THE PERILS OF BELIEF

A famous dictum, espoused by Aeschylus and repeated by former U.S. senator Hiram Johnson (California), states that the first casualty of war is truth. In our time, social media, faux news organizations and politicians have rendered truth a severe casualty. They’ve bombarded it—even shredded it—with belief. Even basketball stars have joined their ranks.

Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers stated that the earth is flat. “This is not even a conspiracy theory,” he said, although an unknown “they” want us to believe that the earth is round. The Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green gave his own take, surmising that the earth could be flat. “I don’t know,” he said, desiring to appear reasonable. “I haven’t done enough research.”

Research? Gazing out the window of an airplane at 35,000 feet on a clear day—NBA players don’t always fly at night—reveals the earth’s curvature. Or does that mean the earth is merely bent?

Don’t look just to some athletes, though. Donald Trump claimed his inauguration crowd was the biggest ever. Photographs and other evidence disproved that. White House press secretary Sean Spicer replied, “That’s what the president believes.” Will presidential beliefs—heedless of fact—commit the United States to domestic and international policies ranging from reckless to disastrous?

Often, truth is a click or two away. Many people refuse to go there. A widely circulating email purportedly by Warren Buffet claims that members of Congress receive their salary for life. FactCheck.org reviewed these claims two years ago. Its conclusion: false. Members of the House and Senate qualify for retirement benefits after five years and only for a portion of their salaries, which max out at 80 percent after virtually a lifetime in Washington.

Belief has a cousin called deception. Making the rounds of Facebook is a video from NumbersUSA demonstrating that U.S. immigration policy cannot solve global poverty. Roy Beck, the organization’s founder/president, uses gumballs in glass containers to colorfully demonstrate that America’s taking in one million of the poorest of the poor each year will not put a dent in the problem.

Beck is right. Poverty must be solved locally. However, the video represents a political shell game. U.S. immigration policy has never been about alleviating global poverty. We accept people who can contribute to our economy along with refugees. We limit their numbers, which is our right and obligation. But this video imitates a magician drawing attention to one hand while the other prepares to pull a coin from your ear. It can lead many Americans to want to shut off immigration entirely or support draconian measures for reasons having nothing to do with the reality of American immigration policy.

I have no problem with belief in the religious sense. I demonstrate that each Friday night in synagogue. Faith enables individuals and communities to discover and reinforce meaning in their lives and connect to something greater if not entirely knowable, even as science dramatically increases our knowledge base.

Still, faith must co-exist with reason, not replace it. In secular matters, belief offers a poor substitute for rational analysis based on facts. And facts do exist. I pray that we demonstrate the wisdom to know when each approach is appropriate, particularly when individuals explore cyberspace and Washington makes decisions involving the economy, human rights and geopolitical policy.

Want to take something on faith alone? Believe that you’ll enjoy my new novel The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht, available soon.

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8 Comments


  1. Joseph Sutton
    Feb 24, 2017

    Thanks, David, for your weekly analyses of the current events of our time. Your rational voice is always a pleasure to read.


    • David
      Feb 25, 2017

      Rational voices abound. Unfortunately, they tend to get drowned out by irrational voices.


  2. Ira
    Feb 24, 2017

    Didn’t Hiram Johnson introduce the state proposition rules which inundate our ballots every year and encourage legislation by proposition instead of legislators?


    • David
      Feb 25, 2017

      That might have been Hiram expanding on his second principle, “The first casualty of politics is confusion.”


  3. tracy
    Feb 24, 2017

    I wonder what Kyrie thinks is on the other side of the Earth? A bunch of roots jutting out into space? Gut Shabbos.


    • David
      Feb 25, 2017

      Dragons exist on all four sides of a square earth and bend the planet so that it’s not entirely flat. Just check out maps five and six centuries ago,. which proclaimed, “There be dragons.”


  4. Marty Weiner
    Feb 25, 2017

    Hi David
    Excellent analysis of the current challenges to truth.
    Regarding the basketball players—You might want to comment on the courageous
    truthful statements by Steve Kerr and Steph Curry. they make me proud to be a Warrior
    Fan.
    Your heartfelt comment about your Jewish faith is most inspiring.
    Marty


    • David
      Feb 25, 2017

      Kerr and Curry have indeed spoken up in a disturbing political climate. Irving and Green do not represent all NBA players. Still, their flat-earth statements were disturbing in their own right. I hope that someone has suggested they look out the window on their next daytime flight.

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