Lying about "The Truth?"
When I was 13, I switched from Sunday School to going to regular church services. This meant I had the opportunity to listen to sermons. I have to say I was initially impressed by our minister. He always illustrated his lessons with anecdotes from his own life. And based on his sermons he had lived a remarkably full and active life.
After a while, the light went on for me. I had read a biography earlier in the week, and the following Sunday, the minister's first-person anecdote was lifted straight from the text. And at that point, I knew I could no longer trust what this man of God had to say. And, it was one of the many factors that led me to question the whole institution of Christianity and religious faith in general.
Why did this man appropriate the stories of others for himself? Why did he lie? Perhaps in Sermons 101 in Theology School he learned that personal examples help to sell a message. It is a useful technique, which I use all the time. But the difference is that my personal anecdotes, such as the one I opened with, really happened to me.
The practice is not unusual for those who have to make speeches regularly. Politicians do it all the time. But, most of us expect politicians to be somewhat economical with the truth. However, clergymen are different. They claim to be preaching The Truth. Why do so many of them need to lie to communicate their particular god's truth?
I don't want to say all Christian clergymen follow this practice, but clearly many do. A little time spent watching a selection of television evangelists can be quite convincing that there is a fundamental dishonesty at the heart of their ministries. And one look at Pat Robertson's forced smile...
I once read that the Jesuits taught in their seminaries that it is acceptable to commit a sin if that will save a soul. Maybe this is the rationale used by so many clergymen to lie when they attempt to propagate their faith. Perhaps they do not realize that when the lie is exposed, the emptiness of the faith is exposed also.
On our application for ordination there is a requirement for the applicant to state that he or she accepts our Articles of Faith. I know that a significant number of those who are applying answer dishonestly - they are just after a piece of paper to hang on the wall. If they do that, they are providing advertising for our web site. I regard it as a fair trade-off, and in most cases the small lie does not really bother me.
But surprisingly frequently, I get ordained Christian clergymen applying. They clearly identify themselves as such in their comments and the links to their web sites that they include in their applications. Their purpose in applying is not completely clear to me. I doubt they are looking for an additional certificate to hang on the wall. Possibly they think their comments and web sites might convert me. Or they think that accessing our Bulletin Board will give them an audience of potential converts. But to apply, they have to state their acceptance of our Articles of Faith. In making that statement, they lie. One individual applied three times. Quite simply, just like the apostle Peter, he denied Christ three times. At least Peter had the excuse he was afraid for his life. But these people have no reasonable reason for lying. But still they do. They seem to think it is an acceptable way to communicate their message.
I cannot say I have never lied. I am human. But in communicating the message of Apathetic Agnosticism I do strive for honesty.
But I will admit I have been accused twice of lying with respect to this web site.
- One Christian clergyman accused me of lying when I pointed out I already had rejected him twice. I give him the benefit of the doubt: perhaps he had forgotten an earlier application from several months previously.
- Another Christian accused me of lying about being an Agnostic. His rationale was that Romans Chapter 1, verses 20-22 states that all men know intuitively that God exists. As for him, the Bible is absolute truth, logically I had to be lying about my lack of belief. I politely thanked him for pointing out yet another error in the Bible, and adding to the body of evidence that the Bible is not absolute truth. (My own reading of the text suggests he should have referenced verses 19-20; but then, unlike him, I'm not a Bible scholar so I'm probably not interpreting it correctly. Hmm, should that last phrase be seen as a lie?... Or as sarcasm?)
Others can judge how well I am doing, but I really do believe that if you are proselytizing, you have no choice but to be honest.
- The individual in Ask the Patriarch 4 was only one of several. (I will note that as of 2012, these applications from obvious Christians have just about ceased.)