New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman, in addressing the issue of early Christian forgeries, writes that there is a history of “lies and deception in the history of the Christian religion” and “irony in the fact that lies and deception have historically been used to establish the ‘truth.'” It is beyond contestation, as he points out in his recent book, Forged (2011) that pious Christians practiced deceit on a large scale.
And if we look, as he does, at the goals of the early Church, we find them to be identical with the goals of the “Church” today:
The ultimate goal of the church was to establish itself as true and, of course, to show that all other religions were, as a consequence, false. So once more we have one of the greatest ironies of the early Christian religion: some of its leading spokespersons appear to have had no qualms about lying in order to promote the faith, to practice deception in order to establish the truth.
Ehrman provides an example from these early days, the New Testament’s letter to the Ephesians:
- “Fasten the belt of truth around your waist (6:14);
- The gospel as “the word of truth” (1:13);
- The “truth is in Jesus” (4:21);
- “Speak the truth” to your neighbors (4:24-25); and,
- The “fruit of the light” is found in “truth” (5:9);
The problem, after all this truth-talking, is that the author of Ephesians is as dishonest as the day is long. As Ehrman says, it’s ironic that the author of Ephesians is lying about who he is, pretending to be Paul of Tarsus. That he is, in fact, a forger. A liar.
Christians intent on establishing what was right to believe did so by telling lies, in an attempt to deceive their readers into agreeing that they were the ones who spoke the truth.
Sadly, deceit is still a key weapon in the Christian arsenal – Catholic and Protestant. The American public – worse, the fundamentalist and conservative Catholic rank and file – are being fed a steady diet of lies by conservative Christian leaders and spokespersons. And just as Christians and Pagans were once were, we are being told that what is demonstrably false is true – all according to the dictum (and something Jesus never advocated, by the way) that the means justify the ends.
After all, in the Law of Moses it is said “do not lie” (bear false witness) and Jesus said he had come to uphold the law. Sadly, many Christians have felt no need to be like Jesus and to ignore their Lord’s teachings. In fact, dishonesty has become a money-making operation for fundamentalists, and a lucrative one.
Let’s look at some examples, though there are far too many examples to produce a comprehensive sampling, some of whom we have covered here extensively, like the AFA’s Bryan Fischer, David Barton, or Sarah Palin, or Michele Bachmann, and notably, Rick Perry, claiming that his dominionist-supported prayer fast in Houston was non-partisan and apolitical, or fundamentalists like Ralph Reed, denying such a thing as dominionism exists, even while dominionists like C. Peter Wagner write books about it.
Catholic League President Bill Donohue is a serial liar on behalf of Christianity and Catholicism in particular. He wants equality for the LGBT community stopped at all costs, so he lies. For example,
Let’s follow the logic. Every world religion is either opposed to homosexuality or takes no position on it; not one finds it acceptable. So if being opposed to homosexuality makes one phobic, then almost the entire world (throughout all of history) suffers the same malady. Not only that, we are to believe that the problem in this case is not delirious homosexuals taking up the cause of segregation, it’s the Catholic Church’s teachings on sexual ethics.
This is a complete fabrication, and Donohue is far from alone in making it – it is in fact mantra of the ultra-Protestant Religious Right as well as part of their “Natural Law” meme. The truth, as I reported here previously, is contrary to this claim:
But homosexuality, few people realize, is a modern concept. The pathology of the 19th century created the category from the male/female conceptualized as abnormal. Ancient ideas about sex and sexuality are far more ambiguous.
To claim therefore (as Donohue of necessity does when he claims “all of history”) that modern distinctions and prejudices are simply continuances of ancient Pagan feeling on the subject is to misstate the case. As Marilyn Katz puts it, “the nineteenth-century notion of sexual pathology was unknown to antiquity.” As she goes on to say, “[T]here is a radical discontinuity between the ancient and modern discourses on sexuality.”
Rick Santorum provides another example in his claim that Planned Parenthood is practicing eugenics. He hates Planned Parenthood. He will say anything to destroy it, including making things up and twisting the words of others. In fact, Santorum’s special skill seems to be, as I wrote here previously, in making words say things they do not say, in this case an interview with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg given to New York Times Magazine in 2009 that Santorum and his anti-life buddies take as evidence that Planned Parenthood is all about preventing the birth of “undesirables.” Rank dishonesty.
Then of course we have Focus on the Family’s Tom Minnery lying to a congressional DOMA hearing, claiming that a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report showed that “children living with their own married biological or adoptive mothers and fathers were generally healthier and happier.” Minnery hates the idea of marriage equality so he will, like Santorum, pretend somebody said something they did not say. As Al Franken (D-MN) pointed out, “It doesn’t. The study defines a nuclear family as ‘one or more children living with two parents who are married to one another and are each biological or adoptive parents to all the children in the family.” The study’s main author agreed that Franken was right. And this is not the only example of conservative Christians lying about studies, particularly when it comes to LGBT rights.
But it’s a strange thing, isn’t it, that a religion that claims exclusive possession of “the” truth, would tell lies as a means of access to that truth? How can deceit give birth to ultimate truth? Ehrman calls this use of “deception to promote truth…one of the most unsettling ironies of the early Christian tradition.” He is right. And it is unsettling still
Some might protest that they are not Christians at all. They say they are, and I have argued that they are. But of course, none of us can know their hearts. Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps they are the ones they keep warning us about, knowing enemies of Christendom, stalking the darkness and dealing in the currency of deceit on behalf of the Father of Lies. If, as these people complain, moral relativism afflicts our culture, they themselves seem to have embraced it wholeheartedly.
After all, Matthew 7:16 has Jesus saying, “You will know them by their fruits.” And he says the same thing again at Matthew 12:33: “…the tree is known by its fruit.” This idea is found in the Old Testament at 1 Samuel 24:13 “As the ancient proverb says, Out of the wicket comes forth wickedness…'” So let’s know these fundamentalists as they stand revealed by their own words and condemned by their own Holy Scriptures as the liars they are.