Monday, June 14, 2010

Everybody Lies

I am a big fan of Dr. Gregory House, the insufferable physician who is the star of the television drama "House."  He is the most tactless, arrogant, brilliant, obnoxious character I have ever seen on TV. I love it. I have watched nearly every episode. 

I think I like the show because I can vicariously live through him. He does what I, as a pastor, I could never do - tell it like it is no matter what the consequences. Professional Christians aren't allowed to do that. We have to be nice, even when people are not nice. By being nice we perpetuate the fictitious façades that churches present to the world.

But House routinely blurts out the harsh truth. He relishes his political incorrectness, and he gets away with it because he is an indispensable diagnostician in a premier teaching hospital.  Pastors, on the other hand, are expendable.

One of the themes of the show is "Everybody lies," to use House's words. Very often the essential clue to the correct diagnosis of a critically ill patient lays in a crucial fact that the patient or the patient's family has purposely not revealed. People lie and people die.

The rerun I watched last night from 2005 ended with a dying 22 year-old man pleading with his father to tell him the truth about whether he would recover. In typical fashion the father lies to his son's face, "You are going to be fine. That's the truth."  All their lives they had lied to each other; no reason to change at the end.

Dr. House is also an atheist, and he continually challenges the unexamined faith of his patients. That is another reason why I like him. I am a Christian, but I love atheists. Maybe that is because I used to be one. I love talking philosophy and theology with them. I love their honesty and courage. In my line of work I see too many theistic cowards and hypocrites - people who profess faith but live like atheists. It is good to occasionally talk to a person who preaches what he practices.

Everybody lies. That is House's philosophy, and my experience confirms it. Christians lie. Churches lie. Denominations lie. Not just little white lies but big scarlet lies. Why? Because the truth is too difficult to live with. Lies smoothes out the ride, like shock absorbers on cars.

I lie to myself most of all. To be completely truthful is to see ourselves as we really are before God. That would mean repentance and change. That is painful; it is easier to hide and lie - like Adam and Eve in the garden. To be truthful (literally "full of truth") is to see God as God really is, ourselves as we really are, and the world as it really is. That is scary. 

There is a reason why the Bible says that no one has ever seen God and lived. We know that our personae, the fictional stories that we tell ourselves and others, would crumble before the awful truthfulness of God. So we lie. It protects us from God.

Everybody lies, even Gregory House. But he lies less than most. Maybe that is why he is addicted to painkillers. It is his way of dealing with the pain of truth.

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