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My friend, Larry Osborn, writes…

It is no news flash that smart people can do some pretty dumb things. But lots of times we forget that smart people can also believe some pretty dumb things.

What possessed a military genius like Napoleon to think that the harsh Russian winter would be no match for his troops? Sure, they were well trained and well equipped, but it’s not as if he had a shred of historical evidence to support his decision to march on.

What caused the leading scientists and thinkers of Galileo’s day to ignore evidence they could see with their own eyes and brand him as a heretic and a quack?

And why would an otherwise brilliant leadership team at IBM bet the farm on main frames and practically give away the PC, as well as the underlying operating system, to a young programmer named Bill Gates?

All of these, and many other equally baffling decisions, were made by people far smarter than you or me. Yet, in hindsight, they all look like idiots.

What happened?

In each case, an otherwise intelligent person badly misinterpreted the facts, made an incorrect assumption, or relied upon information that we now know to be completely false—with disastrous consequences. Sometimes they were confused by cultural bias (which at times can be so strong that it literally blinds us to the truth). In other cases, their underlying assumptions were so widely believed and accepted that no one thought to question them. Sometimes they were done in by a bad case of wishful thinking. But whatever the cause, they weren’t alone. History is filled with examples of otherwise intelligent people who acted upon amazingly goofy assumptions—and paid a high price for doing so.

We, as Christians, aren’t immune. Even a highly moral, deeply sincere, smart Christian, with the best theological pedigree, has no guarantee of protection from the consequences of a bad decision based on flawed assumptions. I like to put it this way: the wisdom of Solomon + inaccurate facts or faulty assumptions= a fool’s decision

A spiritual urban legend is just like a secular urban legend. It’s a belief, story, assumption, or truism that gets passed around as fact. In most cases the source is a friend, a Sunday-school class, a Bible study, a devotional, a book, or even a sermon. Because they sound so plausible and come from a reputable source, spiritual urban legends are often accepted without question and then quickly passed on. Once widely disseminated, they tend to take on a life of their own. They become almost impossible to refute because “everyone” knows they’re true. Anyone who dares to question their veracity gets written off as spiritually dull, lacking in faith, or liberal.

Admittedly, the consequences of some spiritual misconceptions aren’t particularly devastating. For instance, if someone mistakenly believes that the Bible says that “God helps those who help themselves” or “a penny saved is a penny earned” or that Jesus was some sort of soft-skinned Western European guy with blue eyes who walked from town to town in an old bathrobe saying profound things in a wispy voice—kind of a mystical hippy on Dramamine— it will throw them off a degree or two, but it will hardly destroy their faith.

But far too often the consequences are spiritually devastating.

Think of the disillusionment that sets in when someone writes off God for failing to keep a promise that he never made. Or the despair that follows a step of faith that turns out to have been a leap onto thin ice.

I look forward to reading Larry’s book.

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