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Pious fraud is a term applied to describe fraudulent practices used to advance a religious cause or belief. This type of fraud may, by religious apologists, be explained as a case of the ends justify the means, in that if people are saved from eternal damnation then it's perfectly fine to tell a few fibs and perform some magic tricks. This line of argumentation is prone to outcome bias. To draw a non-religious comparison - pious fraud could be compared to a parent using the threat of Santa withholding presents, or delivering a lump of coal, if Santa should hear that the child in question has been naughty.
It may at times be difficult to differentiate pious fraud, which requires intent to deceive, from delusion and ignorance. Such a decision must be based on a case-by-case evaluation of the claims being made, the persons making the claims, and certainly the intent behind the claims.
Intent is the primary method of differentiating pious fraud from regular fraud, but is itself murky. Peter Popoff, a televangelist with an astonishing ability to extract money from true believers, had repeatedly been exposed for using decidedly natural approaches to enhance his "miracles". In one notable example, James Randi learned that Popoff was using a hidden earpiece to which his wife was broadcasting information on the stricken people who attended his revivals in the hope of being cured.
If Popoff is a pious fraud, then it appears that he earnestly believes that the basic message of the gospels is that God's decision as to whether or not worshippers enter Heaven is primarily based on how rich they made their preacher. It may however be possible that Popoff simply enjoyed having nice houses and cars, and found a large group of people who were gullible and desperate enough to help make this happen.
Even when there is no financial incentive, pious frauds may gain fame and adoration among believers for being special enough to have been chosen to witness or perform a miracle.
Given that miracles typically come with little evidence to support the temporary suspension of the known laws of the universe, they are a rich source of pious fraud. This not to say that all miracles are by default fraud, since many can be attributed to delusional behavior, ignorance or simple good luck (and, who knows, some may be real, though none have been substantiated thus far), but some stand out as being particularly questionable.
Padre Pio was reputed to have experienced the stigmata - the appearance of wounds on the body that mimic those inflicted upon Jesus during his crucifixion, yet the wounds always appeared in private, and there are suggestions that Pio was using acid to inflict the wounds upon himself.
Modification and misattribution of scripture
Prior to the advent of Christianity, there are strong suspicions that the entire Book of Deuteronomy was made up by King Josiah (or his supporters) due to its rather convenient discovery as recounted beginning with 2 Kings 22:8 and later from 2 Chronicles 34:14. Similarly, many books of the New Testament are named for what uninformed believers take to be the names of the authors, yet biblical and historical scholarship indicate that the gospels were written by unknown authors and ascribed to disciples and similarly important figures in Christianity. Other books of the New Testament, traditionally ascribed to important figures, have also been shown to be later additions or misattributions.
There's an obvious advantage in attributing a work to a famous name, since texts purporting to document the life of Jesus certainly carry more weight if its claimed that they were written by one of his associates.
Alterations over the years also provide signs of changes being made to deal with scriptural contradictions and to reduce or emphasise points and beliefs important to the writer. Paul strongly emphasised the message that salvation was available to all, including gentiles. While some gospels portray Jesus as being sent solely for the "lost sheep of Israel", such as in Matthew 15:21-28, St. Paul's writings discard Jewish tradition - such as the requirement to effectively become a Jew before becoming a Christian - in favour of offering salvation to gentiles, describing himself as "the apostle of the gentiles" in Romans 1:13. No doubt it was easier to market Christianity when it didn't involve taking a knife to one's penis.
It is also notable that the nature of Jesus changes throughout the Bible. Early gospels, such as Mark, portray Jesus more as an anointed man than a being of divine origin - in a similar sense to previous "sons of god" such as King David. In John 1:1-15 Jesus is described as being the embodiment of logos - present with God at the beginning of all things, through whom the world was created. Mark lacks an account of the virgin birth - which other authors included in their gospels. A messiah of human origin, although anointed by God, is more consistent with Jewish tradition, so the divine aspects may have appeared in an attempt to appeal to the demographic that prefers its messiahs to be of divine origin.
Lying for Jesus
“”Someone might argue, "If my falsehood enhances God's truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?" Why not say — as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say — "Let us do evil that good may result?" Their condemnation is deserved.
Lying for Jesus is a form of pious fraud which happens when some Christians believe that falsifying information is acceptable if that brings people to Jesus or somehow supports his historicity, saintliness or supposed godliness. The practice has a long and venerable history in the Christian religion dating back to the Council of Naicaea.
