Lies we tell ourselves

A week ago, I posted an article called ‘Politics, Jesus and Us’. It was sparked by the first half of a document called The Lies we Tell Ourselves: ending comfortable myths about poverty. I was basically saying it is a good thing – though a sadly rare thing – that major Christian denominations were speaking up about the issue of poverty. If you haven’t read that post, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

That post wasn’t so much about the content of the document – published by the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church, the Church of Scotland and the United Reformed Church – as it was about the fact it had been written at all. Today, the content!

Lies and Loud Voices

The paper begins with some introductory bits and pieces, as it seems is required. There is then an excellent section on the overall problem – everyone, from politicians right on down to the person in a pub, seems happy to make assumptions about those living in poverty and present them as fact without any kind of evidence.

If you read it (and you really should!) you will be presented with a speech David Cameron made which begins with “We have all known for some time…” With those seven words, the Prime Minister gives himself permission either not to use or to misuse statistics and facts because, after all, we all know this to be true anyway so why waste time proving it. You’ll then be taken through what he said in the rest of the speech and shown how he consistently misuses facts and figures to drastically misrepresent those in the country who are in crippling poverty. Those who haven’t got a loud enough voice to counter with “Well, we’ve actually known for some time…”

All of this means we can keep believing the lies we’ve told ourselves. And if you keep saying this lies in loud voices, they’re going to catch on and carry on.

We have as a nation constructed a view of our poorest which is comfortable for us, because if ‘they’ are the cause of their own problem it isn’t our job to help them out. Even if it were true they had caused it, I can’t imagine Jesus just imposing stringent measures and waiting for them to help themselves. I think He’d die to help them. In fact He did. But that’s all academic really…

Six Myths Busted

The document then outlines 6 myths we have constructed about those in poverty:

  1. ‘They’ are lazy and just don’t want to work
  2. ‘They’ are addicted to drink and drugs
  3. ‘They’ are not really poor – they just don’t manage their money properly
  4. ‘They’ are on the fiddle
  5. ‘They’ have an easy life on benefits
  6. ‘They’ caused the deficit
Anecdotally and intuitively, I have had a problem with such statements for a while. But that hasn’t been very useful, because the people propagating the myths are also doing so on the basis of anecdote and intuition.
So what is wonderful is that the report takes each in turn and shows how thoroughly baseless and unfounded they are, using proper data and statistical analysis. It is my sincere hope and prayer that those in government (and church leaders who are often just as guilty) will read this, recognise their error and stop using their public status to tell these lies.

When there are no more lies to lean on

But my main hope and prayer is that we’d do something. One of the main problems about these lies, aside from the fact that they get in the way of truth and truth is good, is that they produce lethargy.

It makes it seem as though the problem isn’t so bad, or at least not our fault. So we are excused from really acting to make a change in the situation. That surely has to change once we’ve realised the basis of our inaction was wrong in the first place. When there are no more lies to lean on, the truth must compel us into action.

I fundamentally disagree with the current governments policies in cutting the welfare budget in so many ways. You may disagree with me. You may even disagree with me after reading this document. That is fine. I just hope it’s for different reasons.

But those in power who are using these myths to sell their policies are going to need to find some better reasons. Reasons that don’t involve lies. Reasons that don’t prop up a culture of judgment against those most in need of support. Reasons that are based on truth.

So let’s all stand for the truth. Jesus is the ultimate Truth, and any lies we cling to dishonour Him. Let’s not speak these lies. Let’s challenge these lies when we hear them.

Because I’d rather limp into truth than stride into lies.

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  • Mel Criddle

    So true.

    I think often people in the affluent west look at other countries where the poor are judged and stigmatised for whatever reason (“AIDs is the woman’s fault”, “street kids are vermin”) and think it is awful and inexcusable and evil of people to think in such ‘unenlightened’ and ‘undeveloped’ ways. Yet this sort of thinking is happening every day right on our doorstep- just in a different guise.

    The fundamental belief is that it is their fault that they are poor. And it is baseless and unfounded, just as it is in many other countries around the world.

    I hope our voices will be loud enough to challenge this way of thinking too.

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