Culture At Large

Proctor & Gamble & the devil

Andy Rau

Remember the "Proctor & Gamble is a Satanic organization" rumors? They've largely faded from public consciousness (although not so much that you probably haven't forgotten receiving those emails), but looking back at them provides some insights into human dishonesty and gullibility. Fred Clark at Slacktivist offers some thoughts as he looks back at the Proctor & Gamble "controversy."

The gist of the rumors was this: the president of Proctor & Gamble supposedly admitted on a popular talk show that he donated a certain percentage of P&G profits to the Church of Satan. You'd think that story is too obviously ridiculous even for The Onion, but evangelicals bought it hook, line, and sinker—so much so that P&G was unable to quell the rumor even after producing a vast quantity of counter-evidence and supporting testimony from respected evangelical leaders:

Proctor & Gamble had prepared the dossier to combat this zombie rumor. The company had put together its own documents disproving the story and disavowing any connection to the Evil One or to his church. They had collected letters from Donahue, Sally Jesse, Oprah and several other talk show hosts attesting that no one from the company had ever appeared on their programs, much less attempted to use such an appearance to spread the unholy gospel of Satanism. P&G had also collected an impressive array of letters from religious leaders -- the archbishop of Cincinnati, Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, among others -- all of whom urged their followers not to believe this stupid, stupid lie.

The problem, Clark notes, is that some people were so convinced of the rumor's truth that when they were confronted by evidence and testimony to the contrary, they found it easier to believe that said evidence was part of a grand conspiracy than to accept that the original rumor was false.

Gullibilty, and the fierce unwillingness to relent in the face of contrary evidence, are not flaws unique to Christians, of course. But it's disappointing to realize that we as believers, despite our emphasis on spiritual truth, seem to be so easily strung along by claims that push the right buttons in our mental/spiritual mindset.

This makes me think of other Christian Urban Legends that I've encountered in my own online interactions, all in the last five years:

  • Harry Potter is a witchcraft training tool (remember all those emails based on the Onion article, and how not even showing that the story started with The Onion seemed to have any effect?)
  • Bible versions other than the King James are Satanic New Age plots (which would put a vast swath of modern Christendom into the "minions of Satan" category)
  • Barack Obama is really a secret Muslim (and his years-long attendance at a Christian church just proves it, because it means he's gone undercover or something to convince us he's a Christian)

What's the common thread in all these false stories that sneaks these rumors past the rational part of brains, the part that would normally reject them as being obviously false? Does our faith leave open a particular blind spot, a cognitive vulnerability that makes Christians susceptible to rumors that a reasonably clever third-grader would reject? Are we as a church too eager to believe stories that come wrapped up in the right pious language?

Or to make it more personal... have you ever fallen for a "Christian urban legend" that, looking back in retrospect, you realize was completely and obviously false?

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, Faith