Lies are reality if they are told first. That is until they are proven false. Alex Jones tried skirting accusations of perjury by arguing he had believed what he said to be true. Church people are particularly adept at this game. Lies are easier to believe when they reinforce a prejudice. The more outrageous the lie, the more outrage it produces. Outrage is real even if it is based on a lie. And outrage can manifest itself into real harm. The harm is true even if it came out of a lie. This is why people can be sued for defamation or convicted of perjury. And yet the lie lives on. It never stops.
The Father of Lies
Jesus famously described the devil as a liar, “when he lies , he speaks according to his nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44c) People do not understand liars seek only their own gratification. Rahab calculates her odds before she lies to the officers of Jericho who seek out the spies. Her lie saves her life and the life of those she loves. But does she continue that behavior? Deception can be it’s own trap. We know liars are caught in their lies eventually. Info Wars works by repeating lies continually. The lie is “I have the real information.” But the question listeners do not ask is, “how did you come by this information?”
Lies are easily challenged by correct information. But they are still believed in spite of it. Cognitive bias is the psychological explanation. But there is also a spiritual explanation for this. The lie is told in the interest of the liar. And it is believed in the interest of the listener. In the climate change “debate,” the question in the minds of most people is “will I have to change my behavior?” If this process was put together as a flow chart then next question could be “which side saves me from changing my behavior?” President George W. Bush understood this when he argued, “Americans should not have to change their lives” for the climate.
Liar In Chief
Repentance is the desire to change one’s actions for the better. It is not merely being sorry for past behavior. Repentance includes changing that behavior. Chronic liars do not change the overall behavior. They sometimes, like Donald Trump, have to change the lie (or deny he ever said it) but not the behavior.
The devil lies because it is the nature of the diabolical. False accusations, false promises, false defenses are all examples of that nature. An accuser who lies often resorts to violence and torture until the victim agrees with the lie. The bizarre exorcism rituals of some charismatic groups begins with an accusatory lie. The social pressure within the group makes the accused tell all sorts of lies about demonic possession in order to relieve the pressure. This is a change of behavior just not for the better. There is no truth involved in it.
People also believe lies out of fear. Some people make a transaction of types with themselves. Am I better off believing and acting out the lie? What is the truth worth? What will I gain? Will I lose anything? Many make the trade.
August 9th is the anniversary of the death of Franz Jagerstatter. I recommend watching the film A Hidden Life based on his story. Franz was an Austrian farmer who saw through the lies and the evil of Naziism. He despaired over his neighbors acceptance of the regime and subsequent loss of moral compass. He responded to his call up for service in the Army but refused to take the oath of loyalty to Adolf Hitler. The state beheaded him in 1943. Even though many church leaders agreed Hitler was a defender of Christian faith, he could not accept both the Fuhrer and Christ. The two could not both have his ultimate loyalty. Nor could Hitler, a fellow Roman Catholic, be considered a representative of Christ.
We regard him as a brave hero today. But to his fellow citizens, Franz was a fool and a coward deserving death. But, as Jesus promises, there is freedom in truth even if you are the only person who acknowledges it. Unfortunately, this is the argument used by people likely to believe the lies. How do we get around that?
Christians should rediscover the importance of living out truth. If we should change any behavior, we should find ways that help us do that. Can we behave in ways that are life-giving to others? We should be our best at what we already do. Franz Jagerstatter did not seek to become a leader. He tried to be the best father and farmer he could be as a Christian. Yet, dying for a truth was what he was ultimately called to do. He went to his death as best he could.
Being truthful in a world of lies has risks. But living life in a transactional way is ultimately unsatisfying. Ask Esau or Judas about that life choice. Seeking first the kingdom of God with divine righteousness is the goal we can achieve only by showing it matters more than anything else to us.