Card Up Sleeve

0204. The Culture of Deception

In Hans Christian Andersen’s classic folk tale The Emperor’s New Clothes, two swindlers convince a king to give them gold to make a new set of clothes for him. However, instead of spending the money on materials and actually doing the work, they deceive the king and say that the clothing is so fine that it cannot be seen. Despite these outrageous claims, not only does the king fall for their act, the rest of the citizens are also taken along for the ride. It is not until the king is marching in a parade that a young girl exclaims to her mother that the king is naked, and uncovers the obvious yet deceptive lie that was so eloquently constructed.

The recent collapse of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX tells us that swindlers and cheats are always out there willing to take advantage of an unsuspecting public. It reminds us of other swindlers, such as Bernie Madoff and Charles Ponzi, for whom the Ponzi scheme was named after. To quote P.T. Barnum, “There is a sucker born every minute.” Unfortunately, deception seems to be the cultural norm now, instead of the exception. It is something that is practiced commonly, and even encouraged. Ticket sales for a musical artist’s world tour is said to be limited to 1.5 million pre-approved customers. However, 15 million requests, many of them automated bots, are permitted to overwhelm the system and ruin the hopes of countless fans. A sports team is revealed to have cheated their way to the championship, and then is allowed to retain the title, to the outrage of other contenders. Technology companies are found to have violated privacy rights on a massive scale, yet only have to pay a small fine out of the billions in profits they make exploiting the data. Drug companies push out new products with the promise to make our lives better and healthier, only to leave people with negative side effects and addictions, something they only disclose after the fact. Add social media feeds and influencers that use doctored thumbnails and outrageous titles as click bait to draw people to their content. And politicians make campaign promises to buy votes, only to cave to the billions of dollars from lobbyists of corporations and special interests that the common citizen has no hope of combatting. Yes, the integrity of our culture seems to fallen to a level where morals and truth are no longer absolute, they are merely relative. All for the sake of money, power, and influence.

So how do we find ourselves in this position? We are, after all, the people watching the parade in the folk tale, and going along with everything we see and hear. Do we not say anything because we do not know, do not care, or don’t want to be retaliated against, or is it some combination of those and more? In the next thought we will deal with the how, but for now we will concentrate on the why.

The Bible has much to say on deceit; here are a few examples. In Psalm 101:7 (CSB): “No one who acts deceitfully will live in my palace; the one who tells lies will not be retained here to guide me.” In Proverbs 26:24-26 (CSB): “A hateful person disguises himself with his speech and harbors deceit within. When he speaks graciously, don’t believe him, for there are seven detestable things in his heart. Though his hatred is concealed by deception, his evil will be revealed in the assembly.” In Romans 16:18 (NIV): “Because such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naïve people.” In Colossians 2:8 (NIV): “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.” There are many other verses, but they all say the same thing: deception has no place with God. It is a hard line drawn in the sand, with no room for interpretation.

So what happens when we omit God from our culture? The line regarding deception is not just blurred, it is erased. Deception can now take place on any level at any time, from the subtle sleight of hand, to the outright absurd as described in the folk tale. And sure enough, this is playing out before our very eyes. One only needs to look at the scam calls and texts on our phones or the emails from Nigerian princes in our inboxes to know that this is out of control. Without the law of God guiding us anymore, our culture no longer has effective means of combatting deception, even outright criminal violations. But take heart in Galatians 6:7-8 (CSB): “Don’t be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever a person sows he will also reap, because the one who sows to his flesh will reap destruction from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit.”

So as you get blitzed this Christmas season by all the holiday propaganda and relentless sales pitches, ask yourself a simple question: What are the sources of information your rely upon to live your life, and is it possible you are being deceived? Ponder that this week.

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