We may recall once again the Vedic and Zoroastrian notion of lie as violation
of sacred order, but now the order itself becomes disorderly, disrupting
ecosystems, oppressing men and women, leading societies into decline. Many
years ago de Rougemont 1944) made a distinction between ordinary lies and what he called “diabolical lies,” in recognition of the putative proclivity of “The Father of Lies” for appearing as his own opposite. Diabolical lies are not simply false transmissions but lies
that tamper with the very canons of truth. I think it not wrong to assign to this
category assertions of sanctity for discourse the unquestionable status of
which rests ultimately upon force, which is subject rather than superior to the
authorities it sanctifies, which misleads ritual acceptance and numinous
experience away from corrective effect upon the here and now, which encourages
fragmentation and maladlaptation while promising wholeness and heaven.
Diabolical lies are not new to this world, as
Buber’s (1952: 7ff.) analysis of the 12th Psalm informs us. The psalmist, according to Buber,
“no longer suffers merely from liars but from a generation of the lie,.. the lie in this
generation has reached the highest level of perfection as an ingeniously controlled means of
supremacy.. [removing] completely.., the basis of men’s common life... those the psalmist has
in mind speak ‘delusion’. . . they breed “delusion” in their hearers, they spin illusions for
them... Instead of completing their fellow-men’s experience and insight with the help of their own, as required by men’s common thinking and knowing, they introduce falsified material into his knowledge of the world and of life, and thus falsify the relations of his soui
to his being.. . . In order that the lie may bear the stamp of truth, the liars
as it were manufacture a special heart, an apparatus which functions with the
greatest appearance of naturalness, from which lies well up to the smooth lips”
like spontaneous utterances of experience and insight... all this is the work
of the mighty in order to render tractable by deceits those whom they have
oppressed." [pp. 8-10]
Diabolical lies, like lies of oppression and idolatrous lies, are the products of power, and if they are not new to this world, new and increasing possibilities for diabolical lying are offered by the increasing ability of ever smaller groups of men and ever more specialized
institutions to control the flow of ever greater volumes of information more comprehensively
and the disposition of increasing concentrations of energy more totally. This
ability has been enhanced by advances in technology, which is to say that it is correlated with what seems to have been the central factor in cultural evolution.
It thus may be that humanity’s fall is one with its
evolution: as its evolution has been founded upon its possession of words, so
may its possession by words have sealed its fate. Of words are inevitably born not only ordinary lies and vedic lies, which may be benign, but also lies
of oppression, idolatrous lies, diabolical lies, and no doubt other forms, that
join together into the encompassing and world-dissolving generation of the lie
that seems to vex our times even more than the times of the psalmist.
Be this as it may, ancient divines understood as well as we do, or better, the
paradoxes of the human condition, and there is an early medieval Jewish legend
of creation (Scholem 1969: 179ff.) that also seems to identify the fall with
the word. Before He breathed sense into the earth that was to be man, God put
his seal upon His creation’s forehead. The three letters aleph, mem, and tov, of which the seal was composed, encompass all speech, for they are the first, middle, and last
letters of the alphabet. But in the mystical tradition of which this legend is
a part, words themselves are creative and even identified with God himself (ibid.: 167 ff.).
Thus, the three letters in encompassing all language encompass all things:
they are the beginning, end, and continuity. They also spell the word emet, which means “truth.” When the sense that God had breathed into him led man, as it inevitably did, into lie, and vedic lie— violation of the order protected by the primordial prohibition against
making distinctions —God erased from his forehead the letter aelph, which, signifying the beginning of all things, was associated most closely and unambiguously with Himself. This
left on man’s forehead the word met, meaning “death.”
But in attending to ancient words we should remember
that when they were expelled from Eden (“bliss”), the Hebrew name that man bestowed
upon the woman who was to be “the mother of all the living” was Chawwa, meaning
“life.” It is not only human death that the fall invents, but also human life,
a mode of existence characterized by discourse, and by the reason and choice
discourse makes possible. For human life to persist it was necessary for the
one commandment that had for a while preserved Eden to be replaced by the 613
derived from the Torah, for, being founded upon words for whose lies there is
no sure cure, the conditions of human life are tenuous. But if discursive
reason and speech are unique on this earth to human life, human life remains
more than reason and speech, and the generation of the lie is continuously challenged
by the living—by prophets, mystics, youth, revolutionaries, and reformers—who,
in their search for wholeness, restore holiness ever again to the breaking world by
re-establishing the adaptive connection of the timeless sacred and the
immediate numinous to the continuing here and now.
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