The subtle seduction of stories

Articles in the LOOKOUT section of this website span a number of decades and are re-published on behalf of Adrian van Leen for research purposes. Original dates are being added to articles so as to place them in their correct historical setting(s). Adrian has endeavoured to be as fair and accurate as possible at the time of the original writing, but please note that the original article information may no longer reflect the subsequent or current actions, values, beliefs, positions, opinions, teachings or policies held by individuals, groups and/or organisations referred to in the original published article at the time of writing. As people change and move on, the same often applies to related Internet links; some links referred to in articles may have been changed or may no longer be available online.

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Some of our older readers may recall a childhood song:

Tell me story, tell me story
Tell me story, remember what you said
You promised me you said you would
You got to give in so I’ll be good
Tell me a story, then I’ll go to bed

(Tell Me A Story / The Little Boy and the Old Man - Frankie Laine & Jimmy Boyd - May 1953)


We all like a good story. Stories can grab one’s attention, be a source of entertainment, stimulate our imagination and our thinking, illustrate truths and help us remember things.

Jesus was a master story teller. He told stories to which people could relate – stories that conveyed messages and meanings beyond the story itself. His parables have become timeless classics of heavenly truths taught through earthly stories.

The meanings, rather than historical actualities, are the important issue when it comes to parables. Was there really a Good Samaritan? Did a shepherd really pen his 99 sheep before he went looking for the lost one? Those questions are not relevant when considering the meanings and purposes of the parables.

Does that mean that the truthfulness of stories is not important?

Fictional stories can be used to illustrate particular points, or highlight specific truths – in such situations the truth of the meaning is simply highlighted. But if, as part of the truth claim, a fictional story is presented as fact; if biographical or personal stories are presented as fact, but turn out to be fiction, it amounts to deception. Instead of a true personal history we end up with lies, the truth is distorted and the account becomes untrustworthy.

This can be a very significant issue when it comes to personal stories. When people tell about themselves, we expect them to be honest and tell the truth.

Traditionally there have been people whose personal stories have been regarded as fanciful tales, tall tales, romances, yarns to entertain – sailors have traditionally had a reputation for ‘spinning a good yarn’. Australian bushmen were also regarded as ‘good romancers’. Often their stories were mixtures of fact and fiction that provided an evening’s light entertainment – but weren’t taken too seriously. Generally there were enough clues for the listeners to know which parts of the story were fantasy – and when well-travelled uncles entertained their nieces and nephews with dramatic tales of their experiences in far-away places, Mum or Dad would later warn their children to treat uncle’s stories ‘with a grain of salt’ – not too seriously, in other words.

We seem to have lost the ability to discern fiction from fact, tall tales from truthful accounts, particulalry in personal stories told today. Many people appear to assume that:

If it’s in a book – it must be true;
If it’s on the Internet – it must be true;
If it’s said in public meetings – it must be true;
If it’s claimed in church – especially if it’s told by a preacher – it must be true!;
If it’s claimed in church – especially if it’s very dramatic and told by a visiting itinerant evangelist – it must, most definitely, be true!

The sad reality is that this is NOT necessarily the case.

Unfortunately, there ARE people who profess to be Christians, and who tell lies about their own personal stories – they embellish their own personal history and experiences to make them more dramatic; to give them respectability and significance; to give them power and prestige; to improve their finances; to bring them fame and fortune. Their stories or presentations, especially in churches, are often a subtle mixture of truth and error; Biblical messages mixed with absolute lies, to enhance their presentation, prestige and status.

God is often referred to, or invoked, in these personal stories to give added credibility. The suggestion then comes, that if you have doubts about, or question the truthfulness of the account, you’re really questioning God. But it is not God’s abilities or powers that are the issues – rather the sad reality of deception and gullibility.

