We are easily fooled and sometimes, I'm convinced, because we want to be. Jesus warned of impostors and they continue to come in all shapes and sizes. The following is about one of the greatest hoaxes of all time. I wrote this on April 1st, 2007.
It seemed appropriate. In conjunction with April Fools' Day, CBS Sunday Morning ran a piece on Clifford Irving this morning. A movie, The Hoax, is set to premier this month, chronicling Irving's fake biography of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes. In 1970, the forty year old Irving persuaded the McGraw-Hill publishing company to give him three quarters of a million dollars, convincing them he had been chosen by Hughes to write his life story. Irving produced handwritten letters from Hughes which Irving himself had forged. (The letters even passed the scrutiny of hand writing experts.) He volunteered to take, and passed, a polygraph test. When asked on the lie detector if had ever met Hughes, Irving truthfully answered yes, later explaining he had been introduced to Hughes as a little boy, allowing him to give an honest answer. The scheme finally disintegrated when the one thing Irving thought would never occur, happened. Howard Hughes, the most secretive celebrity in America, went public and denounced the biography as fraudulent. Irving, his wife, and Richard Suskind, who had helped him make up the Hughes interviews, all served jail time. Clifford Irving, Cornell educated and blessed with the boldness that only con men can muster, became synonymous with intellectual fabrication.
As they discussed the movie in which Richard Gere plays the role of Irving, I was amazed at the reaction of the real life scammer. Clifford Irving, now seventy-six, appeared to be very offended that the facts of the movie were inaccurate. Can you say ironic? How could anyone pull off a stunt for as long as Irving did? We believe because we want to believe. Hughes was such a fascinating character that the public ate up the slightest bit of information about his life as an aviator, financier, and romancer of the most beautiful women in show business. Irving's claims were so outlandish- he even fooled brutal interviewer Mike Wallace- that they had to be true. There are many New Testament cautions for believers to be on the watch for deceivers. Jesus foretold impostors claiming to be him. The epistles follow that theme, sounding the alarm that Christians can be tricked, if we are not careful, by smooth arguments and empty words. We laugh when someone pulls one over on us. But when the deceit is spiritual in nature, Paul warns of the wrath of God, no laughing matter. Irving's hoax, which he claimed was never meant to be malicious, landed him in prison for over a year. Deceptions which impact on our faith can have a much more stringent, and permanent, sentence.
Applicable quote of the day:
"I was on a train of lies. I couldn't jump off."
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