Early Christian author Lactantius (ca. 240 – ca. 320) -- along with his anti-Christian contemporary, Porphyry of Tyre (c. 234–c. 305) -- wildly exaggerated the stories of orgies and other forms of debauchery that 1st century Romans allegedly practiced. Oddly enough, many of these stories were based upon anti-religious critiques written by Romans themselves in the 1st century. (In other words, Christians used Roman anti-religious writings to attack Roman religion and promote Christianity. Right.) Christian historians have used these stories ever since to emphasize what early Christians allegedly struggled against in their society. As historian Gillian Clark writes in Christianity and Roman Society (2004):
Christian polemic presented traditional Roman religion as worshipping a multitude of idols (ch. 1). These man-made images, Christians argued, were obviously powerless: how can you reverence a god when you know the man who made it? Or if the images did have some power, that was because demons had taken up residence in them, and had deluded people into offering them sacrifice. 'Demons' are daimones, the traditional Greek word for lesser divine beings: in philosophical texts they may be benign powers, but in Christian texts they are malevolent. 'The gods of the nations are demons' (Psalms 96.4) was a favourite Bible quotation. So Christian writers said that it was hardly surprising if Roman society had deplorably low moral standards, its culture encouraged extravagant display, and its laws allowed men to commit adultery and to reject their newborn children (ch. 6). This was only to be expected, because, under demonic influence, the traditional religion failed to Offer any moral teaching, and its festivals presented stories about gods behaving badly. But these Christian attacks borrowed extensively from Roman philosophical critique Of religious practices, and from the bitter social commentary deployed in Roman satire. (The critique has remarkable powers of survival. ' Pagan' is still widely associated with uninhibited sexuality, and 'Roman' with 'orgy', which is a hostile interpretation Of Greek orgia, one form Of religious ritual.) Thus the Christian Lactantius and the anti-Christian Porphyry, in the late third century, have a common stock of examples and of rhetoric denouncing empty images, delusive demons, and the allegedly wise who mislead the simple (Digeser 2000).
Eusebius of Caesarea (c. AD 260 or 265 – 339 or 340), Emperor Constantine's bishop, is often presented as one of the earliest active advocates of the process:
“”How it may be lawful and fitting to use falsehood as a medicine, and for the benefit of those who want to be deceived.
In reality, no evidence of Eusebius actually stating any such thing can be found. The quote actually comes from a chapter heading which Eusebius may have not written.
That said, 19th century cultural historian Jacob Burckhardt dismissed Eusebius as "the first thoroughly dishonest historian of antiquity". Ramsay MacMullen Dunham Professor of History and Classics cites Eusebius as an example “Hostile writings and discarded views were not recopied or passed on, or they were actively suppressed..., matters discreditable to the faith were to be consigned to silence." Italian historian Arnaldo Dante Momigliano wrote that for Eusebius "chronology was something between an exact science and an instrument of propaganda"
Also evidence of Eusebius having issue can be found elsewhere.
In The History of the Church Eusebius claimed "It is also recorded that under Claudius, Philo came to Rome to have conversations with Peter, then preaching to the people there ... It is plain enough that he not only knew but welcomed with whole-hearted approval the apostolic men of his day, who it seems were of Hebrew stock and therefore, in the Jewish manner, still retained most of their ancient customs." Logically if Philo talked to Peter and knew of the apostolic men of his day he would have written something about Jesus that the Christians would have preserved given it was "welcomed with whole-hearted approval." Yet in what the Christians preserved of Philo not one word about Peter or the apostolic men of his day, much less Jesus, is made. In fact, people even claim there was no reason for Philo to know anything about Jesus!
“”What harm would it do, if a man told a good strong lie for the sake of the good and for the Christian church ... a lie out of necessity, a useful lie, a helpful lie, such lies would not be against God, he would accept them.
Different Christian sects are also quite often prepared to distort the position of other Christians whom they consider heretics. Wingnut Protestants' claims about Catholicism are a common recent example.
More recent Christian deceit
- It is common for American evangelical Christians to claim the United States was founded as a Christian nation. The book "Liars for Jesus" by Chris Rodda details and refutes these claims. This one rests on even worse theological grounds than the above, as it has nearly zero chance of actually bringing souls to Christ, but hey, politics.
- Dishonesty by creationists, particularly young Earth creationists (YEC), is well known and documented elsewhere; even at least one Christian acknowledges that it happens. YEC dishonesty simply demonstrates the lack of honest evidence for the YEC position. There was a large amount of deceit surrounding Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.
- Misleading statistics were and are used by some conservative Christians to argue that gay men have shorter life expectancies than they really have.
