Practising and embedding truth in a post-truth era



Vranyo – ‘When one person lies to another, the second person recognises that the first person is lying, and neither of them acknowledges that any lie is being told’

We have written before about the Russian practice of maskirovka (disguise, deception and denial), freely deployed in its military and political manoeuvres. Let me introduce you now to the term vranyo, a word which describes the art of lying that is embedded in Russian culture. In conversation, this involves all parties recognising that a lie is being told, while continuing as if it had not, a collusion in untruths.

To help us understand this concept, I would particularly recommend this 2015 article from LRT (Lithuanian Radio and Television). It could just as well have been written today.

If we consider the brain’s desire for easily processed information, facilitated by repetition, and combine it with vranyo and the deliberate suppression of what is actually true, then the potential for a toxic culture developing is not only enormous but all but inevitable. This is why authoritarian regimes are so often successful in persuading their citizens that ‘fair is foul and foul is fair.’ (Macbeth)

Given that the best of us are awash with contradictions and contrariness, it is no surprise that the Lord urges us to guard our hearts, for everything we do flows from them.’ (Prov. 4:23) May the Lord give us for the gift of discernment to recognise when unhealthy influences are at work in our minds and hearts – together with the willingness to attend to these matters.

Cultural beliefs and assumptions in our surrounding world can make it much harder for some to achieve such discernment.

In every way the battle for Truth is ramping up – and it is by no means only ‘over there.’ Both subtle and blazingly blatant distortions of truth are common over ‘here’ too, though we may not spot them. We must not allow our hearts to become hard and cynical but, oh, how we must pursue discernment in all areas of our lives!

I have been reading a chilling account of the success of these tactics in Nazi Germany. In Hansi, Captive of the Swastika, Maria Anne Hirschmann describes how, as a young Czech girl, she was fast tracked to a top Nazi school, were she imbibed everything Nazi to the nth degree. She writes:

‘Hitler was with us every hour, though he lived in Berlin and we in his school in Prague. His sayings were quoted in every class and his doctrines were our most important study. His book Mein Kampf lay on every bedside table and our teachers practically worshipped him. They would undoubtedly lay down their lives for him and the nation. All our instructors were young, picked for their enthusiasm, ability, and devotion to the party. They taught us to do away with the old way and that Hitler had been called by Providence to show us young people better a more scientific way. German youth have a calling, a task to do for the Supreme Being and for Hitler . . . I laid my burning heart and life upon the altar of my country – for Hitler.’

Elsewhere, Hansi tells how she asked her teacher,

‘Teacher, why does the Fuhrer never get married?” She gave me a strange look, hesitated for a moment and then said with a smile, ‘The Fuhrer belongs to all of us. He could never choose one of us above everyone else.’

It made perfect sense to me that the great and wise Fuhrer would feel like that. Yes we all loved Hitler. He belonged to us and we to him. And if I had to make the supreme sacrifice some day and lay my life down for him, I would be willing to do so. Hitler’s war raged across Europe and his youth ready to die. Fuhrer command, we obey.’

This article, on the power of Truth-by-repetition, shows how even the most outrageous lies can succeed in taking people in when they are finely dressed up.

Right until the end of Hitler’s life, and even for a while beyond, Hansi continued to believe in the wonderful vision the Fuhrer had proclaimed. Praised God that Jesus rescued Hansi from her blind devotion and drew her to Himself. Let’s pray for many ‘Hansis’ to be delivered from lies of all kind – be they consumerist, communist or cultic.

For those who have lived and breathed the stale air of constant Russian propaganda for many years, the wariness with which other nations now treat their country must be a source of deep hurt and confusion. And for those who are deeply dismayed by what their President has inflicted on Ukraine, there is are exceptionally difficult choices to make: to hunker down and keep silent; to object publicly but risk enormous consequences, including the old Soviet practices of confinement in a psychiatric hospital or prison, and/or the loss of the custody of their children: or to depart the country altogether.

Many – some suggest hundreds of thousands – have chosen to leave. A high percentage of these have gone to Georgia, where they can stay indefinitely, albeit in a country where Russia has swallowed up 20% of its land mass, and which remains in a state of frozen conflict. Others have made their way gone to Turkey – a safe haven, but with the very real problem that their visas are only scheduled to last for six months.

