There was a meme traveling around Facebook awhile ago that seemed to be another one of those preachy things most of us ignore. It was a black and white picture of young Billy Graham preaching, brandishing his Bible, eyes filled with fiery passion.
What got my attention was the caption with the photo that said, It doesn’t matter if you believe the Bible, that doesn’t make it any less true. Or something like that. I’ll admit it’s not 100% accurate because I can’t find it again to confirm the wording. I have googled variations of the phrase and searched Billy Graham quotes with no success (let me know if you find it somewhere).
The reason I paused there in the first place was because of the circular logic that something is true simply because somebody says it is true. Then as I sat looking at it, I recognized another problem: the quote was posted with the respected evangelist’s picture but wasn’t actually attributed to him. It simply left the impression Graham said it.
Anyway, the accuracy of that post isn’t the issue. Truth is the issue.
We know that nothing is effective or enforceable without truth – laws, treaties, relationships die without it. We are not naive; we know that people lie occasionally but we still trust that honest truthfulness is a basic human underpinning.
The point is that our human default position is to assume that most people are moral enough to care about truth. Especially christians. Unfortunately christians have become sources of a lot of grey truth, subjective truth, and yes, untruth.
But of course it gets complicated, doesn’t it? Maybe the creator of that Facebook meme loved the Bible and honestly thought Billy Graham said those words. And maybe diverse beliefs about covid vaccines, climate change, gay marriage, or eating meat are sincerely held beliefs.
Which brings me to the title of the blog: pseudologos. No, I’m not using a big word to sound intelligent (I’m not smart enough to do that). It’s a New Testament Greek word for “a liar passing on false conclusions because working with false premises”.¹
There are various biblical words for ‘untruth’ but notice the nuance of this one. This is specifically using false information to arrive at false results. I think this leads us to two types of spiritual sub-liars who can be found on your television, computer, or in church:
1) There are liars who manipulate information for their own gain.
These are people who manipulate the truth in order to gain power, money, prestige. Often their leadership is cult-like: they have no allegiance but to themselves and are masterful at creating ‘alternate reality’ that entraps others in their web. Their followers rely on them for truth and come to distrust other sources: news, family, friends, even their own thoughts.
2) There are also liars who choose to believe manipulated truth so they can get their preferred answers, outcomes.
The adherents in this group should know better but they only listen to information that fits their own creed. They are more likely to follow or quote their favourite manipulators. They are more interested in ideology than personal gain but their choices make victims of themselves and others.
Both of the above liars twist truth to fit their own purposes.
Both of the above liars need each other.
If they can’t twist truth, they shrivel up.
The recent discovery of 215 unmarked graves at a Residential School for Indigenous children serves as an example.² Somehow churches and governments constructed a ‘truth’ that the ‘savages’ needed to be civilized and christianized. This kind of heartless treatment couldn’t have happened without: 1) some who were willingly to invent and justify the falsehood, and 2) some who were willing to believe and enforce the falsehood.
Ironically it was the ones who separated families and reprogrammed children who proved to be uncivilized and unchristian, not to mention unsuccessful. In fact, the world now agrees the whole thing was rooted in evil.
Who is responsible for truth? I mean, who’s to say what is true if we only choose to believe what we want to believe? We live in a time of christian consumerism where we buy and pay for our religious entertainment and ‘feel goods’. Unfortunately that brings with it a temptation to promote only the truth we prefer.
Truth is important, sacred. All the more reason why we must be constantly vigilant. No one person, organization, or viewpoint – religious or secular – can be trusted as your only source of truth. But as C.S. Lewis observed, “Of all bad men, religious bad men are the worst.”
Christians are to be seekers and purveyors of truth – that’s a critically important responsibility. We need to monitor the purity of our hearts and our choices. We are to put away the lazy habit of believing what we’re told and develop the spiritual muscle called discernment.
“But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conductand will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.” – from 2 Peter 2:1-3, NIV
I hope you have a loving church and a caring pastor. That’s good, but there are way too many christians who don’t. It’s not uncommon for them to be manipulated and fed pop christianity that is weak in love and sallow in truth.
When christian leaders manipulate truth, it’s called spiritual abuse. Here are a few signs:
Are they insecure? Do they seek the spotlight? Do they need to be in charge?
Are they close-minded? D0 they insist on their own beliefs (& Bible proofs) at the exclusion of others?
When they are asked challenging questions, do they respond with non-answers by deflecting, justifying, accusing?
Do they sow fear? When they speak publicly, is the emphasis on issues, opinions, finger-pointing? Politics, rules, and blaming aren’t the gospel.
Do you walk away from them feeling weighed down by anger and shame or buoyed up by grace and love?
Are they constantly expecting more from their people (time, money, loyalty)?
Are they rational, humble, empathetic, kind, generous, patient?
Is it their priority to ‘care for the least’?
Have you noticed that Jesus rarely answered questions with quick answers? He wasn’t trying to deflect the questions, he was trying to enhance them because humans like to ignore uncomfortable truth. Instead, Jesus was looking to engage in meaningful conversation about attitudes, motives, consequences.
Often he taught with parables – stories with multiple levels of learning and possibility. They were designed to get people to stop and think. Seekers were challenged to question their assumptions about themselves and about God.
The fact that Jesus spent very little energy on ‘answers’ suggests he believed truth was more eternal than just an answer or a doctrine. In fact, it is obvious Jesus didn’t come to indoctrinate at all (like the religious teachers) but rather to show them pure, unselfish truth.
Isn’t it interesting that Jesus wasn’t angry, insecure, proud, or preachy? People weren’t drawn to Jesus because he was successful or powerful or insistent. In the words of Jerushah Duford they were “drawn to follow Him because He was modelling a love and a way of life they longed for.”
Truth. He didn’t preach it from a pulpit, he taught it at a table.
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¹ Strong’s New Testament Greek: 5573 pseudológos (an adjective, derived from 5571 /pseudḗs, “false, pretense” and 3004/légō, “speaking to a conclusion“) – properly, a liar passing on false conclusions because working with false premises