The figurative dictums about the rapid circulation of falsehood against the dawdling proliferation of counteractive truths run down to the basement of history. While at these matters, the late American writer Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known by his pen name Mark Twain, is reported to have said that a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoe. Ironically, Mark Twain is not the crafter of this famous quote. The assertion that the quote came from Mark Twain managed to circumnavigate the world and most of us have been fooled into believing that it came from him.
According to an article in the New York Times of April 26, 2017, the inventor of the maxim is Jonathan Swift. Swift, a clergyman, is one of the greatest writers of all time best remembered for the Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal. The original Swift’s quote went like this, “Besides, as the vilest Writer has his readers, so the greatest Liar has his Believers; and it often happens, that if a Lie be believ’d only for an Hour, it has done its Work, and there is no farther occasion for it. Falsehood flies and the Truth comes limping after it; so that when Men come to be undeceive’d, it is too late; the Jest is over, and the Tale has had its effect…..”
The quote has mutated over time and a version of it has been attributed to Twain years later. In fact, the Eighteenth Century Christian clergy and writer Thomas Francklin put it this way, “Falsehood will fly, as it were, on the wings of wind, and carry its tales to every corner of the earth; whilst truth lags behind; her steps, though sure, are slow and solemn, and she has neither vigour nor activity enough to pursue and overtake her enemy.” Other key figures in history would use the adage albeit in different versions and wording. Charles Haddon Spurgeon popularized a different version in his sermons of 1855.
The idea that a popularized quote with the themes of falsehood and truth can be falsely credited to a wrong crafter is damn ironical.
It is not unsurprising that we scarcely question the statements we hear or read. It is also troubling to note that most of the time we become purveyors of lies. We perpetuate falsehood the way it is bequeathed to us and fail to interrogate the origin and the meaning.
Our market square of ideas is sometimes circulated with the currency of saturated falsehood and circumventing cycles of cynically motivated lies. These lies are capable of destroying us just like cyanide poison lest we become circumspect. Cynicism is not always the dynamo. On some occasions, the conveyor of falsehood is completely unaware of what he or she is passing across just like the conveyor belt in Eldoret Ordinance Factory doesn’t know that ammunition passing through it are for death and destruction.
Adolf Hitler is reported to have said, “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” Interestingly, Juan Pujol García fooled Hitler with fatty lies until he was no more. Pujol managed to convince Hitler that he could play for him the game of espionage. Contrarily, Pujol danced to the music of Winston Churchill and earned himself a name in the books of history as one of the most refined and reticent double agents. His activities gave the Allied Forces an upper hand in the Second World War.
One of the biggest lies of Nazis (what came to be known as the ‘Big Lie’) was that the Jews were German enemies. In fact, they blamed the Jews for all their problems. What the Nazis were doing was not something new. They were just perpetuating centuries-old lies. For example, it was reported that Jews engaged in ritual killings of Christian children. The blood from these children was used in unleavened bread during the celebration of Passover. This falsehood would be encapsulated in the minds of the masses to the level of birthing extreme hatred. The end result was the death of six million Jews.
Large-scale falsehood does not stop here. Charles Dawson, an amateur archaeologist, in 1912 duped the world of science that he had found a skull that could fill in the missing links in human evolution. This find temporarily propelled him into the scientific stratosphere. The rush to find human fossils was fired by the publication of Charles Darwin’s book ‘On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.’ Decades later, the world would be shocked that Dawson’s skull was only 600 years old and from an orangutan and not human being. Dawson had managed to fool humanity for a good number of years. His falsehood came to an unglamorous end years later.
For a long time, we believed that the world was flat, without considering Isaiah 40:22 and the orbital theories of Pythagoras. It was easy to hang onto the falsehood of the day than toy with the uncomfortable truth. As humans, we do not like being confused with facts. I would rather hear the simple lies that my warped mind can easily wrap itself around rather than the complex facts that boggle it. I would rather hear a motivational speaker tell me how Albert Einstein flunked mathematics (which is a mythconception) and still made it to the science’s top echelon than work hard and toil smartly in the talents and gifts that am endowed with.
With the supersonic advancement in science and technology, humanity has been caught up in a whirlwind of unrelenting information. We are bombarded with information left, right and centre and sometimes we do not know what to do with this information. On the other hand, we are the creators of some of these stories. We are good at spinning a good yarn. Eternal fame is our goal.
We are now living in an era of Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and so on. It is the age of fake news, misinformation, falsehood and propaganda. The proclivity to believe everything we hear, watch and read is at an all-time high. This makes us spend most of our time thinking about things that are not true. We scarcely have time to look at whatever is presented to us with a side-eye. We jump when we are told to jump; only to realize that we were helping someone get fit. We sit when we are told to sit; only to learn that the one telling us to sit has already arrived. We run when we see others running, as if from a certain danger; later to realize that they were running to keep fit.
This is not meant to be a germ of scepticism but a gem that jams all channels of falsehood in our minds. The time to swallow hook, line and sinker is over. Crosscheck that video or text you want to forward to another person to ascertain its truthfulness. Even if it is true, is it worth the forward button?
Whatsoever things are true
Paul in Philippians addresses several themes such as Christian joy in suffering, gratitude, unity, and confidence in Christ. He caps it up by recommending us to develop a certain way of thinking. Specifically, Philippians 4:8 (KJV) states,
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
How do we know if something is true or false? For a Christian, anything that does not meet the criterion set out in the revealed word of God is a falsehood. Anything that does not portray the character of Christ is a falsehood. Christ and the Word of God is the Truth.
You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’ John 18:37 (NIV).
How far can one pull your leg before you catch on? There is no room for fiction and corrupt thoughts. There are no theories for Christian living except that which is set out in the Bible and that which Christ exemplified. Evil surmising and gossip cannot co-exist with the truth. Truth and falsehood are mutually exclusive happenings.
Wrap your mind around that which is true. Disengage from the herd mentality that advances myopic and egocentric agenda dressed as truth. Divorce from the crowd that cheers lie but jeers truth. Devote your mind to thoughts that advance the truth of the Kingdom and edifies the Church of Christ.