We can be grateful that there was no official declaration of war on Ukraine or call up of reservists at Russia’s May Day Parade. Indeed, it was appreciably smaller than in previous years and had something of the feel of a ‘greying’ crowd. The truth is that, by God’s mercy, Putin has not achieved the things he set out to achieve.

You may well have seen the British Defence Ministry’s staggering claim that Russia may have suffered the loss of one third of the ground forces that entered Ukraine. And whilst we can be glad that the threat they represented has been removed, how much loss, grief and hardship this represents for their families back home – who are broadly still supportive of the invasion and daily await news of the great victory of their forces. We continue to pray for truth to out, and for those who invaded Ukraine to return to the land from which they came – which itself may be experiencing the additional uncertainty of their President appearing to be seriously ill.

All this has led to a change of tonality developing amongst many in the West, with some now going so far as to talk openly of Ukraine winning the war. Given the fact that Putin really can’t afford to lose this war, such talk may be ill-advised and premature.

Even though many of these Russian forces are weary and demoralised by their defeat further north, the danger remains acute. See these reports from Business Insider and The Conversation about the intention to extend the war beyond Ukraine to the whole of NATO.

And while the Russians can potentially rotate their troops and bring in fresh ones, the Ukrainians have no fresh reserves to call on. Citizens and warriors alike are very very tired.

When Church leaders are telling and following a very different agenda from Jesus’s own

As you will be aware, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church is known to have strong KGB connections, and has stood by Putin’s actions in Ukraine and refused to condemn them. Pope Francis recently met with Patriarch Kirill and heard his reasons as to why Putin was justified in pursuing his course. He told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera about their meeting.

“During the first 20 minutes he held a piece of paper and read all the reasons for the war. I listened and said, ‘I don’t understand anything of this. Brother – we are not altar boys of the state. We must use the language of Jesus, not the language of politics’.”

You can read more about their meeting here. President Zelensky, on the other hand, a secular Jew, delivered an Easter message in Kyiv, declaring ‘Christ is risen!’ The fact that a secular Jew is telling the truth whereas a Church leader is not is yet another of the surprises thrown up by this war.

Zelensky’s message is widely available online, but here is a transcript of it from the Kyiv Post. It made good sense for him to have delivered this message – but full marks to him for doing so, and for praying in this way with such depths of empathy. How special to hear a Jew declaring so emphatically that ‘Christ is risen!’ It is a remarkable example of a leader identifying with the faith of his fellow patriots at Easter. May the Lord use his prayer to touch not just the hearts of fellow Ukrainians, but many around the world.

A prayer concerning deception

Father, how easy it is to see deception from the outside, and how very hard for those caught up in it. Come by Your Spirit to enlighten and rescue multitudes from the snare of tyrannical personality cults. We pray for the multitudes besotted with Putin, Lord absolutely convinced to this day that everything he does is right and justified, even in the eyes of God… Not least amongst the Russian-leaning provinces in the Donbas.

Let your enlightening mercy come to Ukrainian and Russian alike, we pray, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3)

We pray that you would pour out Your Spirit across the region, and water the seeds of faith that have lain dormant until now. Let this be the time Lord when You move mightily and open the eyes of the blind so that Your truth can set them free.

Shine the truth of Your light into the heart of corrupt practices, and liberate people from the lies that have been entwined around their minds, perceptions and understanding. Tear down the strongholds of deception woven and constructed through decades of the most intense propaganda, and turn for good what the enemy has purposed for evil.

Facing the truth of our horrible histories: the terrible atrocities that are being committed in Ukraine now

Truly terrible things happened when ill-disciplined Russian troops swept across Eastern Europe in 1945. We have often lamented the extent to which the true reality of such atrocities have not been admitted and faced up to in Russia. We know that what is not confessed tends to be repeated – though few of us perhaps can have anticipated quite so much wanton brutality as we have witnessed in this campaign. But that can only be because so many people had deliberately shut their eyes to what Russian armed forces did in Chechnya and Syria.

