Truth or Falsehood, Charisma or Buffoonery?
Posted on 13 June 2016, 8:08
It has become increasingly clear to me over the years that one cannot rely on history books, the media, or Internet references for historical “truth.” So much of what passes as “history” is subject to the biases or prejudices of the historian or the reporter. Much of it depends on rumor or hearsay and has been increasingly distorted as it is retold by newer historians and reporters who skew their write-ups to their own predilections. Semantics plays a big part in the distortion as different meanings are given to different words by different people.
Perhaps the best example of all this is the Bible, which has been subject to various translations and interpretation over the centuries. According to Dr. Robert A. Morey, a professor of Apologetics and Hermeneutics, the word nephesh is used 754 times in the Hebrew Bible, but it takes on 30 different meanings today, ranging from “soul” and “the dead” to “fish” and “dogs,” while the Greek word aion is found in the New Testament 108 times and is given 10 different meanings, including “forever,” “ages,” “occasionally,” and “never.” What we read in the English Bible as “everlasting punishment” meant “age-long pruning” in the original Greek. Does anyone doubt that the various scribes chose the verbiage that best suited the dogma and doctrine of the authorities they represented or their own personal beliefs?
A more individual example was discussed in my blog of July 13, 2015 concerning Mary Todd Lincoln, the wife of our 16th president. While many historians have focused more on what they see as Mary Lincoln’s objectionable characteristics – her excessive spending, her mood swings, her outspokenness – a thorough reading of recorded history suggests much exaggeration of the negative and understatement of the positive. Writing in 1887, John Nicolay, who served as secretary to President Lincoln, said that accounts of Mary Lincoln’s bizarre behavior were overstated. To the objective reader of the many Lincoln biographies, Mary can be seen as intelligent, shrewd, eloquent, affectionate, witty, gregarious, debonair, cultured, frank, and very much devoted to her husband and children.
Indications are that many of the negative portrayals of Mary Lincoln originated with William Herndon, Lincoln’s law partner and early biographer. Apparently Mary disliked Herndon, said to be an alcoholic, from the beginning, and avoided contact with him as much as possible. Herndon got his revenge when he wrote and spoke about Lincoln and his wife after the president was assassinated. It was Herndon who started the story that Ann Rutledge was Lincoln’s “true love,” not Mary, but indications are that Herndon greatly exaggerated Lincoln’s relationship with Rutledge in order to hurt Mary.
As I see it, the grossest distortions of truth are found on the Internet in the Wikipedia biographies of various mediums. If we are to believe Wikipedia contributors, all mediums are frauds. At least, I have yet to find a genuine medium in any Wikipedia biography. It is clear to anyone who knows anything about mediumship, that the Wikipedia contributors do not understand mediumship or are know-nothing debunkers. If the medium failed to produce phenomena on a particular occasion or if some skeptical observer didn’t grasp what was going on, it was reported that the person was a charlatan, and those reports have survived over the years because of various prejudices and a general lack of information. It’s as if they were to call Babe Ruth a failure as a baseball player because he struck out twice as many times as he hit home runs.
I know I’ll take some flak for this example of what I’ll call “history run amok,” as so many people seem to believe that the late Muhammad Ali ranks up there with Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Padre Pio when it comes to revered individuals. As an avid sports fan since the 1940s, I would rank Ali high on a list of the greatest athletes I have seen, maybe even in my top 10, but I fail to see his buffoonery as “charisma” or to see him as the “Second Coming,” as the media would have us believe.
To the best of my recollection, the bombastic celebrations of victory in nearly all sports began with Ali and the emergence of television during the 1960s. Before then, there were very few ostentatious displays of ego. I can recall no surly displays of emotion, no menacing gestures, no pumping of the arm and fist, no pounding of the chest, no cupping of the ears and beckoning to the crowd for more applause, no punching the sky with a snarl, no shaking of the fist at the crowd, no idiotic end zone dances, no diatribe, before Ali came along, except in professional wrestling, which was not really “sport.” I remember when athletes celebrated victory with a smile and an appreciative nod or with a tip of the cap. Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Sandy Koufax, and Floyd Patterson come to mind as athletes who knew how to win with grace and humility. Maybe “class” is a better word. More recently, I’d put Cal Ripken, Jr., Ichiro Suzuki, Derek Jeter, and Tim Tebow in that category of class acts.
