“You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”
“Now that’ll setcha free!”—here in the South—was once a foreshortened version, adorning any jarring truth nobody wanted to hear.
It implied that one had the chance to be disabused of some delusion, idolatry or dupery, and that this freedom would feel initially horrible.
That a whack by bigger truth could set a person free, spiritually, was a notion less weird before the current “post-truth” era encouraged our childlike preference for illusion—vengeful conspiracy plots, endless entertainment or just-plain oblivion.
Even “free” had a different meaning, before its current political usage as the unfettered free-market, the “freedom” to loot-and-pollute the planet, to let the world burn while power gaming in one’s unbothered, refrigerated bubble of a golf resort.
The bubble-popping force of truth has never seemed “pleasant,” but is a particular threat today from within such precarious, carefully-guarded private containers.
Still, the old setcha-free phrase opened a Senate trial this past week, within a prayer by its chaplain, retired Rear Admiral Barry Black.
“As this impeachment process unfolds, give our Senators the desire to make the most of their time on Earth … and lead them along the path of honesty,” prayed the good elder, as shoes began to shift and throats cleared uncomfortably.
“May they hear the words of Jesus of Nazareth reverberating down through the centuries: ‘And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’”
Those words are spelled out in the Gospel According to John. It’s that gospel which often depicts Jesus outraging the power-loving, religiously-correct, fake-appearance Pharisees, in a series of confrontations so pointed, it’s clear Jesus was not trying to win friends in high places.
In fact, he calls out these respectable, well-appointed money-worshipers, expert as they were at colluding with a pagan empire, enjoying its perks and power while pretending to serve the God of the poor, the outcast—and truth.
With hot words you’d not expect from the pale Gentle-Jesus of Sunday-school paintings, this firebrand impolitely informs these fakes that they aren’t at all serving God but Satan, the “liar and deceiver, the father of lies.”
It is all quite disconcerting and ego-scorching, which is why Jesus so annoyed these pretenders. The Hebrew prophets likewise annoyed such truth-haters earlier, and Socrates of Athens, Paul and various later saints who dared convey some ego-threatening reality.
Likewise the early scientists who dared imply that Earth, with her important kings and bishops, wasn’t center of the universe. Look what happened to those truth-bringers—and the later climate scientists.
Something mule-headed in the human mind would rather burn fellow humans at the stake, toss maidens off a cliff, death-threaten whistle-blowers, persecute climate scientists, chop Washington Post journalists into bits and condone other savageries than be disturbed by reality. It would rather torch the entire planet than be consumed by the zeal of truth.
And no wonder, neuroscience now reveals.
The human brain—particularly when not educated to seek the unknown or serve the larger good—works hard to screen out reality rather than to welcome it.
Neuroscience researchers today have located the busiest, most ego-involved, security-seeking, truth-evading compartment of the brain, common to us all.
“The default mode network … helps regulate what is let into consciousness from the world outside,” says Michael Pollan in How to Change Your Mind. “It operates as a kind of filter (or ‘reducing valve’).”
Hence, “we are forever cutting to the chase,” he writes, “leaping to conclusions, relying on prior experience to inform current perception.”
With no inducement to risk ourselves and welcome the unknown, we remain in “a kind of controlled hallucination” rather than the truth which wants our species to grow up.
So back to the Senate. Is it any wonder that various members there, and various of their controllers, wanted to squelch any testimony from fact witnesses, regarding the use of our public sector for private gain?
It’s a threat just too close to poking the private bubble of self-interest there, that keeps the illusion of justice and truth intact.
Then again, truth is bigger than that, and truth always emerges. “What you have whispered in private rooms will be shouted from the rooftops.” Next-year’s Senate prayer, perhaps.
Contact Liza Field at firstname.lastname@example.org.