This distressing but important article tells of what happened to one particular woman. Sadly, her story is being replicated in only too many other places.

We also know that what is not confessed tends to recur again. As I shared in a recent Mashal, ‘Anything that might tell another side to the story, such as the real-life cases being publicised by Amnesty International or Memorial, the Human Rights Watch centre that kept alive the memory of Soviet-era injustices, is being ruthlessly suppressed. The closure of these organisations represents a great loss. Nations that do not remember well are prone to repeat the sins and errors of the past – but making such memories accessible to all does not fit in with the image of a newly resurgent Russia that has nothing to be ashamed of.’

See also this article to help us pray for Russia in this regard.

Updates on the war front

We are grateful too for the very brave journalists who are doing a very important job by bringing us updates directly from the front line. Amongst these is Quentin Somerville – you may have seen these reports on the BBC.

Report one and two.

They provide valuable glimpses of Ukrainian hit and run tactics, but they make little mention of two major factors: one is that the Ukrainians have now taken possession of some seriously advanced howitzers, (and within a few weeks, should also have some radar-controlled artillery pieces from the British that will make a huge difference to their ability to land powerful punches). The simple numerical fact remains, however, that their forces are said to be outnumbered by up to 10 to 1 in East Ukraine.

What is new is the hint of a note of realism that is at last being proclaimed on Russian State Television. A senior presenter claimed the other day that mobilising the nations’ reserve armed forces would be of little use, because Russia can’t just go on pouring people into the combat zone to be shot and killed – for the simple reason that they don’t have enough tanks and other weaponry of NATO standard to make a fight possible on level terms. It felt like a bully saying, ‘It isn’t fair’ after being hit back by the ‘weed’ it had sought to crush.

Whilst the clip admitted to great loss of personnel and equipment alike, what it was pointing to was clear: that was is needed is a less a mobilisation of manpower than the industrial mobilisation of the nation, in order to develop more up-to-date ships, planes and weapons.

We can never afford to forget that the Russian military has recently rewritten its manuals to permit the use of tactical nuclear weapons at an earlier stage of proceedings than had been considered wise before, if insufficient progress is being made by conventional means. There are only too many Russian officials who would rather escalate the conflict, even to a nuclear level, than lose a proxy war against NATO.

These are perilous times and the stakes could not be higher.

Let us not lose sight in prayer of the continuing threat of Russian submarines cutting vital undersea Internet cables – a relatively simple procedure that could hardly fail to have catastrophic effects. As we pray for the victims, it can only be right to seek to bind the strong spirits which infest and possess both young soldiers on the field of battle, and the military planners – who know that their own jobs are very much on the line as Putin fumes against the lack of enough military progress and casts around for people to blame.

Father, at this time when every kilometre is being violently contested as the Russians push westwards from Kherson towards Odessa and in the Donbas generally, we pray that You will move in power to protect Ukraine from the ravages of these new troop reinforcements.

As You once stretched out Your hand to shield and defend Jerusalem from the menace of Assyria, Lord, we are asking You to contend against the Destroyer and to overrule and reign. Keep the Belarussian armed forces within their own borders, and out of the fray, despite the pressure they will be under from the Kremlin to intervene.

Grace’s prayer song ‘O Lord our God’ is so relevant as we consider these themes.

The Baltic Factor

NormanEinstein, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

The next few weeks are going to prove extremely important as Russia devotes intense efforts to taking and securing the whole region of the Donbas, as well as maintaining its hold on virtually the whole Black Sea coast – a plan that currently looks more feasible now that the 20,000 troops who had been besieging Mariupol can be released into the combat zone.

With its limited resources, it remains a wonder that Ukraine’s fighting forces have thus far been neither surrounded nor decimated, and that they are functioning effectively at a tactical level. We can also give thanks for the bravery of the UN teams who managed to rescue so many civilians from Mariupol in the most challenging of circumstances.

In the meantime, the bombing and missile terrorism that Russia has been using since the beginning of the conflict results in ever more hideous suffering and loss of life. Both sides have had their stocks of cruise missiles affected. An underground ammunition and missile store suffered a direct hit in western Ukraine, while in Russia a major ‘fire’ broke out at its missile-making factory near Moscow.

