Both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney are Mormons – followers of a faith tradition that is especially conscious of the need to live one’s faith in the details of daily life, infusing a sense of the sacred into even the most mundane encounters. That is actually one of the things about which I have come to feel a special common bond with Latter-day Saints.
While generally I have no interest in isolating a specific verse from the larger tradition in which it is situated, it seems that both Romney and Reid could take a lesson from Exodus 23:7, which mandates that people “distance themselves from falsehood.”
This verse is about much more than telling the truth. It is about creating a culture in which people trust each other because they know that people will not hide behind facts. It is about the obligation to understand information as a precious commodity which must be used with care because of the realities which that information or the lack thereof, create and shape.
To be clear, I do not think that there is even a shred of moral equivalence between Reid leveling unsubstantiated accusations and Romney’s refusal to release more tax returns. The former is tale-bearing (itself biblically prohibited), while the latter is not. Both, however, are examples of failing to create distance between one’s self and falsehood, which is different than lying, rumor-mongering, or bearing false witness.
Exodus 23:7 requires that people pro-actively distance themselves from that which is false or misleading. It is actually a remarkably high standard whose purpose is to create behavior which not only conforms to the truth, but builds trust among members of a society. After all, we all know that one can satisfy the demands of truth-telling in ways that still undermine trust.
Just think about the Pink Panther. Remember the episode which Peter Sellers asks the man at the counter if his dog bites? The man says, “No.” And Sellers bends down to pet the dog that proceeds to try and tear his hand off. “I thought you said your dog does not bite!” exclaims Sellers, to which the man responds, “He doesn’t, but that is not my dog.”
There is a world of difference between telling the truth and steering clear of falsehood. It’s a distinction which is often lost in today’s political culture and we are all poorly served when that distinction is lost. Although they do not need the lesson to the same extent, it does seem to be a verse about which both Reid and Romney should be reminded.
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