One indisputable fact of history
January 11, 2015 Filed in: Culture
Regarding our ability to believe a lie and accept obvious lies as true.
One indisputable fact of history is that millions and millions of people can believe a lie. There was a time when everyone thought the world was flat, and similar huge absurdities continue to exist. Children are taught to believe in Santa Claus, and not surprisingly, stories about magic and superheroes resonate throughout our culture. As we get older, we want to believe lies. No, Virginia, there is not a Santa Claus, but isn’t the event of the virgin birth of a Messiah a better story? To an atheist, all religion is nothing more than myth and self-delusion. I actually believe in God, but I do not believe that God wants us to believe or teach lies. On the contrary, the author of this mystery we live wants us to pursue and understand the truth. There is no way to grasp the truth without letting go of lies.
The modern world has tools of mass communication, which allows lies to travel faster and farther without being challenged. Whatever the gatekeepers believe, that can quickly become the operational truth. When Hollywood got its start, the evening sitcom presented an idyllic world. Leave it to Beaver, My Three Sons, The Dick Van Dyke Show and I Love Lucy each presented a wholesome reality of who we were and could be. The shows were white, middle-class, and wholesome, yet not without incident. Problems of youthful exuberance, pride, vanity, greed, and power were all explored in an antiseptic way. It is always healthy to be able to laugh at oneself. In contrast, today we have shows like Cops that portray average American life in a raw dysfunctionalism. Other shows and reports portray the inner going-ons of the elite, who are just as dysfunctional as some of the poor, but the characters are better groomed. Superstar athletes commit crimes of brutality with regularity because they have come to believe the lies that are repeated about themselves. They are hero and victim simultaneously in their head. So comfortable are they with always getting their way that any incident that interrupts their instant gratification is considered a crisis. A double-murder in a posh Hollywood neighborhood and the sensational trial that followed have dulled us to shockingly accept the faux normalcy of Aaron Hernandez trials.
Instant gratification is not a problem just for children seated by a Christmas tree and small petty men. When Hitler was invading Poland and the ghettos, he still thought of himself and Germany as a victim of foreign powers and the wealthy elite. The more lies we believe about ourselves, the more difficult it is to separate lies from reality. But even the worst lies have some truth in them, which makes them credible. The Earth does appear flat. No matter where you are, mountains only appear as bumps on an otherwise flat plain. Santa Claus does explain how all your favorite gifts suddenly appeared. Goebbels condemnation of Wall Street in 1928 would seem prescient when the crash followed in 1929. Power still corrupts, and absolute power still corrupts absolutely. The battle between good and evil is not as black and white as either side would like to believe. Are the events of 9/11, the Occupy Wall Street movement, student debt, and widespread foreclosures really just random unconnected events? Has the war on drugs been any more successful than Prohibition? Did it really make sense for a superpower to invade a nation of rice paddies to protect democracy?
Lies have a tendency to multiply and form offshoots. Many media outlets present only the lies that they believe, and people self-medicate reading only the opinions that they agree with. While there is only one truth, there are many variations of lies, each locked in a seemingly perpetual battle with another lie. These are always debates over cause and effect. The Earth has always been round, yet vigorous theories explained why the Earth was flat. The domino theory in Vietnam was false. The example of Jesus reminds us that there are things worth dying for, but not worth killing for.
People unwilling to question their own beliefs choose denial as a shield of protection. The truth is not hard to discover, it is only our unwillingness to accept it that prevents it from being widespread. If you are listening to the voice of history, then you will discover that it is a loud shout of warning. The whispers of dissent that you repress are your inner conscience. Bob Dylan may have put it best: “If you are not busy being born, then you are busy dying.” But Thomas Paine explained the situation: “Time makes more converts than reason.” It is impossible for people to believe a lie forever. Denial has an expiration date. We must reap what we sow. That is the basic precept of cause and effect.
You don’t have to be a mass murder to believe a lie. Some of the kindest, tenderest and most charitable people can still believe a lie. They think they are Santa Claus, superheroes and miracle-workers. That is the underlying reason why children are taught that Santa Claus is real, and why we are so easily predisposed to believe other lies. Before we lie to the children, we have lied to ourselves.