The cost of the battle continues to escalate at every turn, with oil refineries and depots on both sides being set on fire. With Ukraine actively targeting Russian targets several kilometres into Russia itself, and that nation’s extreme displeasure at Finland and Sweden being set to join NATO, the stakes remain very high. The chances of a direct military attack against the Nordic nations appears relatively remote, but you will doubtless have heard that supplies of electricity have already been switched off from Russia, just as gas supplies have been to Poland and Bulgaria. Pray too for damaging cyber-attacks to be safely weathered should they be directed against the Baltic countries.

Moreover, unlike the tiny forces it had back in 1939 – when it fought two incredibly heroic wars with the Soviets back in the Russo-Finnish (‘The Winter War’, in which over 1,000,000, yes, that’s one million soldiers invaded Finland, but struggled to make much progress against heroic and well organised defences. See here for a brief history.

Finland now has taken care to build up a strong core of 900,000 reservists in its army, and a strong air force (despite being a nation of only 5.5 million people).

Finland and Sweden are now seeking to join NATO, but President Erdogan of Turkey plans to block their right to do so. Bearing in mind that all 30 countries have to be in agreement this is a potentially serious hiccough.

So too, on a rather different level, is the refusal by Hungary and a few other small landlocked countries to endorse the EU’s attempt to impose an oil ban on Russia, on whose oil reserves they are almost entirely dependent. Once again, this needs to be a unanimous decision, and the impasse is placing fresh strains on European unity and testing the resolve of the West. So much for President Macron’s suggestion that Europe form its own army and reduce its dependence on American weaponry and protection. The French Armed Forces are in a poor state, and the German ones still worse (though that is set to change rapidly now). President Biden may be obliged to keep more than one eye on events in China, but he has shown himself willing to commit himself quickly to Europe in its hour of need. Without his intervention, Ukraine would not have received anything like the amount of help that it has done.

When we no longer know what to pray: using the Word of God in our prayers. It is after all a sword!

After dipping our feet into so much untruth, and quite possibly having our heart squeezed by the sight of it, it is all the more precious to soak ourselves in His pure, holy and everlasting Truth. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and we are “banded together in the truth” as Paul delightfully affirms – and “cannot do anything against the truth but only for the truth.” (2 Corinthians 13:8)

With so much suffering around the globe, it can be hard to know how to pray fresh prayers. I remember the Lord reminding me well over forty years ago that there are plenty of verses in the Scriptures for us to use in our spiritual warfare.

For example, in Psalm 64, the psalmist pleads desperately to God for shelter from his enemies. We can well imagine how many such howls reach His ears every day. We can cry out to God in these same words, letting the pain of them rend our heart, and, as it were, lending our voices on behalf of those who have no words left.

David goes on to ask for something that perhaps not many of us will have thought to pray: that God will preserve his life from ‘dread of the enemy.’ (v1) All of us have surely known moments when we were all but paralysed with fear and quite unable to move forward. He reminds us, therefore, to pray for those who are trapped not only by war and hunger, but also by fear. Why noy pray the psalm a line at a time, and see where the Holy Spirit takes you with it? You will most probably discover further themes for prayer as you do so.

Hear me, my God, as I voice my complaint;
protect my life from the threat [dread] of the enemy.

Hide me from the conspiracy of the wicked,
from the plots of evildoers.

They sharpen their tongues like swords
and aim cruel words like deadly arrows.

They shoot from ambush at the innocent;
they shoot suddenly, without fear.

They encourage each other in evil plans,
they talk about hiding their snares;
they say, “Who will see it?”

They plot injustice and say,
“We have devised a perfect plan!”

Surely the human mind and heart are cunning.

But God will shoot them with his arrows;
they will suddenly be struck down.

He will turn their own tongues against them
and bring them to ruin.

All people will fear;
they will proclaim the works of God
and ponder what he has done.

The righteous will rejoice in the LORD
and take refuge in him;
all the upright in heart will glory in him!
(Ps. 64)