“Don’t Go Listening to Lies….”

by the Revd Canon Rosie Harper, Chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham and Member of General Synod

Rosie Haarper

I rather enjoy taking assembly. Our school invites the local vicar to kick off the week first thing on Monday morning. Before I am introduced they sing a song. Hymns are long gone. They sing along to an audio backing and it’s all really rather good. Catchy tunes that they are likely to keep singing during the day and a worthy message. God gets a look in, and all sorts of ideas about living in a kind and generous way. Given some of the nonsense we sing in church I think they get a pretty good deal.

This week’s song was very powerful at all sorts of levels:

Don’t go listening to lies
‘Cause once they get inside
They’ll shape the things you feel and do.
Words that people may have said,
Get stuck inside your head,
Unless you learn to think things through.

In the context of Mental Health Awareness Week this was important stuff. Maybe children are specially vulnerable to lies getting inside their head. Lies about how much it matters what you look like, what you weigh. Lies about who is acceptable and who is to be scorned. Lies about the importance of money and fame. Lies that tell you that you are less valuable than other people, or indeed more valuable.

As adults we are also vulnerable to lies, nowhere more so than in the context of religion.

In their autobiographies both Jayne Ozanne and Vicky Beeching tell of how lies about their sexuality got inside their head and led to life threatening consequences.

The script runs throughout pretty much every religion. In order to be a cohesive community, local, national or even world-wide there needs to be a community identity. This means that the persona of the ‘true believer ‘ emerges. This can involve racial background, it can be dress code, it can be social behaviour and of course it can be adherence to a moral code. People who wish to belong are scrutinised,  and have those aspects of their lives that don’t fit in identified . They are instructed to change. The fundamental lie is that you simply being you won’t do. Despite the fact that the curtain in the temple was torn in  two at the crucifixion, religious leaders still take it upon themselves to act as mediators between individuals and God. They use the power of the religion to control and if it is a religion that does a personal God then they obviously frame that control as ‘the will of God.’

This is extraordinarily powerful stuff. Once you see this you can begin to understand why intelligent and privileged boys believed John Smythe’s cruel theology and submitted to GBH. It’s an example of the biggest lie that religion tells people and it is at the core of why so many good people reject faith. The lie is that God is cruel.

Of course no-one actually says that. They cover it up with the little word ‘but’. ‘Of course God is love, but he (in this version God is always ‘he’) is also just. ‘ Or  -‘God is love but he loves you so  much he wants you to leave the person you love most in the world and live and loveless, sexless life.’

The majority of people grow out of this form of religion. Either they realise that Jesus meant it when he said ‘love the Lord your God……and love your neighbour’ or they escape from faith altogether.

But there is a world of difference between knowing in your mind that something is not true and experiencing it. In The Times on 16.10.19 Daniel Finkelstein explores the way public lies can be exposed but it doesn’t change anything. People make up their minds on the basis of false information, but when they discover that it is false they often still stick with the original opinion. It’s too late. The emotional effect of the false information has been internalised.

So if you have been taught that God is basically judgemental and potentially cruel -that God is watching you…..then even once you’ve learnt that is far, far from the truth, it still leaves you fearful.

My mother grew up in that sort of faith community. She loved her parents deeply and in the end had to leave the country to escape the religion without hurting them. Even so she didn’t cut her hair until her mother had died because, er, God didn’t want her to have short hair. Even so she felt so guilty when she went to the cinema, although she no longer believed it was wicked.

These are trivial examples. But what about the very deepest stuff? The lie that this angry God will never fully accept you the way he created you? That it isn’t only what you do, but who you are that is wrong? This doesn’t mend overnight. If you are looking for healing it seems that God asks us to be care for one another: to be the incarnate love that Jesus demonstrated and we are now responsible for.  This is why support groups have such an important role. We all need to have the experience of being loved, not just the idea of it, and that includes the love of God. If this faith of ours is worth anything at all it must surely be evidenced in the way we treat one another.

The children’s song was indeed spot on.

Don’t go listening to lies
‘Cause once they get inside
They’ll shape the things you feel and do.
Words that people may have said,
Get stuck inside your head,
Unless you learn to think things through.

We need to be very careful about the way we talk about God, because when we get it wrong the consequences can be very bitter indeed. Thankfully when we get it right there can be healing and freedom and life in all it’s fullness.

This entry was posted in Human Sexuality, Rosie Harper, Social Justice. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to “Don’t Go Listening to Lies….”

  1. williambuggins says:

    John 13..”A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

    What does loving one another as Christians involve?

    2 Peter 1..”3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

    Being a Christian is not about accepting everybody and every thing as they are, it is about knowing we have been forgiven our sins and self willfulness and yielding our lives to Christ Jesus because He loves us completely. So no, if we profess to be Christians we shouldn’t judge each other, we shouldn’t put each other down, but rather seek to become more like Jesus.


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  3. Patrick Hall says:

    Really good to read the words to the song from the school assembly and so much better than the “sticks and stones” mantra of my school days.


  4. Anne says:

    Well done,Rosie. Brilliant song. but how sad that Anglican Mainstream has suggested it is in opposition to the General Thanksgiving in the Book of Common Prayer. Martin Davie says, “As she sees it, the fundamental lie to which we should not listen is the lie that there is something wrong with us in God’s eyes. In her words, ‘The fundamental lie is that you simply being you won’t do.’ She goes on to say that we need to reject, and be mentally healed from, are the ideas that there is an ‘angry God’ who ‘will never fully accept you the way he created you’ and that ‘it isn’t only what you do, but who you are that is wrong.’
    If we compare what Canon Harper says with the words of the general confession we can see that the two are totally incompatible, The Book of Common Prayer tells us that ‘there is no health in us.’ Canon Harper tells us that this is a lie. If one is true, then the other is not.”
    How very sad. The tragedy is that so many of us accepted as children that we are not good enough, that there is something wrong with us – the doctrine of original sin. But God saw what he had made and it was good. Thank you Rosie, we need to keep on hearing this truth.


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