[Warning: This post is a Beagle's Bark. Follow the link to see what that means.]
[Substantially edited on 8/20/2011.]
In this morning’s post, I observed that the presidential candidates on the Christian Right lie more often than their more moderate or left-leaning colleagues, according to figures on the non-partisan Website, Politifact.com.
Why is this? Why would politicians who claim to be all about The Truth tell lies so often? One would think that lies from Christians who take their faith as seriously as Bachmann, Palin, Perry et al do would be the rare exception. What’s going on here?
Let me say from the get-go that I am not talking about the more moderate sort of Christian politician: people like George H. W. Bush or Barack Obama. I’m talking about those who are most strongly identified with the specifically Christian Right: those who fuel their supercars with vitriol about gays, Muslims, illegal immigrants, etc., and want to “restore” us as a Christian nation.
As a former member of the Christian Right, I think I have some insight into why these politicians might lie.
First, the Religious Right view themselves as serving a cause that is infinitely greater than the petty affairs of men. At stake are the eternal souls of millions of people. Martin Luther is reliably reported to have said,
What harm would it do, if a man told a good strong lie for the sake of the good and for the Christian church…a lie out of necessity, a useful lie, a helpful lie, such lies would not be against God, he would accept them.
By comparison to the infinite importance of even one eternal soul, a few lies are technicalities, right?
Second, the Christian Right believe they’re in a war, not a debate. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard evangelicals apply Ephesians 6:12 to the culture wars:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
If “all’s fair in love and war” then you must have an awful lot of latitude when fighting Satan and his “spiritual forces of evil.”
Third, the Religious Right’s base are conditioned against critical thinking. As a result, Religious Right politicians know they can get away with big lies…so they do.
That’s a strong charge, but having sat in the pews for 40 years, I can say with some experience that the average evangelical is more concerned with building up his faith and with winning the culture wars than with objectively evaluating the truthfulness of a given proposition. Lip service is paid to critical thinking but when push comes to shove, reason must submit to faith.
Don’t believe me? Listen to what one of the foremost Christian apologists of our age, William Lane Craig, has to say on the subject. Dr. Craig styles himself a great advocate for reason. His Website, named after one of his most famous books, is called ReasonableFaith.org. Craig does not spend much time in the political arena, but he is one of the thought-leaders in evangelicalism. On page 36 of the aforementioned book he states,
Should a conflict arise between the witness of the Holy Spirit to the fundamental truth of the Christian faith and beliefs based on argument and evidence, then it is the former which must take precedence over the latter, not vice versa.
In a less polite age, Martin Luther expressed a similar thought:
Reason is the Devil’s greatest whore; by nature and manner of being she is a noxious whore; she is a prostitute, the Devil’s appointed whore; whore eaten by scab and leprosy who ought to be trodden under foot and destroyed, she and her wisdom… Throw dung in her face to make her ugly. She is and she ought to be drowned in baptism. (Works, Erlangen Edition v. 16, pp. 142-148.)
I hope I’ve made my point about the true role of reason in the evangelical church. Is it any wonder that hyper-evangelical politicians are able to lie so boldly to the faithful?
It is ironic that a group that views itself as in an eternal battle against the Father of Lies inevitably finds itself lying to win the battle. Yet, the very importance of the struggle and the certainty that Truth is on their side makes lying inevitable.