Lying and gullibility as a religious problem

by Bob Schwartz

Scholar and author Susannah Heschel, daughter of Abraham Joshua Heschel, has written an introduction to a recent collection of her father’s work, Thunder in the Soul: To Be Known by God.

Here she writes about his religious view of lying and gullibility in America, a problem that apparently is still with us:  

That our religiosity must be authentic to who we are as individuals is an old Hasidic teaching from Menachem Mendel, the rebbe of Kotzk, about whom my father wrote a two-volume book in Yiddish. The Kotzker rebbe, a complex and highly original thinker, insisted on truth, sincerity, and authenticity and loathed mendacity. My father wrote that book toward the end of his life, during the years he was active against the war in Vietnam. That war made him sick: he was outraged over the lies of American politicians and the callousness of a government killing thousands of innocent civilians. Yet why were Americans deceived by falsehoods of their government? The lies of politicians were abhorrent, but so was the gullibility of Americans. This was a religious problem, my father felt; people can want to be deceived. Do not deceive, the Kotzker rebbe insisted, and that also means do not deceive oneself by being gullible.