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It’s not a lie if you believe it

Pixabay/Gerd Altmann
Pixabay/Gerd Altmann

Lamenting the resignation of Claudine Gay from Harvard, an Associated Press article read: “Harvard president's resignation highlights new conservative weapon against colleges: plagiarism”.

I see. So, it’s those darn conservatives who scowl on plagiarism (are the article’s authors suggesting the left esteems plagiarism?) that brought Gay down and not her actual behavior that most recently included not condemning antisemitic activities?

I used to wonder whether activists who broadcast such falsehoods really know they’re lying but continue to do so anyway to push their agenda ahead or they actually believe the lies they’re espousing.  

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“Porn use in a marriage is a good thing.” “The real victims of lootings and smash-and-grabs are the looters themselves.” “Socialism really works.” “Rice cakes taste great.”

The scary thing is, it’s looking more like people truly think the lies they’re spreading are correct. At least that’s the verdict of some psychologists who were cited on the subject in a recent Washington Post article.

Regarding truth vs. error, “On every level, I think that misinformation has the upper hand,” said Nathan Walter, a professor of communication studies at Northwestern University who studies the correction of misinformation.

While one study found that even a single exposure to a fake headline made it seem truer, Walter and others in the field believe the repetition of lies is particularly important in getting them to stick. They say the more we see something repeated, the more likely we are to believe it. This “illusory truth effect” arises because we use familiarity and ease of understanding as a shorthand for truth, i.e., the more a lie is repeated, the more familiar and right it feels even if it’s wrong.

Shocking to hear I know, but according to Nadia Brashier, a psychology professor at Purdue University, politicians in particular often repeat lies knowing the power of the illusory truth effect. And we fall for it, hook, line, and sinker.

Even worse, multiple studies have found that lies still affect our thinking even if we get a correction that we know is true, a phenomenon known as the “continued influence effect.”

I’m sure it also won’t surprise you to learn that the experts say we are more susceptible to swallowing lies when they fit into our worldviews or social identities. Favoring information that fits into what we want to be true is a mind practice, if you weren’t aware, called confirmation bias.

And nowhere is this more prevalent than in the area of faith and spirituality.

The perfect storm

What do you think happens when you take human beings that the Bible says are born at odds with God, then you hit them with a message about themselves that’s off-putting, telling them they’re “sinners” and need to shed beliefs and lifestyle choices to which they’re wedded?

What happens is what G. K. Chesterton said: the danger of not believing in God is not believing in nothing, but instead believing in anything.

Scripture says our natural mind is “hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so” (Rom. 8:7) with a moral inability that’s powerless towards righteousness, and bristles at the offensive message of the Gospel that calls for repentance. The result for the natural person is the creation of mental false gods and a state where Isaiah says they “cannot deliver himself, nor say, “Is there not a lie [an idol] in my right hand?” (Is. 44:20).

Where God is concerned, the Bible says we instinctively have “forgotten [Him] and trusted in falsehood” (Jer. 13:25) and exchange “the truth of God for a lie, and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever” (Rom. 1:25).

The practice of confirmation bias that’s so widespread today is not a modern thing but has been around forever and is splashed throughout the Gospels with Jesus. Christ’s biographies highlight the fact that the Jewish leadership didn’t want Jesus to be the Messiah so therefore He couldn’t be the Messiah in their minds, and thus they looked for any excuse to take him down.  

Early on, they “already agreed that if anyone confessed Him to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue” (John 9:22). Jesus acknowledged their closed-mindedness during His trial when they asked if He was the Christ and He responded: “If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I ask a question, you will not answer” (Luke 22:67-68).

“If I tell you, you will not believe.” Say hello to the familiar post-truth philosophy we see everywhere today in the first century! As someone once said, Christianity’s answers aren't hard to find; instead, they are hard to accept.

The only antidote to this spiritual illness is the one Person who is the truth: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). Only Christ can transform and renew our minds and hearts so that we can hear, understand, and accept God’s truth about ourselves and our moral bankruptcy.  

In an episode of Seinfeld, Jerry has lied to one of his girlfriends who is about to put him through a lie detector test. As he apprehensively leaves to take the test, George offers the following advice: “Jerry, just remember: it’s not a lie if you believe it.”

Actually, the inescapable facts are that truth is truth, lies are not, and consequences exist for being mistaken even if you’re sincere. Sometimes the negative outcomes are serious, long-lasting, and even eternal, such as when you diss God and His plan of salvation.  

No matter how hard you try, there’s no getting around it. George was wrong. If what you believe isn’t the truth, it really is a lie, even if you believe it. 

Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.

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