Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Invention of Lying

Last night, Wife and I went to see The Invention of Lying at the $2 Dollar theater here in Irvine. In a world of cold, hard truth, completely void of lies, Mark Bellison (Ricky Grevais) concocts the world's first lie, aimed at the bank teller who takes him at his word, to pay the rent (timely with the explosion of home foreclosures throughout the past year). Bellison's real whopper, though, is when he makes up heaven to soothe his mother on her death bed. The doctors and nurses overhear it and eternal life goes viral. This leads to Bellison pulling an all-nighter to dream up his own version of the 10 Commandments concerning 'the man in the clouds' written on two pizza boxes, the next morning's press conference broadcast to the rest of the world.

The movie's examination of the role of lies in our culture--in the form of advertisements, euphemisms, religious fantasies and interpersonal cover-ups and smoothovers--unveils how much we really do live in unreality. But the film prods us to consider how lies, which stain our innocence, can make the world more cohesive and liveable. It seems apparent that humanity needs false optimism to get us through the day.

This need for a mentality characterized by uncritical naivete may be even more pronounced in political dialogues than religious dogma. In a Time Magazine opinion piece this week, Joe Klein weighs in on the style and substance of Obama's speech. He laments that Obama was un-Reaganesque:

Ronald Reagan would have done it differently. He would have told a story. It might not have been a true story, but it would have had resonance. He might have found, or created, a grieving spouse — a young investment banker whose wife had died in the World Trade Center — who enlisted immediately after the attacks ... and then gave his life, heroically, defending a school for girls in Kandahar. Reagan would have inspired tears, outrage, passion, a rush to recruiting centers across the nation.

Of course, it is possible that purple prose in the service of patriotic gore has become an anachronism in an era when it is possible to witness the insane carnage caused by crudely constructed roadside bombs each night on the evening news. There are those, especially in the Democratic Party, who find such romanticism delusional and obscene; it rankles particularly when applied to a questionable war. But the romance of the fight, the band-of-brothers bond, the ethos of ultimate sacrifice is at the heart of military culture. If a President wants to send young people off to war, he must buy into that culture. It is not enough to construct the best argument — or the best policy — in a bad situation, as this President has done.

Klein advocates for the President of the US to conjure up emotional appeal in the form of a counterfeit narrative to sustain the American people during these complex, anxious and insecure times. This is sick! Klein's proposal is the polar opposite of Stanley Hauerwas'. Instead, A Christian America, as if it ever existed, must be a people who clings to truthful dialogue no matter how difficult it is to live with, let alone understand.

We prophetic Christians worship and serve a Lord who embraced Truth so much that the Powers that be had to nail him to the cross. Unfortunately, denial is rampant in much of our dialogues about everything: our interpersonal relationships, our biblical reading strategies, our political and religious leaders and our economic decision-making. Perhaps denial (and the constant pursuit of distraction) is the only thing that allows some to cope with the intensity of our lives. As this denial continues to creep into our narratives, let us embrace moral courage and faith. Truly, the unexamined life is not worth living, but you wouldn't know that by looking to American culture.

--Theological Autopilot

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