Any fact, no matter how unquestionably true it is, can be denied — as if it were the most obvious falsehood in the world — by someone whose self-interest it happens to conflict with. If you’ve lived in this world for any length of time, then you’ve almost certainly had the opportunity to observe this in action.
There’s an excellent analogy for this in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series. In the book The Silver Chair, there is a scene where the protagonists are in a confrontation with an evil witch — the dictator of an underground kingdom. Their travels have brought them to her subterranean world, and though they are not physically imprisoned, she comes very close to making them her prisoners mentally. With the aid of some magic dust that clouds their minds, she works to convince them that they’ve never seen any other place besides the one she rules. She very nearly makes them believe that the “overworld” they came from, just a short time before, doesn’t really exist — that there is no sun, no grass, no trees, and so on. The protagonists try to resist her attempts by speaking, plainly and rationally, of the things they know and have seen for themselves. The witch responds with mocking “logic” cleverly geared towards making their straightforward, factual statements sound wrong.
One thing that strikes me about this scene is how effectively the witch puts the protagonists on the defensive. Not only do they know beyond any doubt that their statements are true, but the witch knows they are true as well — and the protagonists know she knows they’re true. And yet she tricks them into responding to her as if she didn’t know they were true at all — as if they were speaking of strange, unfamiliar things that she might genuinely find hard to believe.
Here in the real world, many of us find ourselves in a similar situation. We have been placed in the position of having to defend plain, obvious truths as if they were, at best, seriously questionable claims. And some of the tactics we’re up against make C.S. Lewis’ witch look like a mere amateur. The “magic dust” that confuses and disarms us is made of popular opinion, pressure to conform, the “conclusions” of politically correct “experts,” portrayals in mass media, etc. — that is, whatever can be used (or abused) to make us hesitant to speak up.
Take the matter of marriage. It wasn’t too long ago that saying “it takes a man and a woman to make a marriage” would be considered similar to saying “the sun is hot” — i.e., so obvious that there was no need even to point it out.
Now, in an age where we’re all supposed to accept something called “same-sex marriage,” saying those same words is considered “hateful,” “closed-minded,” “bigoted,” “ignorant,” and so on.
What changed in the last few decades? Had something happened over the years that subtly altered the fundamental natures of men and women? Did some great advances in research reveal that everyone had been completely mistaken about basic human sexuality all along?
Of course not. The fact that men and women are designed to be with each other remains as obviously true as ever; no one, ultimately, can give any rational basis for denying it. It’s something that everyone knows, and everyone has known for all of history. What happened is that enough people put enough effort into denying this fundamental truth that they eventually succeeded in leading many others to question it — and in making many more people afraid to speak up about it.
For those who seek to defend certain truths, it can be easy to forget that even those who question them actually know, on at least some level, that they really are truths. It’s no accident that the “questioners” generally put much more effort into attacking the truth than trying to defend their own positions; it’s much easier to raise doubts about something that’s true than it is to argue directly in favor of something that’s false.
When the obvious truth gets attacked hard enough, the wrong people end up being on the defensive. The burden of proof gets put on the people who point out, in effect, that 1 plus 1 is 2, when it should instead be on those who insist that 1 plus 1 must be 5 (or whatever else they want it to be).
The burden of proof should not have to be on those who point out that it takes a man and a woman to make a marriage, or that a preborn human life is still a human life, or whatever other obvious and basic truth others may try to get around. Let the people who deny the obvious be the ones who have to answer the questions. Let them explain why their positions — generally self-serving and short-sighted ones — should be forced on others who know better.
The people who should be on the defensive are…
…those whose positions require them to deny what most others know to be true, and what they themselves almost certainly know to be true as well.
…those who tell us something is so because “all reputable experts” supposedly say so, but can’t give us any other reason why we should believe it.
…those who tell us one thing at one time and something else that contradicts it at another (of which, generally, one is a fake argument meant to disarm or sidetrack us, while the other reflects what they actually believe).
…those who call us names because we don’t agree with them, or try to bully / shame / pressure us into agreeing with them.
…those who keep resorting to the same old claims and questions about our positions that have been more than adequately responded to time and time again, but who won’t (and apparently can’t) answer even the most basic, foundational questions regarding their own positions.
The truth is the truth, and no dishonest denial — no “magic dust” — should ever be allowed to put us on the defensive about it.
This article originally appeared, in slightly different form, at American Clarion.
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.