Monday, August 12, 2013


"I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name..." from Jeremiah, Chapter 23, verse 25

I'm obsessed with the MTV show Catfish. The premise is pretty simple: co-hosts Max and Nev agree to help some poor person who has fallen in love with a stranger they have met online. In every case the object of their affection has refused to meet in person or to even participate in face-to-face video encounters. In spite of all the red flags, these poor victims of obvious romantic deception hope against hope for a real-life love connection to come out of this. It almost never happens, of course, but like all good narratives, catfish: THE TV SHOW is about the journey more than the destination. Every episode asks, and answers, the question, "How could they be so stupid?"

The answer is always complicated, but it boils down to the fact that as humans we are prone to wishful thinking, romantic idealization, and hope against hope. This human trait works in our favor when we are fighting a virulent form of cancer or avoiding shark attack while awaiting rescue from a boating accident, but it also makes us prone to becoming a victim of fraud from time to time. 

This is the issue that Jeremiah seeks to address head-on. Because he understands human nature the way the producers of Catfish do, Jeremiah knows that he is not likely to make much headway trying to convince the victims of false prophets that they have been victims. Instead, he tries to put the fear of God into the ones who are perpetrating the fraud: "Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth?"

Sooner or later, fraudsters can expect to be found out. That is a truth that false prophets in Jeremiah's day had to face, and it is the same truth that modern-day liars and fraudsters face. It is best for liars to change their ways before they find themselves facing an angry victim with a broken heart, empty pockets and and a weapon in hand.  On catfish: THE TV SHOW, the hosts make like Jeremiah and attempt to persuade the romantic deceivers to give up their lying ways. Sometimes they are gentle, but sometimes they pour on the guilt and condemnation. Usually they succeed, in part because they understand that the lies tend to start out for an understandable (if usually somewhat selfish) reason. They appeal to the fraudster's sense of justice and fairness. 

Almost all of us are guilty of overdoing the charm and exaggerating or distorting the truth in some situation or other. Usually we are acting out of temporary feelings of desperation. It doesn't necessarily make us evil people, but it's not okay, and we need to heed Jeremiah and just cut it out.

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