It's Easy to Believe a Lie

Monday, September 19, 2011

Why do people believe lies that should be easy to detect? Usually, it is because the lies promise things the listeners want badly.

When we were cleaning out my mother's house, I came across Hansi: The Girl Who Loved the Swastika. Now out of print, the book is a memoir by Maria Anne Hirschmann, who was known as Hansi while a dedicated member of Hitler's elite Youth Corps.

Maria grew up in a foster home, and although her foster mother was loving, her foster father was cold. As a teenager, she just wanted to belong. When she was selected to attend one of Hitler's new Nazi schools, she thought her dream had come true.

Maria's foster mother was a devoted Christian, and when Maria left for Hitler's school, her mother said, "Don't ever forget Jesus." So Maria was confused by many of the things she learned at school. Among other things, she wondered if it was wrong to pray.

When Maria asked a beloved teacher about prayer, the teacher gave her a copy of Wanderer Between Two Worlds by a Nazi writer. The author's mother had taught him to pray for protection, so he decided to see what would happen if he didn't. After several days without anything tragic happening to him, he decided he didn't need prayer. Maria tried the same experiment with the same result, so she dispensed with prayer, too. It wasn't until years later that she realized the experiment had been deceptive.

Deceptive experiments are also an effective way to convince people to invest in something that sounds too good to be true. In one type of scam, a telephone solicitor would call sixteen people and tell them that the solicitor could predict the direction the futures market was going. Of course the people who received the calls were skeptical, so the solicitor said he didn't want them investing yet: he just wanted them to give him a chance to prove himself.

The swindler told eight people that the price of heating oil would go up the next day, and he told the other eight that the price would go down. The next evening he called the eight he had given the correct "prediction." But he still told them he didn't want them investing yet. Then he told four that the price would go up the following day, and he told four that the price would go down. By the time he narrowed the field to two victims, they threw their money at him.

Why are people so willing to believe? Usually, it's because they long for what the lie offers. The people who fell for the investment scam thought money would solve their problems, and they wanted to believe they had found the path to material riches. Instead, they lost the money they already had.

Maria wanted to belong, and she thought that giving up God would get her there. But after the Nazi regime fell, she discovered she had given up the thing that mattered most.

Satan used this same ploy in the Garden of Eden. He told Eve that if she ate from the tree in the center of the garden, she would be like God. But, having been made in God's image, she already had what Satan promised. No, she was not God, but she was as much like Him as she would ever be. Satan created a longing for something more, and when Eve listened to the lie, she tarnished God's image in her.

When we let our longing rule our heads, we make ourselves gullible.

Because it's easy to believe a lie.

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