Urban Legends and True Believers
On a fairly regular basis I get e-mails containing stories that are supposed to “inspire” us to have faith in God. But there is another common thread to these e-mails. Most of them are bullshit. I couldn’t even recount all of them there have been so many. But most of them seem to have a fundamentalist Christian outlook. Which implies to me that fundamentalists are more likely to fall for this crap or invent it. In other words they tend to be dumber than average thus believing such crap, more dishonest than average in that tend to invent these “true” stories, and more prone to “easy believism”.
I remember well the first such urban legend I was presented. I was in high school and firmly, and unfortunately, entrenched in a fundamentalist church and school. One breathless fanatic started going on about how the AntiChrist was already on earth and was producing the currency for his one-world government. Even then I knew most these people were seriously unhinged. So I asked him why he was saying this.
He claimed to have first hand evidence and he then produced a flyer for a private mint in Utah, that bastion of antiChrist conservatives. I looked at the flyer. It was a pretty standard flyer for a pure silver medallion that was coined by this company. It served two purposes. One was it was a collector’s item and secondly it was an investment betting on rising silver prices. There was nothing indicating anything nefarious of Antichrist. I was baffled and told him so. He grabbed the brochure and told me to look closer. He pointed to a life size photo of the coin.
“See,” he exclaimed, “Right down there.” He pointed to the bottom of the coin while holding it upside down. “It says 666, the mark of the Beast.”
I didn’t know whether I should laugh or cry. By holding it upside down he took the number .999 and made it 666. He ignored the decimal point in front of the first 9. This has been a standard means of telling individuals the purity level of the coin. It was .001 shy of 100% silver but to collectors that’s pure silver. I found it hilarious that this conservative thought the Antichrist was a hard-money advocate.
I got a story recently where a fundamentalist claims he faced down an Imam giving a lecture and got hm to admit the that Islam requires killing all Christians. This was supposedly done at a seminar where Christians were forced to learned about Islam but were forbidden to teach Muslims about Christianity. The truth was that all individuals who ministered at this prison were brought together to learn about all the faiths of prisoners. (Criminals tend to be rather firm believers in religion.)
Each faith gave a presentation not just Islam. Lie #1. The prison couldn’t find an Imam and had a prisoner who was Muslim talk instead. No Imam. Lie #2. And prison staff who were present there said no exchange of the kind described by the fundamentalist minister took place. Lie # 3.
I got another e-mail recently about about a supposed gangster named “Easy Eddie” who loved his son so much he turned on the mob and was gunned days after exposing Al Capone in court. He died with a rosary in his pocket of course. He supposedly had lived a luxurious life as Capone’s attorney. But he gave this all up on account of his son who then became a war hero and had O’Hare Airport named after him.
The whole story was filled with exaggerations, inventions and some truths. Easy Eddie was an attorney but never for Capone. He didn’t like Capone muscling in on his race track and provided evidence to the state in order to get rid of Capone. No real high motives here. He didn’t die within days of the Capone conviction but over a year later. The son did become a war hero in World War II and the airport was named after him. But most the tale that tis going around is false.
I got another one which claimed NASA did some time projections and were shocked to discover a “missing day” in history. Yep, it supposedly vanished. Then one Christian remembered the Bible said God had the “sun stand still” during some Old Testament battle and they had discovered Joshua’s missing day. Of course the sun doesn’t move. The story was told by a Christian who claimed he knows this happened because he was an advisor to NASA. NASA says it never happened. And the advisor was not an advisor at all. He built engines and sold them to NASA and maintained them. He did not advise them. Yet his own book claims this was true. Another lie.
For years I heard the story that atheists were behind an imminent ban on all religious broadcasting in America. The Federal Communications Commission received up to 100,000 letters per month by panic stricken fundamentalists. But no petition to ban such broadcasting had ever been presented or considered. It was a pure lie. I heard these claims being made in church by preachers myself.
Another I remember was that Procter and Gamble, a major US company, was owned by Satanists who gave money to the Church of Satan. Supposedly the company logo was Satanic. It wasn’t, they weren’t. In the end they were forced to change their logo because of all the crap good Christians were giving them over it. What is hilarious is anyone can buy stock in the company and no doubt most stockholders were Christians not Satanists. To bolster their lie they invented more lies and claimed the president of the company had appeared on the Phil Donahue talk show to discuss their following Satanic teachings. Never happened either.
Death bed conversions are a hallmark of the Christian urban legend. When Thomas Paine died the fundamentalist of his day invented wild stories of how he converted and “found Jesus”. Friends with Paine at his death denied it ever happened. But Christian books were published with this falsehood in it. When the great agnostic Robert Ingersoll died the same thing happened to him. Again his family deny this happened. But Christian ministers claimed it as true. When Charles Darwin died the fundamentalists started the rumour he had converted. Again it never happened.
Another one going around was that a whale had actually swallowed a man proving the story of Jonah being swallowed by a “great fish” in the Bible. No evidence of it happening has materialised. The story is an old one and was made up regarding a specific ship which supposedly lost a sailor at sea like this. The captain’s wife, then deceased, wrote a letter saying no such thing had happened. One Christian web site which urges people to avoid false legends however urges them to believe the Jonah story because “Jesus believed that Jonah was a historical fact.” So one legend is supposed to prove a second legend.
