The Los Angeles Times has a piece pegged to the Lance Armstrong story about the universality of lying.
Though we profess to hate it, lying is common, useful and pretty much universal. It is one of the most durable threads in our social fabric and an important bulwark of our self-esteem. We start lying by the age of 4 and we do it at least several times a day, researchers have found. And we get better with practice.
In short, whatever you think about Lance Armstrong‘s admission this week that he took performance-enhancing drugs to fuel his illustrious cycling career, the lies he told may be no more persistent or outsized than yours, according to psychologists and others who study deception. They were just more public. And the stakes were bigger.
As I read this, Romans 3:23 kept leaping up in my mind. I also thought of GK Chesterton’s observation that original sin is the only part of Christian doctrine that can be proved.
As the story says in the next paragraph:
“People do it because it works,” said Robert Feldman, dean of social and behavioral sciences at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and a leading researcher on thepsychology of lying. “We get away with lies all the time. Usually they’re minor: ‘I love your tie.’ ‘You did a great job.’ But in some cases they’re bigger, and in Armstrong’s case, he was pretty confident he could get away with it.”
It’s not easy to lie. Psychologists and neuroscientists have found that — initially, at least — deceit requires mental exertion for most of us. The effort to reconcile a lie with the truth — or with our notions of ourselves as good people — takes up so much brainpower that as we do it, we may actually forget to perform such effortless acts as blinking.
To sustain a lie over years, and against mounting evidence of its untruth, liars large and small must “develop an infrastructure around it,” Feldman said — a litany of justifications that makes it possible to cling to deception and convince ourselves that we are good people in spite of it.
“But as time goes on, it gets easier,” Feldman said.
So, sin is universal and it gets easier to do the more often we do it. I did not expect a theological tract while reading the LA Times. Maybe that is not what the times expected either. But I that is what I found there.