the seduction of a lie

After class, a friend looked at me earnestly and said, "I'm scared I would have joined them. I'm not just scared, I'm almost convinced that I would have."

The "them" to which he referred is the Nazis.

Certainly, my first reaction is to assure him that there is no way that he would have joined them. He is a smart guy, thoughtful and compassionate. Surely, if found in the throes of genocidal regime, he would have resisted their propaganda. Surely, I would resist such a thing.

Yet, I'm not entirely convinced of this surety in myself or in him. Not because I don't think that we aren't smart, thoughtful, and compassionate. Our positive traits are not in question here. Rather, it is our inabilities, our failings, our crimes against our conscience that concern me. Can we resist the seduction of half-truths? Can we discern the truth in world of lies?

Eve and Adam fell prey to their inability to discern between truth and lie. They relied on what seemed to be most immediately true, but was in fact, the eternal lie. Their failure to discern and trust truth narrates my own failure. This failure expels me from the garden, expels me from right relationship with God, expels me from right relationship with others. Avoiding my failure, seeking to placate it with a bandage emblazoned with religious symbols, is a profane declaration of the impotency of my will.

Truth declares my impotency against the seduction of the world. Truth acknowledges my failure to live according to my ethic. Truth regularly, daily, momentarily reminds me that I am in continual need of something beyond myself to empower the discernment of the truth so desperately needed in so many places.

And yet, truth's primary work is not to expose my failures, but to supersede them. This truth goes beyond adherence to the facts and rests in all-encompassing love, wrenching discipline, and arresting faithfulness. Truth overcomes my infatuation with immediacy and perfection and changes me.  Truth, when trusted, reveals itself to be worthy of deeper and more faithful devotion. To seek truth is uproot lies from their bases and set forth a new pattern of living.

Perhaps my friend and I cannot be certain of what we would have done in a different era of tragic violence, but we are living in our own era of violence and lies in need of truthful, faithful action. Am I seeking truth with my mind, my heart, my hands, my debit card? Am I seeking truth with my time, my plans, my hopes?


brnh said...

I'm wrestling with "truth's primary work is not to expose my failures, but to supersede them." I keep trying to put a different word in there like faith or grace. Mostly because in the other places I see "Truth" I read "Law". Do you think Law/Gospel has a place in this framework?

brnh said...

:-P Stupid google! I was going to add more...

Good thoughts. Especially evocative after the most recent "Off the Map" episode, not that you have time for ABC dramas in grad school.

Alaina said...

Bethany, I wasn't working in a paradigm of strict distinction between law and gospel as I wrote.
I think I would substitute "Christ" in the place of truth before either law or gospel.
I've been reading Bonhoeffer for several classes, so my internal distinctions aren't very strict right now.

And you're right, no time for ABC dramas. Really I shouldn't have spent the time on this but it just poured out of me begging to be written.

misskatiedeconto said...


It seems to me that the downfall, and the creeping cracks that lead thereto, of all failed relationships is human propensity to believe lies - about ourselves, about other people, about the world. Even more, we don't even care that we're believe lies, as long as the lies allow us to do what we are compelled to do in that moment - run, hide, tell lies of our own.

Living in truth takes time and tears, but it's the only way worth living. Thanks for reminding us. :)

Robert Fischer said...

Let's be careful not to cast the 1930s Germans as people who sacrificed their conscience to an idol of lies. It's not that simple.

Keep in mind that it was hard to tell the difference between truth and lie in Germany. Germany, even after the defeat in WW1, represented the height of modern civilization. The best science and the best philosophers came from there. The best movies came from there.

And so, when all the cultural authorities (including the church) start to rally behind this one new leader, it would have been hard to not be sucked up into that excitement. Where would you have turned for a credible, dissenting voice?

Eugenics wasn't a lie—it was (and still is) backed by solid science. The fact that Germany had lost a bunch of territory wasn't a lie—it was a political and historical reality, with thriving German populations in Poland, France, Austria, and the Sudetenland living under non-German rule. The failure of the Weimar Republic was an ever-more-obvious truth in the day-to-day lives of Germans.

So it would have been hard to resist the Third Reich, not because of its lies (which mostly came in later), but because of those truths which it founded itself upon.

And those truths are still out there, and still attracting people to the Neo-Nazi camps.

BTW, I have a post along these lines from a while back over at my blog: The Horror of the Third Reich

Alaina said...

Hi Robert,

Thanks for your thought.

I guess I wasn't entirely clear--the lie isn't the historical truths (or half-truths) that are seductive, but that that I am immune to their seduction.

There is an enormous lie that societal success will somehow save us. That scientific achievement will somehow save us. That somehow society's achievements are more trustworthy than faith in Christ. It isn't that those achievements are bad (I'm not promoting dualism), but when those things turn to promoting a particular way of seeing the world (and they always do), am I engaged in their truthiness or in the truthfulness of Christ? That is the question at hand.

MattCario said...

I thought about this the other night watching a doc on History International. The German people were portrayed less as choosing the deeply evil and noted more for their willful cowardice.

For a philosophical take on Nazism, Can Man Live Without God? by Ravi Zacharias is a great read.