by Mike Pyatt
How often has one heard, ”He seemed like such a nice, honest guy.” Belatedly discovering that he was a scoundrel, or worse. History’s replete with stories or events chronicling accounts of being deceived by external appearances and beguiling behavior. So you once opined confidently prior to this plunderer raiding your bank account and absconding with your life’s savings. Or when a future, serially abusive bridegroom, walked your only daughter down the aisle, displaying his deceptive deportment, that you, and her mother, misread as genuine love. Legions are hood-winked. Why does this happen routinely? Is it gullibility? Naïveté? Are we merely obsequious? What of the old bromide attributed to P.T. Barnum, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Most political junkies understand that soaring rhetoric, winsome stump speeches, and vacuous words are staples of elections, on both sides of the aisle. Most reelection campaigns rely on voter’s political amnesia and gullibility.
Despite dire warnings by the FBI, BBB and local law enforcement, scammers abound-on-line and on-the-phone. According to angrycitizen.com, there’re “eleven worst scams” from sophisticated fake IRS calls; arrest warrant scams; lottery scams; dating scams; Phishing scams; to fake check scams. Bargain “one day only” or “chance of a lifetime” promotions are popular ruses to exploit, to lure bargain hunters, and “get rich quick” schemes. Caveat emptor seems to be ignored-especially among the elderly, who are apparently most vulnerable. Is it just their age, diminished mental capacity, or are they greedy? Don’t they get that “Nigerian prince” or “Jamaican Lottery” are clearly bogus? Isn’t it obvious?
Some believe it’s the isolation from others that foster elderly vulnerability. No one watching out for them anymore. Others think it’s diminished cognition. They no longer smell “the kill” anymore. On the greedy level, many seniors feel financially insecure, and the sound of “easy money” is tempting. Perhaps that former “still small voice” doesn’t speak as before. Even those relatively well off aren’t exempt from the scammer, hoping to add to a sizable nest egg. They may be blinded by momentary greed. Professional scammers understand the pernicious dynamics. Anyone remember Bernie Madoff?
For those inclined to Biblical wisdom, there’s an intriguing verse in Proverbs 23:5, casting light on this subject, “Will you set your eyes on that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; They fly away like an eagle toward heaven.” Subsequent verses speak about human appetite; physical and inward yearnings. How can one set one’s eyes on that which is unseen? The context appears to be about chasing ephemeral desires. Riches, food, drink, and dubious relationships, “Do not let your heart envy sinners,” and “Do not mix with winebibbers, or with the gluttonous.” Portentous advice. Two thousands years later, it’s like reading today’s daily news. Modernity battles both. More than ten thousand people a year perish from driving drunk. One out of three incarcerated in prison are inebriated at the time of arrest. Obesity is rampant. The American Heart Association estimates nearly 60% of children age five to seventeen are severely overweight or obese. One in three adults are considered obese. That conundrum keeps Jenny Craig and Nutri-System flush with cash.
Evangelicals understand the ultimate virulent deception, and its origin, according to the Apostle Paul, who reminds us, “But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” (2 Cor.11:3) In our feigned sophisticated culture, that spirit of deception’s alive and well. Few recognize it, or care to acknowledge it. Deceit’s an act or practice intended to mislead by a false appearance or statement designed to lead people astray-falsehood masquerading as truth. “To see that which is not.” G.K. Chesterton remarked, “If you look at a thing 999 times, you are perfectly safe; if you look at it for the 1000th time, you are in danger of seeing it for the first time.” Scammers and deceivers employ tried and true tools of the trade, old as the Bible itself. One apprehended roofing scammer, after defrauding a rural Ohio neighborhood, authorities report that he’d cased the area for weeks, and discovered most residents were elderly “lonely women” who were “easy prey for flattery” from a handsome smooth talking, fawning salesman. They had no armor to protect them from his formidable arsenal.
The oldest form is flattery. Few can resist it. It’s a pretense strategy to target their victim gaining the upper-hand through feigned adulation. Hypocrisy pretends to be something it is not. Just as the early church (2 Tim.3:13), it’s true in the church today. Prosperity preachers, imposters and hucksters, prey on those who fall for their beguiling ruse, pretending to be more enlightened than those they are fleecing and misleading. In their bag of tricks, scammers also employ half-truths to ensnare those unaware. In Genesis, Joseph’s deceitful brothers used that ploy after selling him to the Midianites. They dipped his coat in blood, brought it to their father Jacob, and said, “We found this coat. Does it look like your son’s or not?” Technically, it was true, they found it. However, they omitted pertinent facts so they could dupe Jacob into believing a wild animal killed his son. Another scammer’s half-truth, “You’ll never get a deal like this!”
The most doleful form of deception is self-deception. The state of permitting one’s self to believe that which is patently false. It could be an unvalidated feeling, idea or situation, convincing one’s self it’s perhaps true. Eons ago, in space and time, Eve, when confronted with her sin, opted for, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” Though Satan seduced her, she simultaneously deceived herself, by her own inclination to believe a lie that convicted her of an act she’d rather ignore. None are exempt from that charge. That old adage, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t,” remains sage advice. C.S. Lewis, admitting he was deceived by sirens who denied the reality of a loving, righteous God, said, “Nothing can deceive unless it bears a plausible resemblance to reality.”
Scammers and cults have parlayed such deception into thriving businesses and counterfeit religious movements. Admitted fantasy rarely deceives adults. It’s the distortion of a true story that’s most beguiling. Is there any nostrum for this vexing infirmity we know as deception? First, understand we’re Fallen and predisposed to sin. Don’t be addled by exaggerated praise-you might begin to believe it’s true. What a mortifying moment, gazing into the mirror and identifying who’d deceived us initially, and who promulgates our continuance in that bondage. Stay in God’s Word as a barricade against deception and other conditions common to us all. Deception’s a lie wrapped in a fetching package nearly anyone would eagerly unwrap. Remain vigilant against deception regardless of its source. Like T.S. Eliot advised, pursue permanent things. What do you think?
Mike Pyatt’s a Natrona County resident. His email’s firstname.lastname@example.org