- The photograph of Phan Thi Kim Phuc. Reverend John Plummer made a ton of money and was able to bring many, many people 'to Christ' by publicly claiming to have been involved in the attack shown in the famous picture. His story tended to change depending on who he was talking to about it — sometimes he was the pilot who dropped the napalm, sometimes he was the officer at headquarters who ordered the attack, sometimes he was the communications officer who coordinated the attack.... and so on. He actually had nothing whatsoever to do with the incident, which occurred after most American forces had already left Vietnam. The attack was actually ordered and prosecuted entirely by the South Vietnamese military.
- "Cassie said 'Yes!'" Cassie Bernall was one of the thirteen people killed in the Columbine High School massacre, and her death in particular was latched onto by conservative Christians (most notably her parents), who spun a story claiming that the killers asked her if she believed in God, and then murdered her after she replied in the affirmative. The truth was that the Columbine killers did ask another student, Valeen Schnurr, if she believed in God... but unfortunately for those looking for a Christian martyr, Schnurr survived the massacre. The book She Said Yes is still being sold as non-fiction and generating money more than a decade after the claim was discovered to be false. Initially, the claim could have been perceived as an honest mistake, but repeating it after the truth behind the incident became known to the public is dishonest. The lie is so deeply entrenched in some people's minds that believers will sometimes go as far as threatening violence towards those who try to tell them what really happened.
- Many, many claims by "ex-Satanists" at the height of the Satanic Panic of the 1980s and early 1990s. Mike Warnke, Michelle Smith, Lauren Stratford, John Todd, and Rebecca Brown were among those claiming to have left Satanism and become Christians, selling millions of books with their lurid stories about the "Satanic underground" and the Illuminati. Invariably, all of their claims turned out to have been made up, with the details of their lives as known to friends, family, coworkers, and schools conflicting with what they were preaching.
- Bill Wiese's book '23 Minutes in Hell' is scare-tactic sensationalism at its best, and attempts to use Bill's "experience" (read: bald-faced lie) of visiting Hell to scare people into converting (and to make money).
- Fundamentalist Christian-based Crisis pregnancy centers, which provide false information about abortions and sex.
- Abstinence-only sex "education" almost without exception gives deliberately misleading information about contraception, particularly condoms, in an effort to back students into a corner where they think that their only viable option is the fundamentalist approach to sex of "not before marriage".
Taqiyya, or "dissimulation", is a controversial concept within the Islamic faith that allows Muslims to lie for the purposes of advancing Islam.
Most often, this lying is to conceal their faith if they are living in a culture where openly practicing would threaten their or their family's life. This practice is more common to Shia Islam than Sunni Islam largely due to the historical and recent persecution of the Shi'ites (at the hands of the Sunnis). Note that we at Rationalwiki have no issue with someone practicing deception for their own protection in a hostile environment.
However, lying for other purposes, so long as Allah is the ultimate goal, is also just fine.
"Allah will not take you to task for that which is unintentional in your oaths. But He will take you to task for that which your hearts have garnered. Allah is Forgiving, Clement," (Qur'an 2:225).
Allah cares only about good intent, not good oaths. This may allow lying, as converting people to Islam is a good intent, regardless of a bad oath of lies.
"Let not the believers take disbelievers for their friends in preference to believers. Whoso doeth that hath no connection with Allah unless (it be) that ye but guard yourselves against them, taking (as it were) security. Allah biddeth you beware (only) of Himself. Unto Allah is the journeying," (Qur'an 3:28).
Allah permits pretending to be friends with nonbelievers in case of insecurity.
"And they (the disbelievers) schemed, and Allah schemed (against them): and Allah is the best of schemers," (Qur'an 3:54).
"And a proclamation from Allah and His messenger to all men on the day of the Greater Pilgrimage that Allah is free from obligation to the idolaters, and (so is) His messenger. So, if ye repent, it will be better for you; but if ye are averse, then know that ye cannot escape Allah. Give tidings (O Muhammad) of a painful doom to those who disbelieve," (Qur'an 9:3).
Allah originally promised to let pagans stay at Mecca after Muhammad captured it. He went back on his oath. Since Goddidit, it's probably fine.
"Whoso disbelieveth in Allah after his belief - save him who is forced thereto and whose heart is still content with the Faith - but whoso findeth ease in disbelief: On them is wrath from Allah. Theirs will be an awful doom," (Qur'an 16:106).
If a Muslim is under compulsion, they can deny their faith as long as they remain Muslim secretly.
"And a believing man of Pharaoh's family, who hid his faith, said: Would ye kill a man because he saith: My Lord is Allah, and hath brought you clear proofs from your Lord? If he is lying, then his lie is upon him; and if he is truthful, then some of that wherewith he threateneth you will strike you. Lo! Allah guideth not one who is a prodigal, a liar," (Qur'an 40:28).
