. Or to put the truth another way: It is wrong to shoot a man for complying with police instructions. This is a truth. And it is precious beyond all reckoning.
I don’t know if that is what happened in the case of Philando Castile in St. Paul. That is not my point. My point is truth is precious. In saying that it is precious, I am saying that it has a claim on the conscience of officer and accused. Both should treasure this truth: You should not shoot me for reaching for my ID the way you told me to. It is wrong to shoot a man for complying with police instructions. When a victim of injustice has no power, he still has something very precious. He has this transcendent truth: You should not do this to me. This is wrong.
Or suppose a white police officer, in complete self-control, is standing guard to protect demonstrators against police violence. And suppose he is in the rifle-sights of a sniper who aims to kill as many whites as he can. And suppose that police officer has never disrespected or mistreated a black person in the way of his duty. At that moment, it is a precious truth — precious beyond calculation — that killing him because he is white is wrong. This truth is so precious a whole city — a whole nation — might treasure it highly enough that it becomes part of a foundation of a common life together.
Truth Is Precious for the Unborn
Truth is also precious for babies in their mothers’ wombs. It is a precious truth that a baby should not be killed simply because a stronger person chooses to have the baby eliminated. That is what Nazis did with Jews and Poles and homosexuals and stubborn Lutheran pastors. They did not treasure this truth: Killing people because of race or nationality or religion or position in the mother’s womb is wrong.
That is a precious truth. Wherever a society ceases to treasure this truth, eventually violent elimination of unwanted humans happens. It has been happening to the unborn for a long time. And it is no secret that the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, prioritized the elimination of black babies. And there may well be causal lines between the abortion of blacks and the aim to eliminate them in other ways. Such lines are drawn in the soul of a society.
The Reality of Truth
Finally, the reality of truth. It is a great irony that the philosophical, academic, and social power of left-wing elites since World War II have devoted themselves to showing that there is no truth. It has no transcendent reality. Truth, they say, is an outmoded enlightenment construct created to justify political, racial, and gender privilege.
This is an irony because it is precisely these left-wing elites that cry most loudly against injustice, not realizing that the limb of truth that they just sawed off is the only one that can provide trans-racial, trans-political, trans-gender, trans-cultural support for justice, and decisive resistance to injustice.
These advocates for freedom from truth cover their evisceration of truth-claims by crying out against the oppression of the poor and weak. But in nullifying truth, they strip the poor and weak of the one great weapon they still have: the truth that there is such a thing as justice, and this is not it. Truth is a mighty weapon in the hand of the weak. The powerful have been playing academic word games for seventy years with deadly fallout.
If you nullify the reality of truth, you make the finger on the trigger to be god. If God doesn’t make right, might makes right. If truth has no reality, what can an innocent man say when he is about to be shot? Black driver with no record, or newly married white cop. May he say, “Stop! This is not right”? That is a claim to truth. The truth is: Innocent people should not be killed. If that truth is not real, whoever has the guns is “right.” For there is no transcendent “right” or “true.”
But there is a transcendent ground of truth. The reality, preciousness, and power of truth are rooted in God and his Son Jesus Christ. God sent his eternal Son into the world to clarify and establish the truth. Jesus said to Pilate, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world — to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37).
Then a few hours later, he died, so that sinners who embrace him as the truth might be forgiven all our sins (Acts 10:43). “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). Then he rose again from the dead to vindicate his truth, and sent his people into the world as witnesses to the truth.
He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). And again, praying to his Father in heaven, he said, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). Jesus Christ is Truth in person. Scripture is Truth in writing.
Nevertheless, since God made all people in his image, and since he reveals himself in nature (Romans 1:18–23) and in the human conscience (Romans 2:14–15), Christians are not the only people with access to truth. This is why a pluralistic society may find common ground that makes possible some measure of civic order.
Nevertheless, the fullness and apex of truth is found in Jesus. And the Scriptures he authorized are the only authoritative access to what that fullness of truth is. This means that when all is said and done in history, the reality, preciousness, and power of truth will triumph. At the coming of Christ, the whole cosmos will be brought into the sway of truth — The Truth.
Until then, followers of Jesus bear witness to the truth. We wave the banner of the reality and the preciousness and the power of truth. And we renounce all policies, procedures, laws, customs, and tyrannies that obscure or silence the truth — whether in police procedures, national politics, or the industry of child-killing cloaked in the evil rhetoric of reproductive freedom.