5 Lies We Once Believed

Ad from 1897 for cocaine toothache drops, with two playing children pictured.
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1..Cocaine is good for you.  It was marketed to people with toothaches. About one hundred years ago, if you had a toothache, you could buy cocaine from your local druggist.  You could buy cocaine over-the-counter.

2.  Beer is a pick-me-up. Not only was it a great pick-me-up for adults, but it was given to babies. Nursing women were encouraged to drink beer, so the benefits would pass through them and on to the baby.

3.  Smoking soothes anxiety. We know it soothes the nerves of those addicted to cigarettes, when their anxiety comes from needing a cigarette.  But we’re not talking about that; they were prescribed by doctors. If you have problems with anxiety, start smoking cigarettes and you’ll feel relief from your symptoms.

Enough “medicine”? How about historical facts?

4.  Napoleon was short: 5’2″.  Everyone knows he was short. He’s drawn that way in illustrations. He’s been characturized as tiny in numerous cartoons. He’s got a height-complex named for him. The only problem is that that measurement is in French units. Once historians converted to Imperial units, they found Napoleon was 5’7″, not short at all.

5.  Vikings wore horned helmets. We see them in illustrations, operas, cartoons (and cartoon operas, come to think of it — I’m looking at you Bugs Bunny).  The costume designer for Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung made horned helmets, and we’ve been stuck with them ever since; there’s just no archaeological evidence that actual Vikings ever wore them in battle.

There are truths that everyone just knows.  They just know them until the “truth” changes.

But is that what happens? No.  No, these things weren’t true until they changed. They were presented as true. They were believed to be true.  But they never were actually true.  Napoleon didn’t get taller when we started believing it. Cocaine didn’t become dangerous only when we believed it was.  Beer wasn’t good for babies several generations ago and then suddenly bad for them today.  Truth is truth even if no one knows it or accepts it.

These mistakes teach us, if we’re willing to listen, that some truth is objective. Opinion can change. Truth doesn’t change; truth is discovered. Facts are better understood, better communicated, but never changed.  These mistakes give us something else, too. They give us a warning–again, if we’ll listen to it. They ask us a dangerous question:

What do we all just know today?

What do we know about marriage? Or sex?  What do we all know about difference between men and women? What do we know about historical events, like the Crusades or Reformation?  What do we just know about God? Science? Priests? Church?

And are we willing to dig deep into history and philosophy and theology and change our minds when confronted with Truth? Or do we follow society to the drugstore for our dose of cocaine?

Copyright 2015, Joe Wetterling

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Joe Wetterling

Joe Wetterling

Joe Wetterling is a professional educator, homeschooling dad, and writer. He's appeared at national conferences, both secular and religious, speaking on education, technology, and philosophy. Joe writes online for New Evangelizers, as well as his own blogs. He's taught in the Holy Apostles MOOC program and currently teaches Natural Theology at the new Dominican Institute. He's a member of the Militia Immaculata and current President of the Catholic Writers Guild. Learn more about him at JoeWetterling.com.

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