What do these people have in common:

Carlos - the Ancient Atlantean?
Mike Warnke - ex-Satanist?
John Todd - member of the Illuminati?
Alberto Rivera - Jesuit spy?
Rebecca Brown and her occult past?
Lauren Stratford - victim of Satanic Ritual Abuse?
Leo Taxil and Masonic Luciferian worship?
Mariah Monk and her Nun’s story?
Lobsang Rampa - the Lama from Tibet?
Carlos Castaneda - who became an American Shaman?
Norma Khouri and her Honour Killings claims?
Marlo Morgan and her experiences with cannibal Aboriginal wanderers?
Troy Lawrence - New Age convert to Christianity?
Michael Esses - converted Jewish Rabbi?

All of these people were liars, storytellers who weren’t what they claimed to be; people whose stories were nothing more than fabricated fantasies, BUT many people believed them and their stories – at least until some people did the hard work of checking out their claims (9 out of the 14 listed above were believed and popular with a great many Christians in the Western world!). Sadly, all of them are STILL believed by some people who claim that stories of their exposures are lies and are the work of enemies conspiring to destroy the truth. They prefer to believe the lies rather than the truth – because it fits in with their own preferred thinking.

The preceding listed storytellers and their fabricated fantasies have been investigated and found to be fraudulent. Many different people have been involved in that research, which we were able to also confirm, and then expose on 98.5 Sonshine FM in a series of radio talks presented by LOOKOUT/CCG Ministries’ Director, Adrian van Leen, in 2005. However, that hasn’t stopped some ‘true believers’ from preferring to believe the storytellers’ deceitful claims rather than accept the challenge of their lies being exposed.

Today we seem to live in an age of general gullibility with all sorts of ‘way out’ claims being accepted without question, and ancient superstitions – once regarded as silly nonsense – are being accepted as deeper, spiritual or supernatural ‘truth’. As a result there are those who play on this gullibility and general ignorance of deception and fraud. While some promote their claims in the marketplace of New Age gullibility, others ‘do the Christian circuit’, talking about Jesus; some appearing to be very humble; putting on a very good act and spinning their stories for the undiscerning to swallow: ‘hook, line and sinker’.

More discerning Christians have recognised that some churches, and church leaders, have developed a reputation for having anyone speak or conduct seminars; promoting any vaguely Christian (in appearance) groups and causes; being unable or unwilling to exercise any due diligence to check out any claims made in the name of Jesus. These less discerninng leaders and their communities seem to be blissfully unaware of any of the Scriptural warnings about false (convincing counterfeit) prophets; false teachers; false apostles and other ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’. Their naive attempt at due diligence is to ask anyone suspected (or accused) of being a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ if they are actually wolves. They accept, without any further examination, the denials of being wolves or false as proof of innocence, legitimacy and truthfulness.

Graham Cooke, writing to those interested in being involved in what he refers to as ‘The Prophetic’, calls for accountability, especially with those who are involved in para-church ministries, especially ‘itinerant’ evangelists or prophets who are invited to speak in churches around the country, or around the world. He says such people need to be solidly grounded in a local church where they are held accountable and where their ministry can be authenticated. He also calls for the ‘inviting church’ to be accountable for the speakers they invite:

‘As fellow members of the body of Christ, we have a right to insist that prophetic ministries that visit us are accountable for what they do...When prophetic ministries come to speak, the local church has the right to ask some hard questions... We cannot allow unaccountable people to come into our work and speak the word of God when no-one is speaking into their own lives. This level of accountability should not just exist for a prophet; itinerant evangelists, teachers, pastors, and apostles should all have to answer these hard questions. Accountability is best provided from below rather than imposed from above. Everyone should be requiring and requesting accountable relationships as part of the lifestyle of community with the kingdom of God...When evaluating a prophetic word, there are eight main tests to consider:
What is the biblical pattern?
Does it edify, exhort, and comfort?
What is the spirit behind the prophecy?
Does the prophecy conform to Scripture?
Does the prophecy glorify Jesus?
Is it manipulative or controlling? If so, what are the signs of that manipulation and control?
How do we handle negative prophecy?
How do we apply the tests?...
...Some Christians accept all prophecy without testing or weighing it. Of course, this is made difficult by the actions and antics of so-called prophets locked in a “man of God” syndrome. Their attitude declares, “I am the man of God. You must listen to me.” Any venture at accountability, any request for explanation, or any attempt at assessing the prophetic word is seen as an insult to the “man of God’s” integrity.’ (Cooke, Graham. Prophecy & Responsibility, 2007, Brilliant Bookhouse: California; pp.71-75)

