Is Manti Te’o a Liar or a Dupe?


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A friend of mine sent me this Transcript of Jack Swarbrick Press Conference and another commented, “he’s either a liar or a dupe.”

Knowing very little about Manti Te’o or Notre Dame, but something about Mormons, I’m going to go with dupe.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not making a lazy or snarky equivalence between Mormons and the gullible. But I spent my teenage years surrounded by Mormons and I can tell you that the nicest, most sincere of them were absolute patsies; they believed everyone, trusted everyone, thought the best of everyone — you know, the way they’d been taught to — because it’s really the way we (that is, all people of faith) are supposed to be, in an ideal world.

There is an element in religion — in all religion, really, if it’s lived authentically — that requires a willingness to be a little bit naive, or, to put it frankly, a willingness to be duped: “You duped me Lord, and I let myself be duped.” (Jer 20:7)

The life of faith trains us, sometimes glacially, but still inexorably, to be open, trusting. If the lives of the great saints teach us anything, it’s that the more open we are, the more trusting we are — the more willing we are to “walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7) — the more profoundly we grow in holiness. And then then it builds upon itself, “grace following upon grace” (John 1:16) until we become the true saints our baptism calls us to be.

Knowing nothing about Te’o, I certainly cannot say whether he is a liar or a dupe, or both. And to be honest, I don’t much care.

This story, like so many social distractions these days, just seems part-and-parcel of our bored cultural voyeurism and our need to gasp and react to “something that is happening, right now!” Something that doesn’t actually concern any of us, or edify the culture in any way, except in that it allows us to indulge personal illusions that we are wiser and more savvy — or at least less dupe-able — than others.

Except the truth is, we are all of us dupes, in one way or another. If you’re passionately following this story — or have more than a bare interest in Kim Kardashian, or Snookie, or the Lance Armstrong Oprahfest or the Academy Awards — you just might be a dupe. Even worse, a willing dupe, because you (we, our whole nation) are choosing to focus on the Page Six Tabloid Fodder — stuff that is ultimately meaningless to the urgent issues facing our country and families. Our distractions are damning us in a variety of ways.

And, if you think that a secularist, or post-Christian world-view inoculates you from being a dupe, think again:

One meets postmodern secularists of diverse interests who remain supportive of a basic scheme that is balkanizing our world into environmentalism, anarchism, paganism, pantheism, food-puritanism and other isms, and who have simply embraced a religion outside of monotheism. If you think by abolishing the Abramic Big Three you’re going to abolish religion, well. . .good luck. Every secular religion I just mentioned comes with its own Liturgies, Rubrics and Rituals, its own Sins, Laws and Saviors.

My friend who called Manti “a liar or a dupe” seemed, at least to me, to be disgusted by either idea, but why would we be disgusted by a naive patsy, unless its because it speaks to a doubt within ourselves? Our need to be loved and our desire to fit in often makes dupes of us all. And the only way to get past being a dupe, in reality, is to go all-in on dupery:

That was the lesson that Peter — the he-manliest of the apostles, it always seemed to me — had to learn as he sat outside the praetorium, among those who had called for the blood of his Lord. Unwilling to trust their temper, he sought acceptance in the convenient lie, “I do not know him.” It was not the first time that Peter, in his weakness, had lost himself to circumstances. After trustingly pronouncing Jesus as “the Christ,” Peter dared to argue “God forbid!” to Jesus’ own prophecies. At Mount Tabor, in the presence of a transfigured Christ, Moses and Elijah, he jabbered that it was “good to be here” and offered to build dwellings — a typical he-man, trying to put a good face on a terrifying situation.

In both cases, swagger met a need for acceptance, and truth suffered for it. It was only after the Resurrection, when Peter wholly understood that there is no risk to vulnerability, that he became fully the Vicar that Christ intended — and needed — to build His Church. And this is why Peter does not swagger, nor deny truth to curry earthly acceptance, from his throne.

Manti Te’o may be a liar, or he may be a dupe. Or he may be both. At some time in our lives, most of us have been both.

Over at her blog, Notre Dame alum Lisa Hendey writes “I believe Manti”. Some, particularly if they have a horror of seeming too gullible, might call her a dupe, too. But she is choosing to think the best until she knows otherwise. That is the way of faith. Assume the best until someone demonstrates to you that you ought not. And then, assume the best again. That second time is the one that costs something; it’s the way of the saints in love — which is why I so rarely get there, myself.

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