A believer is introduced as an unbeliever, to help convey his message.
"Allah hath made lawful for you (Muslims) absolution from your oaths (of such a kind), and Allah is your Protector. He is the Knower, the Wise," (Qur'an 66:2).
Allah explicitly made some oathbreaking acceptable; however, he doesn't give any details.
Muhammad authorized lying to improve the chances of successful assassinations, for example in the case of Shaaban Ibn Khalid al-Hazly and Bin Kaab.
In the following Hadith, Muhammad said that it's permissible to lie to an enemy without specifying any conditions. Note that the concept of lying to conceal one's faith if the person's life is in danger as mentioned above also exists.
Muhammad said: "Lying is wrong, except in three things: the lie of a man to his wife to make her content with him; a lie to an enemy, for war is deception; or a lie to settle trouble between people," (Ahmad, 6.459. H).
However, Ahmad is not a respected or widely-known hadith. A more reputable quote from a more reputable hadith, the Sahih Muslim, goes:
"Ibn Shihab said he did not hear that exemption was granted in anything what the people speak as lie but in three cases: in battle, for bringing reconciliation amongst persons and the narration of the words of the husband to his wife, and the narration of the words of a wife to her husband (in a twisted form in order to bring reconciliation between them)," (Sahih Muslim 32:6303).
This hadith suggests that lying is acceptable to bring peace in war and peace in marriage, which might be a bit less evil than the previous hadith.
The Sahih al-Bukhari also provides valuable viewpoints:
Narrated Um Kulthum bint Uqba: That she heard Allah's Apostle saying, "He who makes peace between the people by inventing good information or saying good things, is not a liar," (Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. 3, 49:857).
The ends justify the means, and lying is but a means to the good end of peace.
Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, "Khosrau will be ruined, and there will be no Khosrau after him, and Caesar will surely be ruined and there will be no Caesar after him, and you will spend their treasures in Allah's Cause." He called, "War is deceit'. Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah's Apostle called,: "War is deceit". Narrated Jabir bin 'Abdullah: The Prophet said, "War is deceit," (Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. 4, 52:267-269).
The context for this is the murder of thirty unarmed men by Muhammad's men after he "granted" them safe passage.
Narrated Jabir bin 'Abdullah: Allah's Apostle said, "Who is willing to kill Ka'b bin Al-Ashraf who has hurt Allah and His Apostle?" Thereupon Muhammad bin Maslama got up saying, "O Allah's Apostle! Would you like that I kill him?" The Prophet said, "Yes," Muhammad bin Maslama said, "Then allow me to say a (false) thing (i.e. to deceive Kab). "The Prophet said, "You may say it." Then Muhammad bin Maslama went to Kab and said, "That man (i.e. Muhammad demands Sadaqa (i.e. Zakat) from us, and he has troubled us, and I have come to borrow something from you." On that, Kab said, "By Allah, you will get tired of him!" Muhammad bin Maslama said, "Now as we have followed him, we do not want to leave him unless and until we see how his end is going to be. Now we want you to lend us a camel load or two of food." (Some difference between narrators about a camel load or two.) Kab said, "Yes, (I will lend you), but you should mortgage something to me." Muhammad bin Mas-lama and his companion said, "What do you want?" Ka'b replied, "Mortgage your women to me." They said, "How can we mortgage our women to you and you are the most handsome of the 'Arabs?" Ka'b said, "Then mortgage your sons to me." They said, "How can we mortgage our sons to you? Later they would be abused by the people's saying that so-and-so has been mortgaged for a camel load of food. That would cause us great disgrace, but we will mortgage our arms to you." Muhammad bin Maslama and his companion promised Kab that Muhammad would return to him. He came to Kab at night along with Kab's foster brother, Abu Na'ila. Kab invited them to come into his fort, and then he went down to them. His wife asked him, "Where are you going at this time?" Kab replied, "None but Muhammad bin Maslama and my (foster) brother Abu Na'ila have come." His wife said, "I hear a voice as if dropping blood is from him, Ka'b said. "They are none but my brother Muhammad bin Maslama and my foster brother Abu Naila. A generous man should respond to a call at night even if invited to be killed." Muhammad bin Maslama went with two men. (Some narrators mention the men as 'Abu bin Jabr. Al Harith bin Aus and Abbad bin Bishr). So Muhammad bin Maslama went in together with two men, and sail to them, "When Ka'b comes, I will touch his hair and smell it, and when you see that I have got hold of his head, strip him. I will let you smell his head." Kab bin Al-Ashraf came down to them wrapped in his clothes, and diffusing perfume. Muhammad bin Maslama said. " have never smelt a better scent than this. Ka'b replied. "I have got the best 'Arab women who know how to use the high class of perfume." Muhammad bin Maslama requested Ka'b "Will you allow me to smell your head?" Ka'b said, "Yes." Muhammad smelt it and made his companions smell it as well. Then he requested Ka'b again, "Will you let me (smell your head)?" Ka'b said, "Yes." When Muhammad got a strong hold of him, he said (to his companions), "Get at him!" So they killed him and went to the Prophet and informed him. (Abu Rafi) was killed after Ka'b bin Al-Ashraf," (Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. 5, 59:369).
