I was eating dinner and reading a book while my wife watched one of her favorite TV shows in an adjoining room. I have long had a deep distaste for that particular program, knowing how it has distorted facts and gutted reputations through selective editing and deceptive commentary. Over the years several friends have been deeply hurt by the program’s egregious misrepresentations.
Unfortunately, I find it difficult to read when conversational interviews occur nearby at a loud volume, so I was intermittently dragged into the content of the program. The segment that distracted me the most was the program’s farewell to curmudgeonly commentator Andy Rooney. I heard his responses to several questions. One of his statements struck me.
“A writer’s job is to tell the truth,” said Mr. Rooney.
I will not delve into the irony of that statement emanating from a program that, to my mind, is one of the most flagrant transgressors of that very sentiment. But Mr. Rooney’s words are well-taken, regardless of the source. A writer is an educator, and an educator has a responsibility to convey truth in order to advance people’s well-being.
Perhaps this hit me so hard because of my recent stop at a local bookstore. Like most authors, I am drawn to bookstores. As my wife will attest, a “quick stop” at a bookshop is 30 minutes; a more typical visit lasts well beyond an hour. During last week’s experience I was blown away by the sheer volume of pabulum and outright lies being sold to the public. Volume after volume, especially in areas concerning politics, history, religion, sociology, culture, arts, and parenting – the subjects which I perused at length – conveyed distortions that would be laughable if not for the fact that millions of ill-advised people innocently embrace those half-truths and full-on lies.
Of course such a criticism is difficult to sustain these days. Where there is no absolute moral or spiritual truth that we universally or even generally accept, then one man’s truth is no better or worse than any other man’s truth, as long as he firmly embraces it. Mr. Rooney’s statement needs to be updated for today’s world: “A writer’s job is to tell his truth” or perhaps “his version of the truth.” Consequently one could argue that a reader’s job these days is simply to consider the various truth versions available, identify which one she likes the most, and own it.
I would like to give Mr. Rooney the benefit of the doubt and believe that he really meant what he said, that his words could be taken at face value. He comes from a generation that still generally contends there are absolute truths that exist whether people acknowledge and accept them or not. Sadly, that perspective is losing ground faster than we realize. And that rapid and seemingly unrestrained redefinition of truth is a sad commentary on the depth, engagement, and influence of the Church today.