It is a very common feature with most guru-figures and ‘inventive’ (lying) storytellers to invent dramatic and miraculous tales about themselves that few can (or would bother) to check and verify. There are often common elements, including such things as: particularly dramatic, traumatic or unusual childhood experiences; dramatic youth or young adult experiences, often including violence, criminal activities; very dramatic and miraculous conversion experiences - many add in the walking/escaping through closed doors element (‘after all, if God did it for Peter - Acts 12:1-19 - it might as well be added to “my” dramatic biography’), also good additions for many are dramatic injury or illness and healing claims - including everything from crippling demonic spearing in the legs to miraculously walking on broken legs and the like; conversion and/or post-conversion experiences of visiting heaven, or hell, meeting with, or receiving help from, (usually very tall) angels (often in white robes with golden belts and golden sandals), having connections or relationships with very prominent persons (most inventive story tellers play the name dropping game). The biographical stories, often including some, or many, of these ‘fantastic’ elements, draw people in to buy and read books, attend meetings, believe and accept whatever else the storyteller presents.

Consider highly promoted travelling evangelists, teachers and others. What is the ‘draw card’ – the focus of promotion – is it their message and the truth of their teaching – or dramatic stories focusing primarily on them, their early childhood; criminal past; amazing miracles God has done FOR them or THROUGH them (often unlike anything experienced by anyone else, and often superseding God’s laws of nature and creation); THEIR miraculous conversion?

In Singapore, a new faculty member at the Biblical Graduate School of Theology, Dr. Edwin Tay, was one of the chapel speakers in June 2009. The following comments on the BGST website describe Dr. Tay’s presentation:

Focusing on 2 Corinthians 4:1-12 he highlighted on Paul’s defense of his apostleship to Corinthians who didn’t think much of his preaching or rhetorical skills. But Paul’s way of defending himself was very unlike the false apostles who preached about themselves at the expense of the Gospel, by resorting to ‘secret and shameful ways’, ‘deception and distortion’. But Paul preached Christ, not himself, because he believed that the Gospel, being the source of God’s ‘all surpassing power’, is encased in the weak and fragile ‘jars of clay’, like himself. So Paul’s defense is to boast in his weaknesses so that the light of the Gospel might shine through his brokenness; and the life is being offered while death is at work in the clay jars. So what is the most powerful way of preaching the Gospel? It’s often difficult to resist the temptation to confuse jars for the treasure!’

Over the past few decades Christians have been taught over and over again to be trusting; not to question; not to doubt – even to go by their heart and not by their head (as if God made a big mistake in creating us with brains that make us think, reason, question and check things out).

The sad reality is that many Christians have become very gullible – particularly in religious issues – especially in accepting unquestioningly all sorts of personal stories – because these stories are told with Christian jargon and dramatic claims of God’s powers.

Remember that just because someone’s personal story COULD be true, doesn’t necessarily mean that it IS true! Just because it might be NICE or HELPFUL if someone’s personal story was true, doesn’t MAKE it true, or wholly true!

We need to avoid gullibility and exercise caution, promote truth – not error, and not be involved in any form of false witness, testimony or the promotion of unreliable hearsay.

Just because a biographical personal story is in a book, or on the Internet, or in an email, or because a friend or authority figure tells it, does not necessarily mean that it is true, or wholly true. All those others may have failed to thoroughly and properly check the evidence that might confirm or deny the truth of the matter. There are also those, including many Christians unfortunately, who don’t want the truth to get in the way of a good story – especially if it is profitable.

We all also need to recognise that we are more likely to be deceived and conned in the area of things we believe, or want to believe, than in relation to issues about which we are suspicious or which we oppose. This means that we need to be extra cautious, and more thoroughly check out, personal stories, claims and views that appear to agree with our beliefs, especially dramatic tales of miracles and God’s power.

