A fundamentalist can survive without many things such as the friendship of those in his community or the pleasures of his current culture but no fundamentalist can go very long without A Cause to champion. For the wiles of the devil infect every corner of our universe and we must spare no effort to fight him wherever we spot his hand at work. No personal cost is to great, even if it means going to the effort of switching shampoo brands to avoid giving money to Satanists.
He’s talking about the infamous urban legend about Procter & Gamble’s logo — a weird and vicious lie proudly circulated in evangelical churches, still, by proud people who are preeningly proud of their pride.
I’ll happily pounce on that as an excuse to highlight two posts from 2008 on this blog in which, in more detail, I explored the same self-righteous self-deception we discussed yesterday in “Why liars for Jesus can’t be believed when they say they’re anti-abortion.”
“False witnesses” looks at the same bizarre legend and uses it as a window into American evangelicalism more generally:
The spreading of this rumor cannot be adequately explained by stupidity. Stupidity alone doesn’t make one hostile to irrefutable facts. Stupidity cannot account for their vicious anger when the rumor is debunked — anger at the person doing the debunking, and anger at the whole world for not turning out to be the nightmare they wanted it to be.
… I used to believe that maybe some people were that stupid. They were acting that stupid, so I went along. I believed that the people I was sending that dossier to were merely innocent dupes.
But in truth they were neither innocent nor dupes. The category of innocent dupe does not apply here. No one could be honestly misled by such a story. The only way to have been misled by it is dishonestly — which is to say deliberately, willingly and willfully. They are claiming to believe a foolish thing, but they are not guilty of foolishness. They are guilty of malice.
They are just plain guilty.
Which brings us to the interesting and complicated question: Why? Why would anyone choose to pretend to believe such preposterous and malicious falsehoods? What’s in it for them?
The follow-up post — unimaginatively titled “False Witnesses 2” — goes on to discuss Melon Morality, the Anti-Kitten-Burning Coalition, Bob Larson and Mike Warnke, and the difficulty of sustaining massive self-righteous self-deception as an individual.
This extreme level of smug fantasizing takes a village, a supportive community of c0-participants:
That requires more self-deception than any of us is capable of on our own. That degree of self-deception requires a group.
This is why the rumor doesn’t really need to be plausible or believable. It isn’t intended to deceive others. It’s intended to invite others to participate with you in deception.
On a related note, at Ethics Daily, Colin Harris looks at Christian political activism in America and asks, “Did ‘Bearing False Witness’ Drop Off Top Ten?”
One of the ironies in our current public thinking and conversation has been the passion on some fronts for the display of the Ten Commandments in public places as an affirmation of our common commitment to the values they point to.
Accompanying that passion often seems to be a rather blatant disregard for misrepresenting the person, position and perspective of the “neighbor” in order to gain support for one’s own agenda or goal.
Unprecedented amounts of money are being spent explicitly and intentionally to “bear false witness,” not only in the obvious political contests on all levels, but also in efforts to gain market share in the world of commerce.
If the message is successful in “making the sale” of a candidate, perspective or product, the integrity of the message itself seems to be irrelevant — just “part of the game.”
The Liars for Jesus are bearing false witness against their neighbors, and that certainly violates one of the Ten Commandments. But they are also bearing false witness in God’s name, and that seems to violate another of them as well.