We live in a culture that is deeply ambivalent about truth. We like to believe we love truth and hate falsehood, but do we really? The popularity of books such as Pamela Meyer’s Lie Spotting and Joe Navaroo’s What Every Body is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People is evidence we know not everyone is being honest with us. And yet we are willing, to a certain extent, to tolerate falsehood; we are willing to perpetuate it. We even, according to some psychologists and pundits, desire to be lied to. As Malcolm Muggeridge once said,
“People don’t believe lies because they have to. They believe lies because they want to.”
We are constantly surrounded by lies. There’s the advertising industry, of course: if you only purchase this product, you’d be smarter/sexier/wealthier/popular/etc. Businesses don’t lie to us because they’re evil; they lie because it makes money. But it’s much, much deeper than that.
There was a TED talk a couple of years ago on this subject. According to the presentation by an anthropologist and university professor – unfortunately, though I took notes, I didn’t write down the speaker’s name – we encounter between 10 to 200 lies every single day. A total stranger will tell an average of three lies within minutes of meeting you. Males typically lie to enhance themselves, while females are more likely to lie to protect the feelings or reputations of others. Married couples lie to each other in approximately one out of every ten conversations; unmarried couples living together lie to each other in approximately one out of every three.
Of course, this isn’t a phenomenon restricted to the American culture. It is as old as humanity itself. As the 1st century Roman satirist Petronius put it, Mundus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur (“The world wishes to be deceived, therefore let it be deceived”). In his monumental City of God the Church Father Augustine of Hippo noted the overwhelming acceptance of this concept in his day, and roundly criticized those in particular who advocated using religion as a means to lie to – and thus control – the population.
Lying is a cooperative act – do you realize that? My dad used to say, “It takes two to fight,” and, in a similar fashion, it takes two (or more) to lie: a liar, and another who will believe the lie, even against his or her better judgment. This willingness to do so, it has been said, is the attempt to bridge the gap between what we are and what we wish to be. That gap is real, and sometimes painful. But there is a better way to bridge it.
“I AM the truth,” Christ said (John 14.6). Note he did not say “a source of truth;” he claimed to be the living embodiment of truth. He also told his disciples “the truth will set you free” (John 8.32). Now, you may or may not believe these assertions, but at a certain level your opinion is irrelevant. Western civilization was built by people who did believe these claims. The further away from Christ’s teachings Western civilization moves, the more false we as a society will become. I’m afraid, at this point, the move is both inevitable and irreversible. The only good thing about it is that honesty, character, and integrity will be even more valuable than ever, for the same reason gold and diamonds are valuable: scarcity. For that very same reason, however, possessing these qualities will place you in danger. As Orwell put it,
“The further a society drifts from truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.”
Satan, the Bible teaches, is a liar and the father of lies. As his hold on this world increases, those who resist him will increasingly suffer. But resisting him is necessary. “When he lies,” Jesus says, “he speaks from his very nature” (John 8.44). That same verse tells us that those who perpetually engage in falsehood belong to him, and the Apostle John warns his final destiny is theirs as well (Revelation 21.8).
We don’t just live in a post-Christian society now, we live in a post-truth society. All of us suffer because of it, whether we know it or not. But are you willing to suffer even more to present the truth, even to those who prefer the lies? If not, are you really free?