The year: 1692.
The setting: Salem Village in colonial Massachusetts.
Tension and unease filled the air as the sun cast long shadows over the Puritan settlement. An unfortunate, history-altering mysterious affliction befell several young girls.
Their behavior became erratic, marked by spasms, contortions, and eerie visions. Desperate to explain the inexplicable, the girls pointed accusatory fingers at fellow villagers, igniting a spark that would engulf the community in a fervor of paranoia and persecution.
But this was only the beginning of a tragic event in the story of humanity.
Word spread like wildfire through Salem Village as accusations of witchcraft flew with alarming speed. The accused, predominantly women, were subjected to a justice system that seemed intent on uncovering supernatural conspiracies rather than dispensing fair trials.
The trials, characterized by a lack of due process and the acceptance of spectral evidence—testimonies based on dreams and visions—led to the conviction and senseless execution of more than 20 people, most by hanging and one by the gruesome method of pressing with heavy stones.
As the summer of 1692 unfolded, this once close-knit community found itself torn apart by suspicion, fear, and the damaging results of the “illusory effect.”
The Salem Witch Trials, with their dark and haunting legacy, stand as a stark reminder of the dangers of mass hysteria, prejudice, and the fragility of justice in the face of irrational fear. But the trials also illustrate the profound impact that the illusory effect can have on people.
What is the illusory effect? Also referred to as the illusion of truth effect, the illusory effect occurs when people believe false information because it has been repeated as truth long enough. They think that they know the facts, but they are blinded, whether voluntarily or involuntarily. The longer the lie is perpetuated, the more it cements itself in the annals of the human mind.
The illusory effect is part of the reason why “Joy to the World” is such a popular Christmas carol even though it isn’t even a song about Christmas.
Fake news and conspiracy theories both benefit greatly from the illusory effect as it drives their respective stories and agendas.
Sadly, and most significantly, sound biblical teachings are often distorted, ravaged, or even destroyed by the illusory effect.
For example, biblical baptism is immersion into something, not sprinkling, dipping, or pouring. But over the centuries, baptism has been practiced long enough in so many different forms that many people do not realize that it only has one valid method.
I have written in the past about the common misinterpretation and misapplication of 2 Chronicles 7:14. This passage of Scripture records the historical account of a promise that God made to Solomon after the dedication of the temple in Israel. God responds to Solomon’s prayer and reiterates promises that were made to Israel in Deuteronomy.
This promise to “heal their land” if his people humbled themselves, prayed, and turned from their sin is a specific promise to Israel and refers to their physical land. But the illusory effect has resulted in many Christians claiming this verse as a promise from God to provide spiritual healing to any country that turns to God.
For a full understanding of my conclusions on this passage, read my post, The True Meaning of 2 Chronicles 7:14 for Christians.
The point of this post is that the illusory effect can be harmful to biblical truth. In John 8:44, Jesus described the deception of the devil: “When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.” Yes, lies and false doctrine come from the devil.
But they can also come from within, from ourselves. In fact, the greater context of John 8:44 indicates that Jesus was talking to Jews and Pharisees, the religious people of his day. They were conversing in the temple, the House of God, when Jesus told them in verses 45-46, “But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me. Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me?”
The religious people themselves had taken truth, distorted it, and repeated it long enough that everyone else believed it. Jesus had enough of it, and he called them out.
As Christians, we need to be continual students of the Bible. We should not assume that everything we hear from pastors or read on inspirational pictures on social media is true. Like the Bereans, we need to examine everything we read and hear to see if that’s really what God said or if it’s just something that another fallible human being said, “They received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).
Do not let the illusory effect destroy your theology!