Fooling around with words and meanings appears to be very common, especially in situations such as commercial marketing or politics (hope you’ve seen ‘Yes, Minister’). Religions, however, pretend to be more pure and moral, so they deserve some special treatment here. This is what the Jewish missionary organization named ‘Values’ (‘Arachim’, in Hebrew) teaches its teachers (extracted from an internal training leaflet, 1999):
“Answer the person who is asking, not only the question … Use his first name … Compliment him for the question … When you don’t want to refer to some question (because it’s foolish or shallow), say: ‘Maybe we can join a couple of more questions from the audience’ … Instead of saying ‘When can we meet?’ say: ‘Do you prefer we meet in your home or in your office?’”
In order to make the message clear: Everybody does that. Every salesman, whether selling used cars or Christianity, is a good salesman when using such techniques. Sometimes they are taught, and many times they are part of one’s natural skills. It’s the need to sell religion like selling used cars, which should be noted.
Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler is known for his book ‘A Letter from Eliyahu’, published in English under the name ‘Strive for Truth’. Yet, the “truth” by Dessler is not what one would learn in logic class. He explains how “in the beginning of our education” we understood that ‘truth’ was when someone told the facts, while ‘lie’ was when the facts were changed. Then he explains how this is only one way of putting things. A better way – according to Dessler – would be to define ‘truth’ as something that brings us closer to “God’s will” and define ‘lies’ as things that help the “Devil’s business”.
Hence, if the “Devil’s business” is to tempt innocent people into cursing God (see the Biblical book of Job), it would be the truth to say how merciful that God is. If God supposedly wants us to praise Jesus, it would be a lie to describe Mr. Christ’s sexual life. By definition, the truth is not necessarily the facts. The truth is wrong.
By the way, “God’s will” to his creatures depends on the exact type of god one creates. Most people create gods whose will is difficult to grasp, but easy to preach.
Have you ever heard someone insist on his or her right to settle in some piece of land that is under dispute? In a way, this relates very well to our little discussion here. Mostly, for a right to have some significance, it should be verifiable against some set of rules (such as the constitution, or international law). Therefore, claiming some rights without specifying the relevant set of rules often carries an unspoken claim about the existence of such a set of rules. What is this set of rules? You guessed right… the speaker’s god’s rules!
We interrupt this program to bring you a special joke about the manipulative use of words and truths. The joke about the blond and the lawyer is yet another masterpiece widely spread over the Internet, and quoted here word for word:
A blonde and a lawyer are seated next to each other on a flight from Los Angeles to New York. The lawyer asks if she would like to play a fun game? The blonde, tired, just wants to take a nap, politely declines and rolls over to the window to catch a few winks. The lawyer persists and explains that the game is easy and a lot of fun. He explains, “I ask you a question, and if you don’t know the answer, you pay me $5.00, and vise versa.”
Again, she declines and tries to get some sleep.
The lawyer, now agitated, says, “Okay, if you don’t know the answer you pay me $5.00, and if I don’t know the answer, I will pay you $500.00.”
This catches the blonde’s attention and, figuring there will be no end to this torment unless she plays, agrees to the game.
The lawyer asks the first question. “What’s the distance from the Earth to the Moon?”
The blonde doesn’t say a word, reaches into her purse, pulls out a $5.00 bill and hands it to the lawyer. “Okay, ” says the lawyer, “your turn”.
She asks the lawyer, “What goes up a hill with three legs and comes down with four legs?”
The lawyer, puzzled, takes out his laptop computer and searches all his references, no answer. He taps into the air phone with his modem and searches the net and the library of congress, no answer. Frustrated, he sends e-mail to all his friends and coworkers, to no avail. After an hour, he wakes the blonde, and hands her $500.00.
The blonde says, “Thank you, ” and turns back to get some more sleep.
The lawyer, who is more than a little miffed, wakes the blonde and asks, “Well, what’s the answer?”
Without a word, the blonde reaches into her purse, hands the lawyer $5.00, and goes back to sleep.