Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Lyin' for Jesus (Plagarism Edition)

I saw this story over at the New York Times and had to pass it along. It's about a heart warming Christmas story and how one purveyor of God-woo ripped it off from another.

Neale Donald Walsch, author of something called Conversations With God (in three volumes, plus sequels! Apparently He is a long winded deity), posted a story at Beliefnet about how at a dress rehearsal for his son's winter pageant, a bunch of kids were supposed to spell out "Christmas Love," but a little girl chumped the "m" and turned it upside down, resulting in "Christ was Love." Heart warming, or so I'm told.

Only it wasn't true that Walsch witnessed it at his son's rehearsal. Where did the story come from? He ripped it off from another dispenser of such heartwarming pap:

[Candy] Chand’s essay was reprinted, with her clearly identified as the author, in 'Chicken Soup for the Christian Family Soul' in 2000, as well as on, a Web site for inspirational stories. In 2003 Ms. Chand copyrighted the story with the United States Copyright Office. Last June Gibbs Smith, a small independent publisher, released the story, 'Christmas Love,' as an illustrated gift book. The story has also been passed around through e-mail and on blogs, sometimes without attribution.

Except for a different first paragraph in which Mr. Walsch wrote that he could vividly remember' the incident, his Dec. 28 Beliefnet post followed, virtually verbatim, Ms. Chand’s previously published writing, even down to prosaic details like 'The morning of the dress rehearsal, I filed in ten minutes early, found a spot on the cafeteria floor and sat down.'
His excuse?
'someone must have sent it to me over the Internet ten years or so ago,' Mr. Walsch wrote. 'Finding it utterly charming and its message indelible, I must have clipped and pasted it into my file of ‘stories to tell that have a message I want to share.’ I have told the story verbally so many times over the years that I had it memorized ... and then, somewhere along the way, internalized it as my own experience.'
That's pretty slick. If something is 'utterly charming' and has a message you like, it's perfectly OK to call it your own to ramp up the emotional impact when you use it later. I'm not the only one who's suspicious:
Ms. Chand said in a telephone interview that she did not believe Mr. Walsch’s explanation. 'If he knew this was wrong, he should have known it was wrong before he got caught,' she said. 'Quite frankly, I’m not buying it.'
Heh. And she's not turning the other cheek, either:
Speaking of Mr. Walsch, she asked: 'Has the man who writes best-selling books about his ‘Conversations With God’ also heard God’s commandments? ‘Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not lie, and thou shalt not covet another author’s property’?'
At the very least, thou shalt not rip off a fellow Godbot!

I suppose the reason this amuses me is that Walsch's whole shtick is based on believing that he has talked with God (according to the Wiki entry for the series, he wrote an "angry letter" to God, who then answered and filled his head with what became the books). If he rips off treacle like this Christmas story from other folks, how can you believe anything else he says? As if it was super credible to begin with.

The other reason I'm amused is because one interesting bit of the otherwise forgettable documentary The God Who Wasn't There, which I watched last night, was how the couple that runs have collected multiple examples of stories passed around the Internet as fact that were completely fictional - some even began life clearly marked as such. How would such a thing happen? Because dipshits like Walsch find them "utterly charming" and useful for their ends. Why let the truth stand in the way of a good faith-affirming story?

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