Truth vs. “Truthiness”

Originally published in the GIA Quarterly, Volume 33, Issue 1

Truth vs.“Truthiness”

Nick Wagner

MOST OF US KNOW THE STORY of George Washington and the cherry tree. “I cannot tell a lie, I did it with my little hatchet,” confessed the future first president when confronted by his father.

Most of us also know that the story is not true. Yet we continue to tell the story for the same reason Washington’s early biographer told it. We want to promote the underlying “truth” that Washington was (and by extension, the United States is) a paragon of virtue.

While we have always struggled with what Stephen Colbert calls “truthiness” (the quality of seeming or being felt to be true, even if not necessarily true), in recent times our willingness to accept lies as truth has yielded catastrophic consequences.

In this issue, Ann Garrido writes:

Much conversation about truth in media circles around questions of whether truthfulness really matters, whether lying really isn’t that significant in the grand scheme, and whether it can sometimes be a strategic good. Our Catholic tradition offers clarity on this matter. Honesty is not a topic we are meant to be neutral or silent about. As ministry leaders, we can preach and teach explicitly and consistently that lying is an intrinsic evil. It is destructive of community life. (page 9)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that “God is the source of all truth. Since God is ‘true,’ the members of his people are called to live in the truth” (2465).

The question for liturgical leaders is, How do we use the liturgical arts to help parishioners “live the truth”?

Pope John Paul II told us, “Every genuine artistic intuition goes beyond what the senses perceive and, reaching beneath reality’s surface, strives to interpret its hidden mystery”(Letter to Artists, 6). In other words, pastoral musicians and other liturgical leaders can neutralize the false “truthiness” of secular media and political pandering by giving parishioners a glimpse of the hidden mystery of the beauty of God’s truth.

If interpreting the hidden mystery through our artistic gifts is our service to the community, then we should take a lesson from the cherry tree story. When a musician chooses a repertoire more out of personal preference than service to the rite; when a lector fails to prepare well enough; when a communion minister is more focused on scrupulosity than hospitality; when a preacher admonishes more than inspires, we succumb to “truthiness” and fail to “live the truth.”

I tend to think of this responsibility to “live the truth” through our liturgical ministry with the catechumens and the children and the barely-there Catholics in mind. These are our parishioners who most need the beauty of the liturgy. They are usually the most susceptible to the lies that, without a strong foundation of faith, can sound so beautiful and tempting. If they are going to grow in faith and learn to “live the truth” in everything they do, it won’t be only because of the preaching and teaching they hear. It will be because of what you did, Sunday after Sunday, to reveal to them the hidden mystery of God’s beautiful truth.


Nick Wagner, editor of GIA Quarterly, is a writer and editor in San José, California. He is also the cofounder of Send comments to Nick at [email protected]