March 28, 2012

Disagreement is Valuable, But We Can Do Without the Lying

LyingPeople are going to have differences of opinion, and there is nothing wrong with that. Whether we are talking about someone's preferred religion, political candidate, or policy question, we all recognize that others will have different opinions. Most of us are even capable of respecting well-reasoned opinions with which we disagree. What I will not respect, however, are those who support their opinions with lies and willful distortions of the facts. Maybe it is because we are in an election year in the U.S., but I am growing increasingly impatient with the scope of the lying in the political arena. I'm also seeing many alarming parallels with religious apologetics.

The Idealization and Devaluation of President Obama

Start with an easy example and consider opinions of President Obama. I'd characterize my opinion of him as mixed in that I've been pleased with some of his efforts and disappointed with many others. On balance, I'd describe my attitude toward his presidency as more negative than positive and this is because I feel that the areas on which I've been disappointed have been more important than those on which I've been pleased.

I've encountered many supporters and opponents who seem incapable of any sort of balanced analysis. Some supporters seem to need to absolve the president of any wrongdoing, no matter how egregious, and elevate him to the level of someone beyond reproach. This idealization is dangerous in its ignorance. Many opponents, have demonized him to the point where they no willingly disown their own policies simply because he has decided to use them. This devaluation is dangerous in that it sets everyone up for failure.

While the amount of lying and distortion from both camps is astounding, I must acknowledge that I've seen quite a bit more of the serious lying from the right. While some on the left have adopted more of a head-in-the-sand response, many on the right are actually trying to rewrite history or rely on blatant lying. For an extreme example of what this looks like, see Mittens Romney.

I wish it was true that someone caught repeatedly telling blatant lies would lose all credibility. Such a person certainly loses all credibility with me, but others seem far more willing to overlook it. There are many valid reasons to dislike President Obama's policies. Those on the right have a number of legitimate areas of disagreement that require no lying or distortion. They would have a far more compelling argument if they focused on those areas. Those of us on the left also have a number of valid complaints, as well as many areas we could reasonably praise. No lying is necessary. No distortion of facts is necessary.

If one cannot criticize this - or any other president - on the basis of facts, I'm not sure why one's opinion should be given any weight. And if one cannot criticize a president without resorting to blatant lies, the rest of us should simply stop listening.


I've always thought of Christian apologetics as a set of mental gymnastics employed in a futile attempt to excuse the inexcusable. In some of the less sophisticated examples, lying may be involved. More commonly, apologetics make use of distortion (i.e., bending the truth rather than breaking it) and manipulation of the less informed. Sadly, much of what passes for political analysis these days reminds me of apologetics. Here's just a few brief examples:
Subscribe to Atheist Revolution