Paying For The Lie

lie vs. truth

When confronted with someone who believes a blatant falsehood, our reactions range from fear to pity to rage. Personal responsibility is relevant, especially as we now live in an information age where it is easy to attribute ignorance to lack of curiosity or effort. At the same time, we probably should not overstate an individual's own responsibility for believing what he or she believes.

Just because some of us have broken free from religious delusion does not mean that it was easy for us to do so or that it should be easy for someone else. If we are to make progress toward a reality-based society which values reason and evidence, we must do something about the cultural forces that shape and maintain blatantly false beliefs. And personally, I have a very difficult time not counting religion as one such force.

When Nazi propaganda mastermind, Joseph Goebbels made the following statement, there was no way he could realize how well it would characterize the amalgam of contemporary American politics, money, "news," and Christianity so well.

If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.

But surely modern Americans wouldn't believe information clearly and repeatedly identified as false! Consider just a few examples:

  • Since 1956, "In God We Trust" has been the national motto of the United States. According to Jay Sekulow of the conservative American Center for Law and Justice, the motto is not a problem because, "It reflects the heritage of the country" and because, "It's something the founding fathers recognized, that our rights and liberties were endowed by a creator." A poll conducted in 2003 found that 90% of Americans approve of having this motto inscribed on our currency.
  • Many Christians firmly believe that Adolph Hitler was an atheist and freely use him to condemn modern atheists. No amount of evidence to the contrary dissuades such claims.
  • According to a 2007 poll by the First Amendment Center (update: link no longer active), 65% of Americans believe that the founders of our country sought to establish America as a Christian nation, and 55% believe they did so in our Constitution.
  • In 2007, a third of Americans still believe that Saddam Hussein was personally responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Even though the American leadership has finally acknowledged that this is untrue, the belief persists.

Okay, so false beliefs are rampant. But do they have real consequences? You better believe it!

  • The United States military has been taken over by Christian extremists, freely discriminating against those they cannot convert. Those who have the guts to question this are threatened.
  • Republicans speak openly about taking America back for Jee-zuhs, and few object, even as it has become clear that this is quest many Christians take very seriously. The seek nothing less than to impose their particular vision of morality on the rest of us, establishing a Christian theocracy.
  • Science teachers are increasingly confronted with fundamentalist students who actively oppose reality and embrace a litany of absurdities. Some teachers who resist are fired, and a sizable portion of Americans reject the foundation of modern biology. One cannot help but wonder how long it will take before these trends jeopardize our ability to compete in the global science and technology markets.

We are in desperate need of high-quality, reality-based public education and significant reforms to our news media. The price we are paying to maintain the lies associated with religion is simply too high.