January 13, 2021

The Rev. George Yandell, Rector

People of the Lie

I read The Exorcist when it came out in 1971. A chilling, nightmare inducing read. The movie was horrifying as well. It provoked a strong interest and fear in me about human evil and demonic possession. In 1983 Scott Peck published a book called People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil. It followed his remarkably successful book The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth published in 1978. (My well-worn copy of The Road Less Traveled was a gift from my parents in the fall of 1981, inscribed by them.) In the introduction to People of the Lie, Peck writes: “Evil people are easy to hate. But remember St. Augustine’s advice to hate the sin but love the sinner. Remember that when you recognize an evil person that truly, ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’ We cannot begin to hope to heal human evil until we are able to look at it directly.”

Peck was baptized by 2 colleagues of mine in 1980 during a conference at Kanuga in North Carolina- he called it a “non-denominational baptism” altho’ it was held in the chapel of an Episcopal Conference Center by two Episcopal priests. He says that he has a Christian bias that causes him to be guided by the teachings of Jesus. He distills Jesus’ teachings about sin this way: “We should judge others with great care, and that carefulness begins with self-judgement.”

Lying is addictive. One becomes enmeshed in the alternate reality lying creates. In the past weeks I’ve found myself recalling Pontius Pilate’s dialogue with Jesus in John’s gospel (18: 28-38). Near the end of the dialogue/inquisition, Pilate asked Jesus, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate then asked him, “What is truth?” That question resonates across 1990 years.

The December 30 issue of “The Christian Century” carries an article by Bishop Steven Charleston, retired Episcopal bishop of Alaska. The article’s title is “The Cost of Lies.” Bishop Charleston is a Choctaw elder. The article is adapted from Charleston’s soon to be published book, Ladder to the Light: An Indigenous Elder’s Meditations on Hope and Courage. He writes:

“Traditional Native American Culture was not much concerned with religious truth claims. It was concerned with telling the truth on a personal level. The social contract formed by centuries of Native American civilization made telling the truth a core expectation for all human interactions. Speaking the truth was the highest virtue. Failure to do so was so egregious that it demanded the ultimate penalty in the political and judicial systems of our people- no, not death, but exile.”

“This degree of insistence upon truth telling arises in our Native American cultures because we understand that without it, none of the community systems on which we depend will work. Truth telling is the one essential ingredient in all of them. It is the prerequisite for any stable society.”

When I stop and reflect on what our part of North Georgia was like 400 years ago, I realize that underneath the beautiful Chestnut trees, along the ridges and in the valleys, life was ordered amongst the Cherokee, Creek and other indigenous tribes on the bedrock of knowing and telling the truth. The ground they walked and were buried in may be speaking to us today.

The library at Virginia Seminary had these words inscribed in marble at the entrance: “Seek the truth, cost what it may, come whence it will.” Written by William Sparrow, who moved to the Virginia Theological Seminary in 1841, where he taught for the rest of his life.

Words to live by. George Yandell