This reflection is based on John 13:31-35 for the Fifth Easter of Sunday.
I begin with a confession: I had to read today’s Sunday Gospel several times before I managed to get into it. Don’t get me wrong. I do not disagree with the words of our Lord. On the contrary, these are, in fact, some of his most important–and at the time, revolutionary–teachings.
“I give you a new commandment: love one another.
As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.
This is how all will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.”
Now, no one in his right mind will have a quarrel with love. Love is good–especially the kind of love that our Lord is endorsing here: to love one another as he has loved us. Nowhere can we find a love more authentic or more selfless love in the Lord
My problem with the Gospel is that it’s true. And the problem with truth is that it’s usually not juicy. It’s usually boring; it doesn’t sell. Worse, when it is repeated often enough (as true statements tend to be precisely because they’re true), the truth begins to sound like a cliche, and no one pays any attention to cliches.
Back in 2005, American political satirist Stephen Colbert coined a word for something that’s better than truthfulness: “truthiness.” “Truthiness” refers to any statement or claim that is made without regard for evidence, facts, or logic. You just know it intuitively–“from the gut”–and you accept it just because it “feels right!” And the more you say it–and the louder and more confidently!–the more convincing it gets! Truthiness is sexier.
An exasperated Roman officer once famously asked his prisoner, “What is truth?” His prisoner–convicted for the crime of advocating love and speaking the truth–had tried to tell him, but the Roman officer fell prey to truthiness instead: As we know, Pilate heeded the claims of the Jewish leaders and the cries of the mob, and went on to crucify the truth
Truthiness is not an entirely novel phenomenon. It has simply been able to rear its ugly head more blatantly these days because of social media. Reading Facebook posts, tweets, and online comments this political season has never been more bewildering and frustrating–not just in the Philippines, but also in the United States.
So why be bewildered and appalled when audiences applaud and cheer political candidates who say things that are untrue, not to mention immoral? What’s the point of getting frustrated–or heartbroken–when crowds greet the most outrageous statements not with outrage, but with approval and boisterous laughter? Truthiness has a way of switching off our minds and reducing even the most educated among us into mobs.
The truth is, truthfulness doesn’t go viral. Truthiness does. And we know what viruses do.