Anne Mikolay, one of my columnist colleagues at the Herald, wrote a column this fall about Thanksgiving and Pilgrims entitled Thanksgiving “Fake News.” She wrote that, in contrast with the image that has been propagated, the Pilgrims were colorful people. They loved color and their lifestyles were not as they are portrayed in many of our history books and movies. We have created a myth about the Pilgrims that is pretty distant from the truth. She ends the article with a quote from John F. Kennedy, “The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.” When I read about historical events that have been transformed by myths one way or another, I question when the switch happened and who is responsible for it. To quote the inimitable Tony Campolo, “Who switched the price tags?”
Another lie that has been propagated and defended for generations is that the church has always been against science. The favorite example is the church’s treatment of Galileo. Every school child was taught that Galileo was a pure scientist seeking the truth about our planetary system and the church turned against him. Diogenes Allen, a philosophy professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, spends a whole chapter in his book Christian Belief in a Postmodern World – The Full Wealth of Convention explaining that the church turning against Galileo had little to do with his scientific research and a lot to do with his personality. Allen substantially argues that the myth of church against science is a product of French philosophes and Marxist ideology. Permit me to quote extensively from Allen’s article:
“The trial was indeed shameful, as the article on Galileo in the New Catholic Encyclopedia freely admits. It brought credit neither to the Catholic Church nor to Galileo. Still it was the way the Galileo trail was used in the next century by the French philosophes, or social critics that stamped it so deeply and firmly in the Western mind as evidence of an inherent conflict between science and church. The philosophes, a group that included Voltaire, claimed that the trial was a prime example of Christianity’s opposition to reason and of the church’s opposition to free inquiry, and an attempt of the church to preserve its privileges. They pictured Christianity as essentially oppressive, authoritarian and superstitious; science as the unveiler of truth; and Galileo as the humble, honest, noble servant of humanity. This incorrect picture, created in the 18th century has proved to have great endurance in the academic community and among Marxists.”
It is impossible to hold this view when you pay attention to accurate historical facts. It is especially difficult to maintain that science and Christianity are opposed when one looks to the fact that history is packed with great scientists who also have been Christians. For example, Francis S. Collins is the former director of the Human Genome Project, the current director of the National Institutes of Health, and a devoted and outspoken Christian.
Another lie that was propagated is that millions of witches were burned at the stake by the church. Whether a heretic or a witch, one person burned at the stake is one too many. However, there is a great difference between one witch and one million witches being burned at the stake. Darin Hayton, a professor of history at Haverford College in Philadelphia, challenged the documentary The Burning Times. The documentary claimed that 9 million people were executed as witches, but historical records reveal the number was closer to 50,000. The documentary was reviewed by the New York Times and the reviewer mentioned that current scholarship suggests 40,000 to 60,000, but he also repeated the debunked number of 9 million. Hayton believes that most people will remember 9 million, which is more sensational, and forget the cautious, yet more accurate number of 50,000.
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The last lie was very prevalent during the Clinton administration. Some of my non-Baptists friends were quick to show me that Clinton had Baptist pedigree. He went forward to accept Christ at a Billy Graham Crusade and supported that organization financially for many years. He grew up in a Baptist church, sang in the choir, and frequented a Baptist church when he moved to Washington, D.C. However, a different group of friends would argue that what a President does privately does not influence what he does in public. They believed that as long as the economy went well (“It is the economy stupid!” was the campaign mantra) and the budgets were balanced, the President needed to have an unencumbered private life.
But that lie caught up with the American public. What we do privately is as important as we do publicly or, to use another saying, the process is as important as the final outcome. If the American public had condemned Clinton’s behavior and the people in power had seen a change from the top, we would not be in the mess that we find ourselves now where thousands of women have been sexually harassed, molested, raped, and fired from their jobs for speaking up about it.
Jesus Christ spoke some harsh words in his day. “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44). We need to learn the truth, speak about the truth, defend the truth, and practice the truth. Only then will we be able to have a different nation and be able to experience for ourselves the verse that says, “blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” (Psalm 33:12)