“There was a man who lost an ax and thought the boy next door stole it. For the next few days he watched the boys movements and decided that his behavior and looks were like those of a guilty person. Later the man found the ax in a deserted area in the woods. When he got home his neighbors boy no longer looked like a thief. Whether someone is guilty or not depends on your opinion of them in the first place.” (Lieh-Tzu translated by Eva Wong)
Is there a connection between hatred and falsehood? Most definitely. The Ten Commandments tells us ‘You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Parents tell their children this means you must not tell a lie. All too often that is as far as it ever goes. The commandment is concerns a legal problem. If someone believes he has something to gain in a lawsuit or by getting someone else convicted with their property confiscated, that person may be tempted – very tempted to lie about it. The story of how Queen Jezebel legally steals Naboth’s vineyard by having him falsely accused and executed is the most well-known Biblical example. The most well-known American example is the Salem Witch Trials.
The commandment has a further application as well. If we hate another person, we tend to believe anything negative about that person. We will wish to hear dirt. Or we might hope someone gets the goods on that person. Or they may hope that others learn what that person is “really like.” If a rumor is voiced about someone the people who hate him or her will enthusiastically pass it along. It does not matter if the accusation is true. Scoring points against that person is all that matters.
I often cringe when I see some obviously false accusation made against a public figure. When I find myself tempted to believe something and pass it along, I attempt to force myself to remember that I know very few public figures personally. I hope to be fair in my judgements. I really want to know what a person actually said and make the best judgement I can from there.
All of us though have ego problems. The desire to get the goods or know the dirt on someone comes from issues we have about ourselves and our place in the world. The present era allows for much more nonsense and evil to be perpetuated by “bearing false witness.” Both Idiot America and Fantasyland are books that detail some of the worst ideas held by too many people. We can call them “conspiracy theories” or malevolent views about other human beings. Either label fits the definition of ideas that are designed and perpetuated with little factual basis that allow for the construction of evil responses. During the late eighties, I read an article by a religious leader that dealt with “Satanic Conspiracies.” I saw the author in a university café and went to him to ask why he wrote something that has been debunked that is to say proven false. He walked quickly away without providing an answer or acknowledging I spoke to him. He simply knowingly wrote something that passed along false information with the intent of improving his standing among readers in his fundamentalist audience. In other words, he “bore false witness” to make himself more popular as an author and preacher.
What motivated that preacher and other people like him? He was afraid of being ordinary. He wanted to be a star in the world in which he lived. Being once on the talk show Donahue had gone to his head. The fear that so many people have of being ordinary leads them to try to shine without any effort. Reality television and internet video has made this possible. I recently listened to an Audible documentary called It Burns. The documentary is about the quest to breed the hottest pepper. The narrator points out that there are a number of people doing internet videos showing themselves trying to eat “Ghost Peppers” and “Carolina Reapers” causing themselves to suffer the burning sensations, vomiting, and eventually endorphins. In their minds, they are no longer ordinary. They are heroes or at the very least spectacles of a sort.
Ultimately, this is the same motivation of those people who are not great talents in anything to perpetuate untruths on websites, magazines, and books. Ego, either inflated or decimated, causes conspiracy theorists to tell lies about other people. It is the fear of being an ordinary human person that makes them become the most loathsome of liars. And it does not matter if such lies are told in the name of religion, patriotism, or getting your football team’s coach fired.
It takes courage to be ordinary. It takes humility to be a saint no one remembers. One person cannot receive the affirmation of their life from the willingness of other people to believe falsehoods. People may not love you for standing in and for truth. But stirring up their hatred makes one worse than a scoundrel.