Father, my car broke down on the highway and my wife and children are waiting on the side of the road. Can you give me money to fix the car?”
Based on the frequency of this request, priests could be most helpful in ministry if we operated a car-towing service. The sheer repetition of this request strains credibility—especially if a highway isn’t in proximity to the rectory. Yet priests seldom know the person’s life circumstances. Despite a preference for transparency, should we make honesty the litmus test for offering some form of assistance? After all, have we been totally honest with others at all times? Have we lied to ourselves on occasion?
Not all lies are equal in magnitude; but at some level, all lies are a denial of reality. According to the clinical psychologist John F. Schumaker in Reality and Unreality: The Growing Power of the Lie (laprogressive.com), reality erosion and the challenge to differentiate the truth from the lie is a growing societal issue. Many people “find themselves in a psychic limbo devoid of certainty and credibility, unsure whether to believe nothing or everything, which makes unreality culture the perfect breeding ground for the production, dissemination, and exploitation of the lie. There has never been a better time to be a liar, as more and more fraudsters and ‘post-truth politicians’ are discovering.”
Schumaker cites several factors that empower the lie, from the normalization of cheating to the demoralization of society. He also impugns “politically biased ‘news’ corporations dedicated to keeping audiences comprehensively misinformed and misled, and righteously cocooned in their surrogate reality.”
Denials and betrayals of the truth help put us out of touch with reality. In the Old Testament, Joseph was so favored by his father that his brothers betrayed him and sold him into slavery for twenty pieces of silver. Then they sent a messenger to lie to their father that Joseph had been devoured by a wild beast (Genesis 37:1–36.) In the New Testament, Jesus was betrayed by two of his “brothers”: Peter repeatedly denied he was a disciple of Jesus (Luke 22:54–62), and Judas sold him to his executioners for thirty pieces of silver. Note how the latter betrayal is described: “Then Satan entered into Judas…” (Luke 22:3). Ultimately, Judas was disturbed by his actions to the point that he hanged himself (Matthew 27:5). Suicide is reality erosion in extremis.
“As well as being the Father of Lies, Satan may be said to be a spirit of mental illness,” writes M. Scott Peck, MD, in People of the Lie in 1983. “In The Road Less Traveled (1978), I defined mental health as ‘an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs.’ Satan is utterly dedicated to opposing that process. In fact, the best definition I have for Satan is that it is a real spirit of unreality.”
There’s no middle ground with the Father of Lies. People should either hate him…or despise him! Nor is there middle ground between reality and unreality. We’re either grounded in what’s real or out of touch with it.