Writings by Cole Huffman

Baloney Detecting, Poisoning, and Healing

Can you tell when you’re being lied to? Humans are remarkable both in our capacity for naivety but also for being nagged by the sense that something “just seems” amiss about Person X’s story or claim. Last year I read a book by Mark Seal called The Man in the Rockefeller Suit, about a young German immigrant who postured as a Rockefeller heir. For three decades he duped many boldly, including the woman who married him. But he also raised suspicions. Some could sense there was just something funny/odd/strange about Christian Karl Gerhartstreiter even though they didn’t know until later how spot-on their hunches were.

Mark Twain had Huckleberry Finn conclude you can’t pray a lie—God knows when you don’t mean what you’re praying. You can’t get away with one either in that someone will eventually figure out your ruse. God knows even if no one else does (and He reveals you; see Luke 12:1-3). For making our way in world full of hoaxes, embellishments, and outright lies, Phillip Johnson commends the “baloney detector”:

“What we need to protect ourselves from…false beliefs, [Carl] Sagan writes in his book The Demon -Haunted World, is a well-equipped ‘baloney detector kit.’ A baloney detector is simply a good grasp of logical reasoning and investigative procedure. Carl Sagan and I would agree about how to describe the principles of baloney detecting in general. We would disagree only about where the detectors are to be pointed, and especially about whether we should ever suspect the presence of baloney in claims made by the official scientific establishment” (Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds, 37-38).

We should suspect baloney from that establishment, Johnson concluded—baloney and malarkey and cockamamie too. And yet, we don’t consider naturalistic scientists to be lying to us necessarily, but rather proceeding from a mistaken worldview that can’t allow a divine foot in the door. Lance Armstrong? He made his own public relations Pyrenees out of false denials that he never doped. Manti Te’o, Notre Dame linebacker? He claims he was cruelly hoaxed into believing he had an online girlfriend who died from leukemia. Perhaps someone lied to him, perhaps he’s lying. Either way it’s a delicious fried baloney sandwich for media consumption.

Wait now, you say. Jesus said, “Don’t judge” (Matt. 7:1)! Yes, He said don’t judge hypocritically (Matt. 7:1 and 2-3-4-5). I must pass the muster I apply to others. Though we emphasize belief as Christians, credulity is not a recognizable virtue to us. And though as Christians we’re reluctant to harangue on the sins of others, knowing we’re graced sinners ourselves, being lied to by someone—especially someone close to you—receives the consequence of your mistrust because the liar removes your certainty of him and reduces your confidence in him.

You can’t always tell if you’re being lied to. Perhaps the better question is what to do with the liar once he’s exposed? In an online Leadership Journal article provocatively titled “Going to Hell with Ted Haggard” (12/2/12), Michael Cheshire tells about what he learned of redemption befriending a once influential evangelical pastor who lived a lie for a long time:

A while back I was having a business lunch at a sports bar in the Denver area with a close atheist friend. He's a great guy and a very deep thinker. During lunch, he pointed at the large TV screen on the wall. It was set to a channel recapping Ted's fall. He pointed his finger at the HD and said, ‘That is the reason I will not become a Christian. Many of the things you say make sense, Mike, but that's what keeps me away.’ It was well after the story had died down, so I had to study the screen to see what my friend was talking about. I assumed he was referring to Ted's hypocrisy. ‘Hey man, not all of us do things like that,’ I responded. He laughed and said, ‘Michael, you just proved my point. See, that guy said sorry a long time ago. Even his wife and kids stayed and forgave him, but all you Christians still seem to hate him. You guys can't forgive him and let him back into your good graces. Every time you talk to me about God, you explain that he will take me as I am. You say he forgives all my failures and will restore my hope, and as long as I stay outside the church, you say God wants to forgive me. But that guy failed while he was one of you, and most of you are still vicious to him.’ Then he uttered words that left me reeling: ‘You Christians eat your own. Always have. Always will.’" (http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2012/december-online-only/going-to-hell-with-ted-haggard.html)

The atheist was aiming his baloney detector at how we practice our doctrine of grace. It seems to him we show grace to everyone but liars, even when they come clean. Ted Haggard is one of our own. He practiced repentance for his lies and yet many evangelicals still treat him as the sum total of his faults. In that atheist’s estimation, we have baloney on our faces.

If Haggard was unrepentant, in denial, maintaining his lies, our ambivalent tentativeness toward him could be justified. But when the dam finally breaks and the liar is floundering in his own flood, he needs a life preserver thrown to him. Funny, but I don’t find “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” anywhere in Proverbs (cf. Matt. 18:21-22). Forgiveness is not gullibility, its grace applied to the one who bears a striking resemblance to me in heart.

I doubt they’ll serve baloney (bologna) at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. But if I’m reading my Bible right, most of us at that table are baloney makers and baloney eaters. We’ll want to do nothing else but keep our glasses raised to the Host who’s taken away our taste for it by healing our poisoning from it.
Posted by Cole Huffman at 11:38 AM
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