A provocative statement with a clear if cynical message. All “historical” accounts are at best imperfect, at worst based on blatant lies. In between, there are honest attempts to reconstruct the past, which, like all scientific endeavors, remain open to new, complementary and sometimes conflicting evidence, which, however uncomfortable or unwelcome, must be taken into account.
The application of the title’s principle to the sources of religious belief deserves reflection. Traditional convictions, especially religious, have a unique resilience. To question them is far more threatening to one’s comfort zone than, say, new revelations about the Napoleonic wars and the history of the brief reign of the Emperor. Napoleon was himself largely the creator of his own legend, and people still read “The Memorial of Saint Helena” as though it relates purely objective, unadulterated factual events. It is, however, far more “historical” than those more ancient “Memorials” which are the four Gospels. Though much of the content of the latter is clearly pure fabrication and myth, most people would hesitate to call them lies. They are generally considered to be true as “history” – privileged because religious – lies “no longer disputed” by billions of believers.
Unshakeable in their faith, they will be happy and relieved to dismiss the provocative title of this post when I reveal to them that its words are those of Napoleon himself. (Prejudice against the “despicable despot” is such that if he stated that 2 plus 2 equals 4, some would cast even the axiom into doubt.) Nonetheless his epigram, worthy of Wilde, should continue to challenge the credulity of religious believers. Though billions refuse to dispute the “historical fact” of the Resurrection and the wishful thinking of our own afterlife, both remain illusions, and I would dare say, lies.