The Invention of Lying

I’ve been an atheist all my life, but I always knew that if my mum asked me when she was dying if there was a heaven I’d say yes. I’d lie. I think that’s how religion started – as a good lie.
Ricky Gervais

Watch the movie below or download it from iTunes or Amazon.com.

And if you’re looking for a good set up or follow up to the movie, we recommend our friend Katherine Moody’s series of posts.

Moral Fictions << Previous  | |  Next >> The Amnesials of Our Darkness

21 Comments

  1. Reply
    Chuck February 21, 2013

    We crave an authority to tell us how to b.ehave because self-examination might lead us to conclude we are unique and that psychic loneliness would be too painful to bare. Religion sanctions others behavior in line with ours and in return we don’t feel alone. The pizza box commandment scene seems to be the best illustration of this. The premise also seems to explain why there are so many varieties of Christianity out there. People’s herd mentality drives them to conclude that their god is real because others in their herd agree.

    • Reply
      Angelo February 21, 2013

      Chuck,
      I think you made the point here saying “that psychic loneliness would be too painful to bare”.

      The myth – if we want to take it as this – of Christ on the cross is also about that.

      • Reply
        Chuck February 22, 2013

        Yes Angelo, a dying and rising god myth (and there are many of them throughout cultures) is an expression of our personal loneliness and the cost one must pay to move towards personal authenticity.

        Joseph Campbell’s book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” does a great job in showing how this narrative choice is essential to multiple cultures that exist outside the reach of Christianity.

        The crucifixion is but one cultural example of this very natural psychological element.

    • Reply
      Abigail February 22, 2013

      Chuck, if we join religion so as not to feel alone, wouldn’t that actually preclude the possibility of splitting off and forming multiple denominations? If conformity and companionship is our overarching goal, wouldn’t the outcome be the exact opposite–a unified global religion? Or am I missing your point?

      • Reply
        Chuck February 22, 2013

        No, I think you are illustrating my point. Religions grow out of unique cultures in which they are planted and conform to the already existing social rules there. Syncretism within religion is an ignored reality of its design. Instead, most religions try to position themselves as above the culture in which they were formed when, in an honest assessment, they are a by-product of that culture. Fragmentation is an obvious consequence when considering religion as a cultural artifact, which binds belonging in a particular culture. It is no different than other cultural artifacts that conform to the collective conscious of a given community (e.g. music, drama, etc . . .)

  2. Reply
    Will February 21, 2013

    I like the date scene, it is the most pointed and powerful scene in the movie. It shows us there is a bit of a “moral fiction” in telling the truth. Truth is many times very frustrating and disappointing for people. The frank manner of the woman telling the main character of her disappointment in his appearance as well as her low expectations of the date is startling. It is in this opening scene that we realize how lying is actually a powerful tool that people use every moment of the day in order to seem as if we care. In short, lying is polite.

    In relation to religion and God, the lie he tells leads to a sense of certainty that will get out of control. I believe what the movie is saying is that lying can lead to a sense of security, not always for the liar but for those around the liar. The lie of religion, God and Heaven is a way that people can deal with there insecurity without dealing with their reality. We tell others and ourselves lies in order to avoid truth or in order to raise a sense of deniability.

    If we don’t acknowledge something directly or we ignore it, it will go away. The truth is that we cannot avoid our own mortality, our feelings, our desires, our insecurity, our past, our own demons(for lack of better terms). Facing truth is often far more difficult than continuing the lie, which is why people settle into a l(ie)festyle and never look beyond the vale. I am looking beyond the vale as far as possible and I know that Ecclesiastes 1 is right all is meaningless. The only things that remain are the things we do for others, it is not eternal but to those whom receive the kindness.
    (NOTE: Wisdom is not a property of the religious, it is a light to all mankind.)

    • Reply
      Chuck February 22, 2013

      Very well said. Thanks for this insight.

  3. Reply
    Abigail February 21, 2013

    I just watched the first scene–wow, I’d love a world like this! I hate deception and lies, even if they are meant to spare someone’s feelings. I get mad when people do that, usually. We’d all be stronger if we had to learn that we could live through hearing the honest opinions of others. Better than guessing and giving yourself an anxiety complex!

    For example, just a few months ago a guy I was interested in and engaged in conversation with kind of started pulling away, and I had a “define the relationship” discussion with him. He told me he was really overwhelmed with situations in his life, and didn’t feel ready to date. Plus, he thought the distance between us was too challenging. I just found out a couple weeks ago that shortly after that conversation, he actually started dating someone else, someone who lived farther away from him than I did. You know what? Finding this out was much more hurtful than if he’d told me directly, “Hey, I like you well enough, but I’m not interested in a romantic relationship with you at this time.” Why make excuses??

    Another thought– There’s a distinction to be made between “lying” and “not disclosing the full truth,” though. My grandpa is fond of telling the story of a woman at his church getting frustrated with his outspokenness, and saying, “You should always tell the truth. But you shouldn’t always be telling it!” For example, if the woman at the beginning of the scene had NOT told the protagonist that she didn’t like his appearance, it wouldn’t have been a lie. Unless he asked her directly, “do you like how I look?” and she said “yes”… And then there’s the art of stating the truth in a kind way, such as when you need to criticize someone’s work…

    This movie looks funny. I only watched the first scene, but when I get time later, I want to finish it.

