“Jerry, just remember. It’s not a lie… If you believe it.” This statement sounds inherently wrong, yet eerily familiar. So familiar that maybe, just maybe, it is true. And if it is true, then possibly it is right. And if it is right, then arguably it is good.
The quote from George Costanza on a Seinfeld episode brings to light one of the top evils of human nature. Relativism. An admitted Seinfeld junkie I instantly thought of this line from George when recently reading a book by Jennifer Fulwiler entitled “Something Other Than God.” Fulwiler goes through a list of examples demonstrating society-wide atrocities. She expounded that whether Nazis, Hutus, or slaveholders, when people cooperated with evil, they used eloquent lies to assure themselves that what they were doing was actually good.
George is not alone. We all have an innate ability to instantly rationalize any situation to our liking. We talk our way out of and into an infinite number of actions for an even greater number of reasons. Here is one example.
Exhibit A – I just finished dinner and am no longer hungry. However, the food tasted really good and after all it is the Easter season so I think I will have just one more helping. Lots of people do the same thing. It’s America. I worked hard today. We have plenty.
Exhibit A (cont.) – I am beyond no longer hungry. I am outright stuffed. The kids start nibbling on left over Easter chocolates. Those are really small pieces of candy. It even says the word “mini” on one of the wrappers so I know it is true. I’m tired of seeing sweets laying around everywhere. They might expire. I’ll just have a few.
Exhibit A (cont.) – I have not been this full since Thanksgiving. There is dessert in the fridge? I really had no idea that was what my wife was baking a few hours ago with all the sweet ingredients out. It would be rude not to have some. Jesus used words like abundance in the Gospel. I knew those words had meaning for my life.
What’s the point? Pope Benedict XVI called relativism the most profound difficulty of our time. The belief that the truth is in the eye of the beholder. He warned: “We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.”
Fulwiler summarized: “Whether or not any one of us is a Good Person or a Bad Person can fluctuate from day to day, from moment to moment, depending on the number of lies we allow ourselves to believe.” To be truly good, you have to shut down the infinite human capacity to rationalize away evil. She concluded “the only way for people to shut down the power of rationalization is to adhere to an external moral code, one that you don’t have the power to change on the fly when it gets inconvenient.”
You don’t believe it, read The Screwtape Letters by the great Christian author C.S. Lewis and you will learn the same thing. Evil is always closer to you than you think. If you don’t believe him read the New Testament. St. Paul warns us “And no wonder, for even Satan masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14) If you don’t believe any of it, then take heed, and beware of yourself. Do you believe it?