Saturday, May 10, 2008

Lying for the Truth

(Note: If this post seems like too much rambling, I apologize. I've been thinking of this topic for a while but couldn't get it down quite right--probably because I was distracted by the global warming element of it. So I decided to put down my thoughts and let the chips fall where they may.)

Religious conservatives often speak of the moral decay in our society, pointing to things such as violent and explicit television shows and video games and many other evidences that our culture is heading in the wrong direction. However, there's one major component that is not talked about, perhaps because we have grown so accustomed to it: lying for the truth.

I first became conscious of this phenomenon while watching Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" a few years ago. He makes some good points and arguments mixed in with the emotional manipulation, but the apex of the film, as anyone who has seen it will remember, was when he showed the humongous graph that showed how carbon dioxide and global temperature were highly correlated. The implication is that as we increase carbon dioxide, we can predict how global temperatures will change based on the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere. And change it will. So much so that Al had to get on an elevator to show you the projected temperature graph. Stunning.

What's even more stunning is that this entire argument is a lie. The graph Al showed did not show that carbon dioxide causes global warming. In fact, it shows the opposite: historically, global warming has caused carbon dioxide to increase, which accounts for the correlation in the graphs. That means that the graph alone gives us no information that would allow us to predict what will happen to global temperature as carbon dioxide increases. Where did I get my information? Must be some global warming denying "scientist" funded by the oil companies? No, I got this information straight from the EPA website, which has a graph eerily similar to Al's, but with a more accurate explanation, and less humongous.

Was Al Gore duped? I don't think so. I think he knew very well what this graph really showed, but he used it anyway. In other words, he lied to support what he believes to be true. After realizing this, I concluded that if someone knowingly lies to me 10% of the time, I can't trust anything they say, even if 90% of it might be true. Even if global warming is a problem, I won't trust Al Gore to give me straight information about it.

Before you conclude I'm a global warming denier, I'm equally frustrated by comments from the right. How many times have I heard, "We can't even predict the weather next week. How could be predict it years in advance?" I cringe every time I hear this, since any thinking person must know the difference between weather and climate. I know that it will be cold next winter, even if I can't predict the exact temperature on a particular day.

There are many more examples in our cultural and political discussion--too many to list here. To relate this to Mormonism, I can see the same tendencies in our debate. Many rational people have concluded that the LDS church is not true. Fair enough, I can't prove it is, so if someone concludes it's false, so be it. However, the problem is when we start with a conclusion and then look at only the evidence (and sometimes make it up) that "proves" our point. Here's a good example of ridiculous evidence used to support the anti-Mormon argument. Isn't just not believing enough, without making up ridiculous claims?

But of course if we're pointing fingers at everyone else, we should look at our own house also. Are Mormons sometimes guilty of lying for the truth? The one example that comes to mind is the Mormon Meadows Massacre. To its credit, the church has recently made an effort to come clean about what happened there. However, for a long time, facts were hidden in an effort to avoid making the church look bad. In my mind, the incident has nothing to do with the truth of the restored gospel. It's a matter of people who did some very bad things, who also were members of the church. Still, for those of us who believe the church is true, it is tempting to disregard, or perhaps even cover-up things that make that church look bad.

So, for those of us concerned about what seems to be declining morality in our culture, let us fight against this moral failing that too often is overlooked: lying for the truth.

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