I remember once being told of an American itinerant ‘evangelist’ visiting Australia. As I recall, in general, what I was told, the man’s main claim to fame was his story of dying and going to heaven – with vivid and dramatic descriptions of who and what he saw there – before being sent back to earth as ‘a witness to these things’. This man had visited Australia – and raised enormous donations from certain churches within the Christian community. He was staying in a private home and, at his host’s invitation, regularly telephoned home to his family and friends in the USA. It seems on one occasion his host went out, and returned early and unexpectedly – and apparently silently – for the host overheard his guest telling US friends on the phone about how gullible the Aussies were and how financially successful his ‘heavenly’ story telling was ‘down under’!

People just believed his story without checking it out.

Whatever happened to common sense? Most people used to understand that if something - including a story - was ‘too good’ to be true it probably WAS! (That is, it seemed too ‘far fetched’ to really be true, and therefore was probably false!)

When you have books and visiting speakers’ promotional blurbs presenting their stories as ‘the unbelievable true story’ – perhaps it IS unbelievable because it is (at least in part) untrue. It could possibly be another self-promotional fantasy storyteller, along the lines of so-called former Satanist – American Christian entertainer, Mike Warnke - who was eventually discredited for his fabrications. Warnke had built up a substantial world ministry and Christian entertainment circuit based on his supposed dramatic Satanist background, and his best selling ‘amazing true life story’: The Satan Seller. He led people to the Lord, and had ‘rave reviews’ as a great Christian, until the truth was uncovered, revealing that his supposed Satanist past had been part of his ‘romancing and fantasizing’. When he was ultimately exposed as a fraud, the fallout was quite devastating and brought great discredit to the cause of Christ.

Over the years we have discovered quite a number of characters and stories like Mike Warnke, and other supposed Christian authors whose authenticity was accepted and endorsed by many Christians, who never bothered with any tough questions. It wasn’t until someone finally DID begin to ask some questions – sadly often non-Christians bother to think and question before Christians do – and then the truth came out – painfully, accusingly and revealing Christian gullibility and laziness in thinking.

Someone recently expressed: ‘I just cannot understand how someone like this, that is so public, cannot be verified or exposed to be a fraud!’

It happens for a number of reasons:

1. The following quote came in response to a particular dramatic published biographical book: ‘I read [the] book when it was first published and it never occurred to me then to question it. That came from a pastor with writing skills and background. This is very common and usually based on the, often incorrect, assumption: Christians don’t ‘fantasize’, ‘romance’, ‘spin yarns’, exaggerate, or deceive others.

2. There’s another common and incorrect assumption: ‘someone else will have checked this (whatever it may be) out thoroughly - because reliable trustworthy people are endorsing/promoting it’

3. Christians are very trusting - perhaps too trusting - especially if the ‘right’ language or jargon is used, the right ‘buttons are pushed’ - or the ‘right’ circle of ‘friends’ is making recommendations (e.g. Pentecostals/Charismatics are more likely to accept recommendations from other Pentecostals/Charismatics - Bible based evangelicals [e.g. Brethren, Baptist etc] are more likely to accept recommendations from other Bible based evangelicals) - and therefore, less likely to have their recommendations questioned. ALSO - most Christians (and non-Christians as well) wouldn’t really know the kind of questions to ask, or be able to recognise inadequate answers.

4. We have become far too focused on ‘celebrity’ Christians to ‘draw in’ the non-Christians - and also far too ‘experience centred’ - this also relates to an increased emphasis on ‘signs, wonders, and miracles’ in an effort to emphasise that our God is a great and powerful God - the problem is that instead of focusing on God himself (revealed through Jesus Christ) we end up focusing on the experience (and perhaps ‘my experience is more dramatic than yours’ etc); on the supposed or presumed miracle or sign or wonder - and we end up uncritically swallowing every dramatic miracle story presented by a good story teller/writer.

We need to be reminded of Peter’s Biblical message and caution:

We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honour and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain…But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping. ( 2 Peter 1:16-2:3)

The storytellers were active back at the beginning of the Christian Church - hence Peter’s cautions, they are still active today - and WE need to be more cautious.

Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.
(1 Thessalonians 5:21-22)

(First published in TAKE A CLOSER LOOK, Vol.30, No.3; May-July 2009)