Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Holes in the truth

I know I have a lot of faults.  I can be prickly and snarky sometimes, I'm easily frustrated, and I have a broad streak of impatience.  Sometimes I swear too much.  (Okay, I often swear too much.)  I'm too hard on people when I feel like they're making excuses or are devolving responsibility that should rightfully be theirs onto someone else's shoulders.  Sometimes I'm not a team player when it would be easier (and kinder) just to cooperate and be pleasant.

But one fault I can say I do not fall prey to, and in fact cannot really understand; and that is being sneaky and dishonest.

If I tell you something, you can pretty much rely on its being the truth.  I've said it to my students, I've said it to my own children: you'll make mistakes, but when you do, own up.  Don't compound your mistakes by lying to me about them.  You get into a habit of lying, and you'll find it comes more and more easily -- and you become more and more facile at justifying your lies to yourself and others.  One lie, I've found, so often leads to another.

And another.

It's why I had a reaction of complete revulsion to the news yesterday that Rickey Wagoner, the driver for the Dayton (Ohio) Regional Transportation Authority who claimed that he'd been shot and stabbed by three black teenagers, seems to have made the whole thing up, including the claim that gunshots aimed at his chest had been stopped by a bible that he carried in his shirt pocket.  As Exhibit A, he had a small paper-bound bible with not one, but two bullets lodged in it.

A miracle, he claimed.

[image courtesy of Open Clip Art Library]

And so did a lot of his fellow Christians.  God had his hand over Wagoner, had shielded him from harm through an attack that could well have killed him.  A lot of non-theists were less impressed -- I was reminded of the wonderful quote from Terry Pratchett's Discworld novel Jingo:
"This belonged to my great-granddad," [the sergeant] said.  "He was in the scrap we had against Pseudopolis and my great-gran gave him this book of prayer for soldiers, ‘cos you need all the prayers you can get, believe you me, and he stuck it in the top pocket of his jerkin, ‘cos he couldn’t afford armour, and next day in battle - whoosh, this arrow came out of nowhere, wham, straight into this book and it went all the way through to the last page before stopping, look, you can see the hole." 
"Pretty miraculous," Carrot agreed. 
"Yeah, it was, I s’pose," said the sergeant.  He looked ruefully at the battered volume.  "Shame about the other seventeen arrows, really."
But even so, even the atheists did admit that Wagoner had been (if nothing more) damned lucky.

It turns out instead that what he seems to be is a damned liar.

Not only did Wagoner apparently fabricate the whole attack -- the allegation is that he shot himself in the leg and inflicted several shallow cuts on his own body -- he seems to have shot the bible himself.  Forensics tests with an identical book, placed on a gel dummy, showed that at the distance the gunshots were discharged toward Wagoner, the bible couldn't have stopped the bullets -- they'd have gone right through, and traveled another fifteen centimeters into his body.  All of the injuries, investigators say, were consistent with self-inflicted wounds, and the entire story is not just implausible, but impossible.

What, exactly, was he hoping to accomplish by his fabrication?  To create the appearance of a miracle to edify the religious?  To convince the non-religious of the error of their ways?  Or, even worse, to cast aspersions on black teenagers, further ramping up the fear and suspicion of minorities and youth?  Or some combination of the above?

Whatever his motivation was, he's not saying.  He hasn't spoken to police or reporters regarding the allegations, and has refused to make a statement.  DRTA has apparently fired him, though, so the case against his story seems pretty solid.  "After conducting a comprehensive investigation that has spanned nearly four months, the police department has concluded Mr. Wagoner fabricated his statements," DRTA executive director Mark Donaghy said.  "All of us at RTA are angry at the thought that an employee would allegedly mislead the police, the public and us and use ugly racial stereotypes in doing so."

Yup.  And make all of the well-wishers, not to mention his fellow Christians who were duped into thinking they'd been touched by a genuine miracle, look like fools.  The whole thing is just repulsive.

And, for me, kind of incomprehensible.  What could possibly motivate someone to go to these lengths -- cutting himself, and shooting himself in the leg?  Wagoner had been employed by DRTA for ten years and had an "excellent work record" -- an indication, at least, that he wasn't showing any obvious signs of mental illness.  It seems to be a hoax, a fabrication, a lie outright, crafted for his own reasons, with deliberate intent to deceive.

That I cannot understand.  Although I disagreed from the start with the religious folks who praised Wagoner's apparent narrow escape from death as a miracle, I find myself feeling pretty sympathetic toward them at the moment.  It's always hard to have your trust betrayed, which is why dishonesty cuts so deep.

Other than charges of lying to the police, I'm not sure what legal action can be taken against Wagoner, but it certainly seems unjust that he should get off scot free after duping so many people.  I hope that at least, he is made to face the media and the public, and give a statement admitting that he lied.  Because to come back to where I started: dishonesty sucks.  There is no gentler way to put it.

1 comment:

  1. This is something any decent theist would agree with, wholeheartedly, lying about being attacked like that is just disgusting.
    It isn't always religious, either, look at Susan Smith, who drowned her sons and blamed a black carjacker, or poor Tawana Brawley, who claimed she'd been raped by three white racists, trying to escape her stepfather's abuse.
    Some things are just plain wrong.