Of course there are countless such hoaxes, myths, lies and exaggerations going around. One Christian web site admits: “Sadly, Christians seem to be especially gullible when it comes to urban legends. We believe an e-mail because it is sent to us by a friend or because we want to believe it since it confirms our world view or because we are just too lazy to check it out. Unfortunately when we pass around falsehoods, we violate the command against bearing false witness and we make it harder for people to believe that our most important message (about Jesus) is true.”
Now lets cover why some of this happens. First, a true believers more likely to lie. Absolutely. Once a person has an overriding “truth” that the believe in which must be promoted then are much more willing to invent stories. This is very much within the fundamentalist mindset. And they will invent two kinds of stores. One variety are lies which are faith enhancing. The false story about NASA is an example. Another variety shows the evil nature of their enemies. Fundamentalists need enemies even if they have to invent them.
So they will lie to smear their opponents. The claim that atheists were trying to ban religious broadcasting is one example. The willingness to believe evil things about people they disagree with is a clear sign of fundamentalist thinking. It doesn’t mean that some people aren’t evil. But the fundie is all too willing to believe the worst about their opponents regardless of the evidence.
But sill why lie about such things? After all the man who invented the story about the Imam in prison had to know the story was false. Ditto for who ever made up the Paine conversion or the Procter & Gamble story. Someone had to start these stories and they had to know they were inventing them.
But they have a higher calling in life. This calling is to promote faith in God or destroy the works of Satan or both. So they see these “little lies” as ways of bringing people to Christ and of harming the devil. These stories reaffirms the fundamentalist world view. This makes it easy to justify “lying” in the name of faith.
And if you will swallow the story of a virgin birth and walking on water you’ll swallow anything. These are people prone to believe the absurd. It doesn’t take much effort to add more absurdities on top of the pile they have already accumulated. And these myths and lie become intertwined giving credence to the others.
One problem Bible believers have is that the Bible makes all sorts of claim entirely lacking evidence. So people invent stories to substantiate these claims. There is no evidence that the Hebrews were ever in Egypt for instance or that the world was destroyed in a great flood (there isn't’ enough water in our closed system to do that). So someone invents something that provides evidence.
Since the Old Testament says the “sun stood still” a story concocting evidence for this claim is invented and attributed to NASA. Just remember how many different hoaxes have been perpetrated claiming that Noah’s mythological ark was found.
Now this isn’t new. Such religious legends have been around as long as mankind has. “True pieces” of the cross were once plentiful you could practically build a cathedral out of these splinters. Legends of miracles abounded. We have false stories like the Shroud of Turin for instance. It is hundreds of years old and people still fall for it. But religion is the ultimate urban legend. It is heard from person to person and believed without direct proof.
We have no evidence that a man named Jesus claimed to be God. We have only light indirect evidence that he even existed. But as for what he believed we only have books written decades after his death. And most the Christian Bible was written by a man who never saw Jesus or heard him preach anything: Paul.
In recent years the rise of the theocratic Right has lead to another variation of these lies. They lie about the evil “liberals and humanists” while tell faith enhancing stories about theocrats like George Bush. For instance the story was spread that George Bush stopped a political campaign to speak to a young man about Jesus and led him “to salvation”. It didn’t happen. But the purpose of it was to make Bush look good to the dunces in the Bible Belt.
Other such stories demonise. Gay people are demonised by Christians in America the way Jews were demonised by the Nazis. One Christian site claimed that a “David Alexander Shaw” had been murdered by a gang of violent homosexuals. To read about one such story nipped in the bud right at the start go here.
An e-mail supposedly from the mother of the victim was distributed: "...Apparently David got into trouble with some fags at the University. David is a good Christian boy (man) and he told some queer about how such was a sin to God. Last night a gang of these sick perverted animals waylaid my boy and beat him up, and raped him. I am sick at heart, I am disgusted, I don't know what I am. Do I seem angry? I am. This is what happens because our society dosen't [sic] treat these homosexuals for the sick and perverse people they are. We have coddled them and encourged [sic] them in their pervesity. [sic] We have insisted they are just "normal" people born to be that way. We do so totally ignorning [sic] God's Word in the matter.”
But researchers looking into the story discovered no such crime was ever reported to the police. No one named David Alexander Shaw was enrolled or worked at the University in question. Campus security never heard of the incident either. And it was noted that on the date named for the crime the temperature was -25 degrees Celsius making rape a rather hazardous activity for the criminals exposing himself to the freezing air.
But the story does what it is meant to do.
By the way Christian fundamentalists aren’t the only ones to have the believing mentality. Urban legends and lies of similar sorts are rampant in Islam as well. The story was going around that when the astronaut “Louis Armstrong” walked on the moon he could hear the the Muslim call to prayer and converted to Islam. Louis Armstrong was a jazz musician who never walked on the moon though he might have been high on occasion but not that high. The astronaut Neil Armstrong says it never happened. No surprise there.
Once people are willing to accept a religion on faith they will accept anything on faith. They have repudiated the idea that one needs evidence or proof to substantiate beliefs. If something as important to them as eternal salvation can be accepted entirely on faith then all these other matters are small indeed in comparison. So they have primed themselves to believe the absurd and thus will continually fall victim to it. They are inclined to believe lies because they have made lies the foundation of all their beliefs.