I never cease to be amazed by the weird things people are willing to believe. For some time now I have kept two Web sites handy–Symantec.com and Snopes.com—just for the occasional reality check.

For instance, we all have received e-mail chain letters that begin, “Beware, the dangerous blue cookie virus,” or some other ominous sounding name. “Don’t open this file as it will eat your hard drive.” A quick visit to Symantec.com lets us know if the warning is about a real virus or a hoax. If it’s a hoax we know we are safe to ignore the warning.

Others of these urban fairy tales reveal a more dark side to our collective human nature. A widely circulated e-mail message claims that a passage from the Koran, chapter 9, verse 11, has these words:  “For it is written that a son of Arabia would awaken a fearsome Eagle. The wrath of the Eagle would be felt throughout the lands of Allah and lo, while some of the people trembled in despair still more rejoiced; for the wrath of the Eagle cleansed the lands of Allah; and there was peace.”

That really would be spooky, if true. Chapter 9, verse 11—9/11 in the Koran describes the awakening of a fierce Eagle. An American bald eagle adorns our nation’s official seal. Did the Koran predict the 9/11 attack and America’s so-called liberation of Iraq? A quick visit to Snopes.com reveals it is simply not true. These words do not occur in the Koran.

I am convinced that our willingness to believe this sort of nonsense is rooted in a paranoid view of reality. How else can we explain the myriad of folks who believed that a major fast food chain was using worm meat in its hamburgers? Or the millions of people who annually believe that atheists have initiated legal action to ban all religious broadcasting.

Please, do not write the FCC—the lawsuit does not exist and never has.

It really doesn’t matter why we believe the lie–lies are lies and they are not good for us. Wouldn’t it be sad if America’s legacy in the 21st century is that we succumbed to the big lie?

Of course as bad as believing the big lie is ignoring simple truths. Ideas like the New Testament assertion that love is the most important thing in the world. Or Jesus’ admonition that real faith makes sure “the least of these” are cared for first. Jesus also warned that public piety leads to self-righteousness, but we run from that bit of wisdom like it was a snake.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus encouraged us to “not be afraid.” If we choose to believe it, we can live in a world that is safe and sustaining—the birds and flowers seem to do all right.

Jesus also challenged us to live in the world at peace with one another. Or to use his words, we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Unfortunately, when we’re always afraid, neighbors become enemies. Just like the lawyer of old, in our fear we narrowly define who our neighbor can be. And that does make the world an unsafe place.

Besides being a good neighbor can really have a big pay-off. Did you hear about the guy who stopped to help a man with a flat tire on the side of the road? It turned out the man with the flat was Donald Trump and out of gratitude he paid off the other guy’s mortgage on his house.

James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.

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