You Just Cannot Trust Intel from Hell

You Just Cannot Trust Intel from Hell March 31, 2019

And the friar: ‘At one time in Bologna I heard tell of the Devil’s many vices, and I heard he is a liar and the father of all lies.’ At that my leader stalked off with long strides, a moment’s look of anger on his face. And so I left those overburdened souls to follow in the imprints of his cherished feet.*

Guiding Dante through Hell, Virgil gets directions from devils. Much to his annoyance, he discovers they lie. You just cannot trust intel from Hell.

That seems obvious, but smart people love data. When we get piles of numbers, especially when they tell us what we want to hear, intel from Hell can seem true enough to follow.

When I was a boy, we were all the time being told that the Soviet Union had solved social problems we had not even begun to face. How did we know? Statistics from the Soviet Union. Turns out that if you are mass murdering your own population in an atheist state where morality was an instrument to advance the secular revolution, then you lie about your progress. A good bit of the good news was a lie and when the Soviet Union collapsed under the weight of falsehoods that even they could no longer believe, the Virgils of the American academy felt a Virgilian pique. Who would have guessed that the Soviets would lie about their own economy, military, and social justice?

Christians have the same problem if we discount the source, because it tells us what we wish to believe. My Dad always said: “Better to die than to tell a lie.” If a person lies, then they cannot be believed especially  if they make a habit of telling falsehoods. This is the Christian who “writes,” but actually employees a team of ghost writers or a “doctor” with dodgy or merely honorary degrees. Plagiarism is a problem, because the man who lifts a column, article, or book has adopted the strategy of devils: lying liars who lie.

There is a difference between the person who makes a mistake and rectifies his course and the man who doubles down on the intel from Hell. Virgil got huffy, but when he realized he was deceived, he changed his road. He admitted he had been duped. We also need to have the mercy on others that we hope to receive ourselves. There is a difference between the devilish man who lies whenever he speaks and the essentially honest man who falls into an error.

We can have mercy as we hope to receive mercy. Still Dad was right: “better to die than to tell a lie” and (as Dante might say) “liars lie even when we wish they were not.”

Intelligence, as Dante shows, is no protection against getting lost and having a Hell of a time finding the right path again. Virgil should I know better, but the honest man (even the brilliant one) can easily fall for a lie. Best to take the advice of the friar and distrust any intel from Hell: liars lie.


*Robert Hollander’s translation of Inferno Canto XXIII 144ff

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