Media reports of apparent lies by NBC News anchor Brian Williams and President Obama have become an occasion for Southern Baptist counseling professors to reflect on why people lie and how to stop.
“When someone lies, we just have to remember that maybe we haven’t lied on that scale,” Jeremy Pierre, assistant professor of biblical counseling at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, told Baptist Press, but “we know what it is to sin in order to attain the high opinion of others and thus continue to paint the illusion for ourselves that we’re better than we are.”
Williams was suspended by NBC for six months after an internal investigation uncovered multiple “instances of exaggeration” in the veteran journalist’s reporting, including the false statement that he was riding on a military helicopter hit by a rocket-propelled grenade during the Iraq war.
Obama’s former adviser David Axelrod claimed in a book released Feb. 10 that the president lied about his support for same-sex marriage during the 2008 election cycle. As an Illinois state senate candidate in 1996, Obama stated on a questionnaire, “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages,” TIME reported. But Obama said during his first presidential campaign that he only supported civil unions and believed marriage “is the union between a man and a woman.”
Axelrod claimed the lie was an attempt not to offend voters in black churches. Obama countered in an interview published Feb. 10 that he did not lie but was “struggling” to balance between “people’s rights” and “religious sensitivities,” Politico reported. Obama officially endorsed gay marriage in 2012.
Lying is not “an end to itself normally” but a “means to an end,” Pierre said. For children, the purpose of lies often is to avoid punishment or avoid losing the respect of their parents. For adults though, the motivation for lying becomes more complex, he said.
“Many habitual liars that I have dealt with are primarily trying to guard a certain identity, a certain perception of themselves as capable or moral or good or impressive,” Pierre said. Much lying is a form of “self-worship” — “misrepresenting reality so that I can perceive myself in ways that I want to perceive myself.”
Although some lies occur before a large audience and draw widespread attention, many take place on a smaller scale, as when people use Facebook and Twitter to make themselves appear more insightful, funny or honorable than they are, Pierre said.
“We all know the exaggerated story,” Pierre said. “We all know omitting certain details about our day. We all know posting that status or tweeting that tweet that makes us appear as though our lives are more capable and more thrilling and more impressive than they are.
“It’s because … we want a glory for ourselves that should only belong to another. It should only belong to the God of reality,” Pierre said.
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SOURCE: Baptist Press