The film Denial has been recently released in British cinemas after its premier at the Toronto film festival on ‘9/11’ last year and its UK premier on International Holocaust Memorial Day 27th January 2017. It gives the outline of the libel trial brought by notorious Holocaust denier David Irving against the American historian Deborah Lipstadt for her calling him a falsifier of history in her book Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.
The UK judge found Irving to be a Holocaust denier, an antisemite and a racist who had deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence, and ordered him to pay more than £2m in legal costs.
There are many issues raised by the libel case, and many have commented on the timely recollection of it in view of false-truth and its spread through social media. Historian Richard Evans, president of Wolfson College in Cambridge and involved in the research behind the trial, draws parallels between Nazi propaganda and our era of ‘alternative facts’.
False-truth is the end result of a generation of spin and of acceptance of lies in public life, particularly in the political process. Eventually it reached a tipping-point and it is now the norm.
One can understand people changing their mind when circumstances change, but this has developed into saying one thing and doing another in public life. The backlash against the ready acceptance of this behaviour has resulted in the popular revolt against ‘the establishment’ in its various forms.
However Denial finishes by raising another question which is not addressed and needs to be addressed. It ends with David Irving continuing to deny the Holocaust when interviewed by Jeremy Paxman on BBC Newsnight.
Why do people not change their beliefs, or rather hold on to their beliefs? This is the real issue raised both in Denial and in much current public debate. Richard Dawkins frames the issue the wrong way round. He says that people adopt their beliefs when they are young from their parents and teachers. There is nothing surprising about this, although he uses this to buffet religion and to accuse parents of child abuse. Rather, the really surprising thing is, not that children adopt the religion of their parents but, why they rarely change it.
This psychological prejudice is so common to the human condition that it merits more study and comment in public life.
However, it is A-B-C to those Christian preachers who spend much of their time explaining the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who taught the need and difficulty in changing people’s beliefs. He taught that it was so difficult that when it came to true religion it needed nothing short of the powerful conviction of the Holy Spirit of God – this is what Jesus meant by ‘you must be born again’. Human prejudice is too strong to change from the outside; it must come from personal awakening, personal conviction.
Government tries strong-arm tactics using the law and sanctions to force conformity to its secular morality, but ‘he that complies against his will is of his own opinion still’. In addition, there are not enough law enforcement officers to be effective, as the police are discovering with paedophiles now numbering in the hundreds of thousands, more than the immigrants coming into the UK, and the justice system cannot cope with the number of law-breakers of the growing number of laws.
Law enforces conformity through sanctions, but the Christian Gospel of love gives motivation to keep the law, is cheap and effective through the self-policing Christian conscience, as well as giving peace of conscience for daily living. Try it – it begins with changing your beliefs about Jesus Christ.
4 Apr 2019: we are now so post-truth that truth no longer matters and is no longer a defence in law.
27 Jan 2020: unbelief is the default position: International Holocaust Memorial Day on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.