    • Reply
      Abigail February 22, 2013

      OK, watched it. Sacrificed precious homework/sleep time to do so! But I needed to laugh tonight.
      That was a really cute movie!
      That is all I have to say for now. :)

  4. Reply
    jcandito February 22, 2013

    I am not so sure the people in this otherwise funny movie were really being truthful to begin with. Maybe they were thinking out loud, but were they expressing themselves honestly? I know the movie was geared toward making a point (which it did very well). Wouldn’t the world be a bit more violent and savage than the movie depicted. If no one lied, how would the fears, rages and desires be kept in check? Lying doesn’t just give us security and certainty, it also prevents us from raping and killing each other. Lying doesn’t just create a false God, it creates a civil society as well.

    • Reply
      Angelo February 22, 2013

      For ‘a civil society’ you mean what society?

      That of World Wars?
      That of Holocaust?
      That of ‘we-want-to-spread-democracy’ wars?
      That of the 11th of September?
      That of Global Warming?

      I’m sure we could be able to make a beautiful apology of lying.
      I’m sure as well that this apology wouldn’t be proved by ‘civil society’.

    • Reply
      Angelo February 22, 2013

      And…
      if we have to apologizing lying, why then don’t we try to fabricate the best possible lie ever?
      Like a god or an absolute moral standard or something like that?

      I really think it would funny – and in some ways useful – to do that all together :-)

  5. Reply
    Angelo February 22, 2013

    This movie makes some points and I’d try to set out some of the implications

    ***
    Religion is a consequence of the possibility/capability to lie.
    Before mankind had this capability, no thing such as religion existed.

    But still this movie assumes mankind inhabiting a society based on the same economical and cultural system as ours,
    but without lies – a strange assumption, in my opinion.
    So, it is sure lying has given birth to religion. But what has given birth to lying?

    Underneath the very narrative of the movie, I think this is an important point to consider.

    ***
    The leading character invents religion. He – and just him, of course – knows it is a lie.

    (So we can assume that, for example, Jesus or Paul or Buddha or whatever knew they were lying.)
    Still, the invention of a religion will bound even the one who creates it to his creation.

    Wouldn’t one of the implications of this fact be that even a lie compels us to be truthful to itself (and ourselves)?
    Hence, that from a lie we create a truth?

    Or – I think I should say better what I want to point out – that truth is not an objective reality more than lie,
    but the result of a practice based on a discourse which we all could agree upon?

    (there are more implications that I’m afraid I’m not able to write with my basic English – sorry for that).

    I’d really like someone to discuss that – even pointing out more implications.

    • Reply
      Chuck February 22, 2013

      Angelo,

      There’s a tool that google has called “translate” you can write in your first language and translate it to english if you feel that might help you write with more depth. If you wish, you can send the draft of the translation to me for proofing before posting (if that helps). My email is coconnor1017@gmail.com

      For what it is worth, I love your thoughts and writing style. I find your ideas to be compelling and well-stated. A simple approach to ones’ writing with carefully chosen words is always powerful.

    • Reply
      Abigail February 23, 2013

      Those are good thoughts, Angelo. And I agree with Chuck’s comments; I don’t find your English hard to understand. You make your points well.

      Regarding the observation about society being quite similar to what it is today, yes, that’s a big hole in the story. OF COURSE civilization would be DRASTICALLY different from what it is today if humans never could engage in any kind of falsehood. But that’s one of the things we have to “suspend disbelief” about in this movie. In any dramatic work, there are certain things you just have to accept, in order to get to the movie’s main point(s). For example, in most Disney movies, you have to suspend your disbelief that animals can talk. Ha ha.

      Regarding your comment that religious leaders know they are fabricating… I’m kind of a sucker in that I usually try to give people the benefit of the doubt. In a lot of cases, I don’t think that the founders of certain religions were intentionally lying. (Though I do think Mohammed and Joseph Smith, to name two prominent examples, WERE con artists who knew what they were doing.) I think most religions evolved slowly over time. A certain set of premises were generally assumed by the culture, and then various minds and hearts applied their insights to those premises, changing them to fit the emerging needs of a changing society, and so on. Very few religions are creations of a single individual, even if an individual, such as Jesus or Buddha, ends up getting all the credit.

      I like your comment about how even a lie compels the liar to be truthful to himself, thus creating a new truth. (Though you said it better!) I’d add that a lie only compels us to the truth, as you say, if we are aware that it IS a lie. An intentional, aware, lie, forces our minds to simultaneously hold two “stories” in our minds. But I’ve often accidentally lied, haven’t you? Said something I thought was true, and later learned it wasn’t. I used to actively promote my religion, whole-heartedly believing it to be true, though now I think that much of what I said actually turned out to be… what do I say? “Lies” sounds so harsh… “Unprovable statements that have a low degree of probability?” :)

      (Also, just an aside, there are mental disorders in which the sufferer lies compulsively and then has a difficult time distinguishing his/her lies from actual reality. For whatever that’s worth!)