After Ali’s recent death, I watched various television newscasters, commentators, and journalists, not to mention our current president and a past president, pay homage to him with a reverence usually reserved for heads of state or great philanthropists. Some of them were not born or old enough to have witnessed Ali do his act in the prize-fighting ring, but obviously they have bought into the legend – a legend that seems to have been created by a need for sensationalism among journalists, especially television journalists, and one fueled by anti-war activism (since Ali rejected military service). In effect, the world’s greatest play warrior refused to be a real warrior. That paradox apparently contributed to the legend and somehow resulted in buffoonery or tomfoolery being translated to charisma.
As I see it, it is all part of our celebrity-worshiping culture, resulting from our materialistic and hedonistic ways. Those who no longer have an anthropomorphic God to look up to have a need for some icon, some hero to idolize, and in the search for such a human champion emotion and prejudice prevail over reason. Those same emotions and prejudices influence the history we read or hear about.
All that is not to suggest that the truths I accept are absolute rather than subjective and relative. It may very well be that Ali deserves all that homage, that all mediums are fakes, that Mary Lincoln was really a “witch,” that the Bible is the literal and true word of God. Or the “truth” may be in some shade of gray that our senses have difficulty in discerning and which escapes historians and reporters in their efforts to offer a black and white picture we can fully grasp rather than a very fuzzy or abstract one. If we all had the absolute truth, life probably wouldn’t offer the same challenges and we wouldn’t have the same opportunities to learn and evolve spiritually. Moreover, I don’t think it would be as much fun and many of us wouldn’t have anything to write about.
Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.
Next blog post: June 27
Thank you for your comment. I was thinking about this again during the Olympic Games last week when the TV commentators were talking about Usain Bolt’s “charisma” being much like that of Ali. At least Bolt blessed himself before the start of the race and knelt in prayer after. I know it is more clowning for the crowd than an expression of ego, but what bothers me is that the TV media gives so much attention to it and then kids are emulating that type of behavior in their little leagues, not so much as clowning but as boasting.
Koufax was one of my favorites, too.
Michael Tymn, Sat 27 Aug, 06:33
I agree with you completely about Muhammed Ali aka Cassius Clay. I remember clearly that fight with Sonny Liston and how we kids (I was ten at the time) could not believe Ali’s conceited self important behaviour after his win. And yes that was the beginning of end zone antics and self glorification in sports that kept getting worse and worse. I ended up hating pro sports by the end of the 70’s for that very reason. BTW, my favorite athlete of all time was Sandy Koufax.
I have ordered a couple of your books. I have been studying the afterlife and the paranormal ever since my 20’s when I started having out of body experiences. I ended up becoming first a Christian at age 41 and then a Catholic at age 58 as a result of my studies and experiences. What I love about Catholicism is that it provides the means and the motivation for us to improve our morality and character via the sacraments. This is especially true with the examination of conscience prior to confession.
Yes the Church does not go into detail about the afterlife only that we either go to Heaven or Hell when we die, however, purgatory, which is for those who are headed to heaven but need purfication first, could theoretically cover a multitude afterlife realms. But the bottom line is, we all need improvement in being able to truly love our neighbor and live upright moral lives. A little fear of hell goes a long way in supplying the needed motivation…..
Charles NeSmith, Fri 26 Aug, 13:36
I agree Mike Thanks for your words of wisdom Sorry I’m reading this so late
PS I moved into my house on May 28th and the contractor and I are still fixing things but I’m in!!!
Karen Herrick PhD, Wed 22 Jun, 20:46
You are probably right relative to Mother Teresa. I don’t know that much about her, only that she was/is revered by a certain segment of the population. Then again, if we are here to learn by overcoming adversity, what better way to learn than by overpopulation? We wouldn’t have many opportunities to learn in a perfect world.
