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01/16/2006 Archived Entry: "Finding inspiration and redemption in lies"

HOW CAN ANYONE FIND "REDEMPTION" OR "INSPIRATION" IN A PACK OF LIES? I've never read the now-infamous memoir A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. Indeed I'd never even heard of it until the controversy broke in a long, well-documented story at TheSmokingGun.com. It seems to be one of those odd books whose fame is almost entirely connected to television, which I don't watch.

But I'm fascinated by the response of the true believers who continue to call the book "an inspiration" even when they know they've been lied to.

That's like saying George W. Bush's WMD lies continue to be "an inspiration" strong enough to justify mass murder in Iraq, rather than an inspiration for impeachment and immediate withdrawal from combat. Most fascinating of all is the reaction of Oprah Winfrey, who helped make the book a mega-seller. After it was exposed as a fraud, she called up Larry King on-air to proclaim the book's "powerful message of redemption."

But where's the redemption if the author is an unredeemed and unrepentant liar?

This is how religions get started. And it's why if you're gonna preach at me about burning bushes that talk or preachermen who raise the dead, I'm gonna respond, "Prove it." Because all the accounts of such matters must be presumed to have been written by or later heavily edited by liars. Liars with an agenda.

Sure, one guy making millions off a memoir is a far cry from churches duping billions over the centuries. Or from governments using lies to commit mass murder and enslavement. But the psychology is uncannily the same. For hundreds of years, the Church (you know, the Big Church, the only one with the capital C) rewrote, edited, and censored scriptures and other documents (sometimes cynically creating "holy" documents out of whole cloth) on the premise that "truth is whatever inspires belief." The facts be damned.

And billions bought it. Billions continue to buy it, even though the history of manipulative editing or writing is well known.

But if you have to lie to make your case look good, then wouldn't any sensible person automatically conclude from that that your actual case, the underlying facts of the matter, must suck the big one and therefore be even less believable than before you began "embellishing"??? If god or government is really so glorious, there'd never be the tiniest need to lie about it. Or embellish. Or edit out the embarrassing stuff.

The very fact that you feel the need to lie about major "truths" says your underlying case is worthless.

Oprah Winfrey seems like one of the few celebrities who's actually a caring, thoughful human being. But she's easily duped as her experience with the disastrous "Families for a Better Life" program painfully demonstrated. (News reports at the end of the program made it sound even worse than the linked article does. If those reports were true, apparently the program tried to make poor people prosperous by giving them cash. The predictable result was that they not only spent the money on cellphones and televisions instead of educations and training, but that they used the cash to leverage themselves deeply into debt.)

But lying works. Time again, it serves its purpose, It might be the small (but oh-so-ironic) purpose of the Good Parson Weems lying about George Washington and the cherry tree to emphasize the value of truth-telling. It might be the truly malign purpose of the Church claiming temporal power (and justifying centuries of conquest, corruption and war-making) via the forged "Donation of Constantine."

But alas, lies from "authoritative" sources always fool enough people to serve the liars' purposes.

Oprah and the rest of James Frey's devotees are the sort of people that power-focused religions (including state worship) are made of. Facts? Hey, who needs 'em if the moral of the story gives you the warm fuzzies? Lies? Oh, they're just itty-bitty unimportant things. As long as we feeeeeeeeeeel good, then we'll give our trust -- and our money -- to anybody.

It would be no big deal if such people were an eccentric minority. But the willingness -- nay, the eagerness -- to belieeeeeeeve information that's highly suspect, and even demonstrably false, is a major driver of human society. And it's a cause of catastrophe after catastrophe in human history.

Posted by Claire @ 08:39 AM CST

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