      • Reply
        Angelo February 23, 2013

        Being able to treat religion as a cultural phenomenon,
        I am also in agreement that no one has deliberately produced a belief knowing it was a lie.
        I pulled out some examples to say that, even if some of the great ‘prophets’ had deliberately lied, nevertheless the ‘lie’ would be established as a ‘truth’ in the practice of those who had accepted – and, starting from this, they would have generated such modifications and revisions that you yourself have pointed out.

        Now it always depends on how we view the relationship lie-truth.
        – If we seek the truth as an objective reality outside the context of human relationships – a metaphysical reality, let’s – certainly we could define the concept of ‘true’ and ‘false’ (in the assumption that this ‘truth’ exists and that it would be investigable).
        – If we could agree that the truth is inextricably linked to specific situations and relations (even a the point of ‘universal relations’), we would say ‘relative’ (even if that ‘relativity’ makes it, in my view, more objective), then we have a basis on which to evaluate/assess/modify our practices and our actions.

        A policy that, from my point of view, can be reduced to a concept – atomic – that is very close to that of reciprocity (reciprocity with all that it implies).
        Obviously, this is my point of view – among other things constantly revised.

        I think the film well puts a sign in his criticism of some of the ideas which are generally supposed to be the basis of some religions, or at the base of Christianity.
        In reality, however – and here you will excuse me if I pretend for a moment apologist, since I should be giving up god (although, from my point of view, Christianity does not presuppose the existence of a transcendent god as strictly necessary) …

        I was saying that, however, the ideas that are criticized and/or mocked by the movie, they do not belong, in my way of reading and understanding the Judeo-Christian tradition, the horizon of Christianity.

        Many of these are the result of a religious syncretism – typical of Roman culture in the early centuries AD – and especially the so-called ‘church fathers’ like Augustine.

        (Now I try to go back to the context of the discussion): by this I mean that, just from a radically Christian perspective, I can fully share the criticism of the film to religion.

    • Reply
      Miriam February 28, 2013

      Angelo, you said,

      “Wouldn’t one of the implications of this fact be that even a lie compels us to be truthful to itself (and ourselves)? Hence, that from a lie we create a truth?”
      I like that. We can call it building castles in the air, or denial- a useful survival tool. The film has one person – a man – inventing religion. To me, such things are by their nature, created by groups. Religion is a collective activity, rarely about god, usually about people – how we live together. There are more religions than the ones we think of as religions. fundamentalism is a state of mind not a religious activity. These are a few of my favorite sayings. Hope this course kicks me out of my known realm and into an unknown one. I’m getting bored with myself

  6. Reply
    Abigail February 23, 2013

    OK, my first response was rambling quite off-topic. I’ll actually answer the questions now, how about that!

    The movie made several, very humorous, interesting critiques of religion. (THough mainly monotheistic religions that teach about a dualistic afterlife. It doesn’t address Eastern religions or pagan religions so much.) The main critique is that everything we love about religion could very possibly be untrue, just a way for someone who loves us to try to make us feel better. This was exemplified in the deathbed scene, when the protagonist invents heaven on the spot to try to comfort his mother. I think that’s a good point. How can we prove the things we hold onto for comfort actually are true? Most of it, we can’t. And what we see are the unintended consequences of the character’s fabrication. How everything he makes up about eternity, to try to comfort someone or help someone do the right thing, also brings up a host of other questions and possible negative consequences. One example of that was the suicidal character deciding to spend the rest of his life holed up in his apartment, since he would go to a better place after death anyway, and everything would be great.

    Another critique touched on is the problem of the goodness of god colliding with the evil of god. The audience in the Pizza Hut boxes scene demonstrates this issue, when they first learn that the Man in the Sky is responsible for everything bad that happens, and they yell out, “He’s the world’s biggest prick!” And when they learn that He’s also responsible for everything good that happens, they fall into hushed reverence. That was hilarious. (If anyone is interested in a great book on the “problem of evil,” by the way, I really enjoyed “Evil: the Shadow Side of Reality” by John A Sanford. He is an Episcopalian priest, so, obviously, committed to religion, but he maintains a fairly neutral tone throughout the book. He shows how various civilizations throughout history, with an increasing focus on Christianity, have attempted to reconcile this problem, and offers his opinions at the end. I was really impacted by this book.)

    MY critique of the movie is that the society presented before religious lies were introduced was essentially an atheistic society, but it was not necessarily “better” than what we already have. (THough I’ve already mentioned in a different comment how much I desire a bit more honesty from people, than is generally done these days…) We saw crime, people being cruel to each other, power grabs, and the whole 9 yards of dysfunction was assumed as well. I wonder if the movie makers, who were, obviously, atheists, intended this discrepancy, or if it was accidental. Whether or not this was intentional, the lesson, perhaps, to be learned is that without the power of imagination, to “say what isn’t,” neither atheism nor religion holds much ability to lift people up. Part of the “good side” of lying (Do we have to use the word “lying,” by the way? It’s such a moralistic word!) is that imagining possibilities that do not exist yet, can be incredibly inspiring and transformative.

  7. Reply
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