Thanks also to Jane, Amos, John, and Rex for their comments.
Michael Tymn, Mon 20 Jun, 00:28
Mother Teresa? By universal consent—so now a “fact”—a saint, the picture of moral perfection. One on one, she no doubt was compassionate. She was also stupid, opposing birth control because of her Catholic ideology, so now India has grown to 1.3 billion people and is on track to become the world’s most populous country by 2022 (at least Wikipedia says so).
Maybe India can “support” wall-to-wall people in purely economic terms. In human terms, if anyone still thinks about quality of life, it is a disaster. (Of course the United States is following in India’s footsteps for a population explosion, with its de facto open borders; it just isn’t as far along the same route).
So Mother Teresa is one of the greatest humanitarians of all time. Everybody knows it. (I expect scathing comments in reply to mine.) Another “truth” that, in my view, is mistaken.
Rick Darby, Sat 18 Jun, 18:41
Well said Rex.
Amos Oliver Doyle, Fri 17 Jun, 18:28
Hi Michael, you don’t have to apologize for your critique of Muhammad Ali. The fact that somebody as aggressive and egomaniacal as Muhammad Ali was deluged with a tidal wave of fawning eulogy upon his recent passing, tells you much about the nature of our contemporary society and the mass media industry which acts as a propaganda voice for the established myths of that society.
Dr Martin Luther King was a contemporary of Ali, but was a generous visionary with a powerful and credible message of healing and reconciliation between the races, which did vastly more for the emancipation and standing of Afro-Americans than all of Ali’s vainglorious boasting of “I Am The Greatest” could ever have done. Both Dr King and Ali opposed the Vietnam War, but King did so because of his profound principle of Non-Violence, whereas Ali, acting from pure spite against his own country, converted to the violent and sexist religion of Islam, and then made a lucrative career from the violent blood sport of professional boxing.
The fawning media treatment of Ali upon his death is just another predictable but depressing example of political correctness and tendentious myth-making triumphing over unfashionable truth which people clearly don’t want to hear in a society which is now totally adrift from any proper moral compass.
rex fleming, Fri 17 Jun, 08:59
Right on, Michael.
John Finnemore, Mon 13 Jun, 20:24
I’m convinced that the so many occurrences of uncertainty and questionableness of events in afterlife evidence and communication are intentional and “managed” to encourage us to think, question, and decide for OURSELVES in these very important matters.
Jane Katra, Mon 13 Jun, 19:00
I agree that “So much of what passes as “history” is subject to the biases or prejudices of the historian or the reporter. Much of it depends on rumor or hearsay and has been increasingly distorted as it is retold by newer historians and reporters who skew their write-ups to their own predilections.” The science of consciousness from India includes the concept that humanity is evolving in its capacities for perceiving multiple dimensions or frequency domains of consciousness. It is clear that people are only able to appropriately write about the level of consciousness of another person that the writer himself has realized…..We can read any number of interpretations of the lives, intentions and perceptions of Gandhi and Helen Blavatsky, for instance, but only spiritually evolved people have any true notion of the wisdom they were actually sharing.
I have to say it again, Michael. You are at your best when you speak from your heart. You have written what I have tried to say many times and was ignored. I believe that we do not know the complete ‘truth’ about anything, really. The field of parapsychology is rife with people who have a ‘will to believe’ and they pick and choose and elaborate until they have something that fits with their preconceived ideas.
I too believe that Mary Lincoln was under appreciated. For goodness sake! What that woman had to go through in life. How many among us could withstand what she endured.
Good comments about Cassius Clay. I remember him very well.
I see you are becoming very philosophical and have regained your sense of humor when you say that it wouldn’t be as much fun and writers wouldn’t have anything to write about if all they had was absolute truth.
Good job Michael. Best of luck to you. - AOD
Amos Oliver Doyle, Mon 13 Jun, 13:19
Add your comment