Cherry Picking And The Truth

Cherry picking harkens back to the time when folks who picked cherries did it with great care: selecting only the ripe ones, leaving the rest for later. By analogy, however, the phrase "cherry picking" was extended to mean selecting a favored position from a range of choices and ignoring the others. Almost everyone does it. Politicians, preachers, commentators, columnists (I plead guilty) -- and atheists. But cherry picking by anyone distorts the truth.

Recently a national atheist organization, the Freedom from Religion Foundation threatened to sue a school district in Eastern New York. Why? Because schools in the district taught elementary school children the songs, "Thank You for the World So Sweet," which includes the line, "Thank you God for everything," and the song "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep," which has the sentence, "I pray the Lord my soul to keep."

Why didn't the Freedom from Religion Foundation object to "God Bless America?" Because they were cherry picking, because that song is extremely popular. The atheists would be forced to sue major league baseball because it is frequently sung during the seventh inning stretch at ball games. They didn't want to stick their fingers in that hornets' nest.

So the atheists cherry pick, but preachers do it even more. Conservative preachers love to quote Leviticus (20:13) "If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death." But they are deadly (pun intended) silent on Leviticus (20:10) "He who commits adultery with his neighbor's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death." If that were true, there would be a helluva lot of executions in these conservative churches. No wonder the preachers cherry pick.

And politicians do it all the time. Governor Romney jumped on President Obama when Obama chided business people and said, "You didn't build that." But Romney was cherry picking. He conveniently failed to mention that Obama said that entrepreneurs couldn't build businesses alone without police and fire protection, without teachers who prepared their workers, without government maintained roads, which transport needed materials to businesses and move finished products to markets.

Moreover, the Democrats cherry pick too. When the Obama campaign says that the Ryan-Romney platform would end Medicare as we know it. They fail to mention that the Ryan-Romney plan does not apply to those fifty-five years old and older.

I know it's not only cherry picking. (Reducing the costs of Medicare is diabolically complicated.) It's also taking words out of context -- and it's sloganeering. It's bumper sticker thinking. Remember politicians aren't after the truth. It is too complicated -- too many distinctions. They want to stay out of the weeds. They are only after votes. And as Oscar Wilde told us, "The truth is rarely pure, and never simple." But cherry pickers don't care. They like to make solutions into slogans that fit neatly on the bumpers of our trucks and cars.

Truth, however is elusive, it is never simple and often painful. As someone said truth is like surgery: it hurts but it cures. Truth-seekers in a world addicted to cherry picking and sloganeering, are alarmedly different. They stick out like sore thumbs. Flannery O'Connor told us, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." The Catholic Church often burns truth-seekers and truth-doers at the stake, and centuries later (like Joan of Arc) canonizes them as saints.

It takes time for truth to catch on. The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said that truth has three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Then, it is violently opposed and finally accepted as self-evident. That's what happened to Galileo's world-shattering insight that the earth revolves around the sun.

Perhaps George Bernard Shaw said it best. "All great truths begin as blasphemies." But cherry pickers don't care about any of that.

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