(RNS) -- Judging from a recent Gallup Poll, politicians, corporations, the entertainment media and religious institutions are in a close competition to prove which is least trustworthy. A jaded public has come to expect the worst, and regularly receives it.
Headlines about politicians' lies hardly warrant attention anymore.
We've gone from George Washington, who could not tell a lie, to an elected elite who appear incapable of telling the truth.
In corporate America, big tobacco stonewalled and suppressed the facts when they knew nicotine was an addictive carcinogen. BP doctored photos of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and for weeks understated the amount of oil spilling into the Gulf.
MTV's reality show The Hills was supposed to be filmed in and around Los Angeles, but in last week's series finale, the camera pulls back to reveal cast member Brody Jenner standing in a studio back lot.
Maybe reality wasn't as real as it seemed. "As you saw in the end:
what's real and what's fake?" Jenner said later. "You don't know!"
Given the public proclivity for lying on a regular basis, the rank-and-file appear genuinely betrayed, and even occasionally outraged, by these public prevaricators in this post-truth era. Yet perhaps we're the ones to blame.
In The Day America Told the Truth, researchers James Patterson and Peter Kim found that the vast majority of Americans lie on a regular basis, in matters both large and small. The Leo Burnett ad agency conducted a study and found that 91 percent of us confess to lying regularly, and one in five say they lie every day. Lying is such an accepted and expected way of life that it should be no surprise that 50 percent of those surveyed said they believe that lying is NOT wrong!
Ancient civilizations universally viewed lying as an unequivocal threat to a stable, orderly and just society. There is a reason that "Thou shalt not lie" made Hammurabi's code, Moses' 10 Commandments and the moral code of virtually every religion on earth.
Truth lies at the heart of healthy relationships, both personal and societal. "I'm not upset that you lied to me," Friedrich Nietzsche said.
"I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you."
Jesus, too, reserved special scorn for hypocrites who live lies and tell them. "Woe to you, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth."
Repeated lies dull our ability to discern the truth. This is not a new problem, although it is a serious one. What 17th-century mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal observed in his age remains true of ours: "Truth is so obscure in these times, and lying so established, that unless we love the truth, we cannot know it."
The flip side of the not-lying coin is the positive commitment to know and tell the truth. Can this even be done anymore in this day of deceit?
Restoring truth in culture begins with one individual at a time making a personal commitment to stop lying and to begin consistently telling the truth.
Jesus said that loving God and neighbor is the basis for fulfilling all the commandments. This means truth-telling is an act of love. St. Paul added that we should not only tell the truth, but should "speak the truth in love."
To be sure, a lot of truth-telling is done unlovingly. After a night of revelry, Lady Nancy Astor said disgustedly to Winston Churchill, "Mr. Churchill you are drunk." Churchill replied, "Yes, Madam, and you are ugly, but tomorrow I shall be sober!" A witty way of telling the truth, perhaps, but not a loving one.
The promise that we could become an honest society of individuals who require truth from our elected officials and businesses leaders may seem a pipedream, but it is a battle worth fighting.
Revolutionaries whose ideas seemed impossible at the time nonetheless founded our nation; George Orwell called the restoration of truth our most challenging but valiant and supremely important of crusades. "In a time of universal deceit," he said, "telling the truth is a revolutionary act."
Let the revolution begin.
Dick Staub is author of the just-released About You: Fully Human and Fully Alive and the host of The Kindlings Muse (www.thekindlings.com). His blog can be read at www.dickstaub.com. c. 2010 Religion News Service. Used with permission.
Publication date: July 30, 2010