This concept has been seized upon by bigots to suggest that all Muslims are constantly focused on deceiving their neighbors to appear more likable, and then once they've lured you into a false sense of security - *bam* - the old fork in the eye.
The truth of the matter is that the standard for employing taqiyya is particularly high. For example, during the Spanish Inquisition when Muslims (along with Jews) were tortured by the Grand Inquisitor Torquemada, it would have been permissible for a Muslim to claim to convert to Christianity to avoid torture and death for himself and his family, while continuing to practice his faith in secret. Torquemada rarely fell for such deception, however, and despite the pleas of the accused, the torture would continue. Face it, you can't Torquemada anything.
Note that some Muslim apologists, including some Imams, do use factually incorrect statements (not Taqiyya) to advance or defend their faith in a manner similar to Lying for Jesus.
The concept is controversial within Islam mainly because the Qur'an teaches that death in the service of one's faith (as in the case of refusing to renounce one's faith even when faced with death) is a highly honorable act, and practically guarantees one's entry into Paradise. Muslim theology generally makes strong distinctions between acts that are forbidden, discouraged, acceptable, praiseworthy, and obligatory, so while dying in the service of Islam may be seen as praiseworthy, invoking taqiyya to avoid death could be seen as falling under the "acceptable" category.
Outside of the Muslim community, taqiyya is frequently cited by Islamophobes as evidence that Muslims who aren't extremists are merely lying about their theology. This is an example of Morton's fork - if they display extremist beliefs, then they're obviously extremists, where if they reject extremist beliefs, they're just lying to get you to trust them. As such, any statement - or even actions - by Muslims that is not in line with the idea that all Muslims are murderous fanatics can be safely discarded.
- Liars for Jesus (a book on the subject)
- Are you a Good person (which says even a white lie is sinful), combined with John 9:35-41 (which describes sin remaining you claim to "see".)
- Quote mining
- Noble lie
- Get it?
- See James Randi's book The Faith Healers, and a YouTube video in which Randi explains how he exposed Popoff.
- Padre Pio claimed to have used acid to fake the stigmata
- Wikipedia has an article on the Pauline epistles in which the disputes concerning authorship are discussed at greater length.
- Bart Ehrman explores these origins in his books Misquoting Jesus and Jesus, Interrupted.
- The reference in Mark Romans 1:1 to Jesus being the Son of God is disputed and not present in some early manuscripts. See Wikipedia's article on Mark 1 for additional background. Terms such as messiah and son of God have to be considered in the context of Jewish tradition.
- Note that the Apostle Paul is talking about Judaic law and the actions it considers sins, not sins in general. Paul believed Jesus' teachings overrode the Judaic law.
- Translation by Gibbon, who really didn't like Eusebius.
- Roger Pearse (2010) Eusebius the Liar?
- Christianizing the Roman Empire: A.D 100-400, Ramsay MacMullen, p. 6, Yale University Press, 1984, ISBN 0-300-03642-6
- B. Hudson McLean (editor, 1993) Origins and method JSOT Press ISBN-13: 978-1850754411
- Martin Luther - Reason - faith's greatest enemy
- Sissela Bok, Lying: Moral Choice In Public and Private Life, New York: Pantheon Books, 1978, p. 47
- Creationist Lying for Jesus?
- Lying for Jesus?
- Lying about Gays for Jesus
- Rosin, Hanna. "Columbine Miracle: A Matter of Belief." The Washington Post, 14 October 1999. (As that article points out with some irony, a legitimate inspirational story could have been mined from Schnurr's actual experience. A girl affirming her faith in the face of death, and her potential killers turning away and letting her live, could have easily been spun as God protecting His followers from Satan's trenchcoat-clad minions. But that would've denied evangelicals a good martyrdom story.)
- How abortion opponents secretly bought a Virginia abortion clinic by Petula Dvorac (February 4, 2016) Business Insider.