Tony Anthony is the author of the bestselling, decade-old, freakishly-long-titled book Taming the Tiger from the Depths of Hell to the Heights of Glory: The Remarkable True Story of a Kung Fu World Champion. It a story about how Tony became a killer, went to prison, found Jesus, and soon became a free man in more ways than one:
Anthony was a popular speaker on the Christian circuit, where his compelling story resonated with audiences:
“In the line of duty as a bodyguard, I killed people,” Anthony would tell church audiences. “I have broken more arms and legs than I care to remember.” Later he recounted how he found God while in prison in Nicosia after being convicted of theft.
The book was a phenomenon. It was translated into 25 languages and won the Christian Booksellers’ Convention Award in 2005.
You can guess where this story is going…
… following a sustained internet campaign by a group of Christians who doubted Anthony’s claims almost from the start, it appears that little of the book is true.
After an independent investigation, a panel appointed by the alliance has concluded that Anthony had, at best, a sketchy relationship with the truth. In a statement on its website the alliance acknowledges that “large sections of the book Taming the Tiger, and associated materials, which claim to tell the true story of Tony Anthony’s life, do not do so”.
Alright, so Anthony’s a fraud, and there will hopefully be some sort of ramifications for his deception. (So far, Anthony hasn’t said he’ll return/donate any of his royalties nor has the book been pulled from bookshelves, in person or online.)
But it raises another question: Why aren’t Christians this aggressive when it comes to many of the other popular works of “non-fiction”? Jokes about the Bible aside, it took an investigation by NPR to bring down Christian pseudo-historian David Barton and his lies about Thomas Jefferson.
It was Esquire‘s Luke Dittrich who finally exposed Heaven-visiting Dr. Eben Alexander as a liar (though Alexander’s book is still available).
So why is this fraud happening in the Christian world, where you would think the books are held to a higher standard? And why aren’t Christians always leading the charge to catch these authors when they lie? (It’s their faith that’s being taken for granted, after all.)
Obviously, this isn’t just a Christian problem — James Frey and Jonah Lehrer are just two examples of people who got away with making things up in their books before eventually getting caught — but I wonder if there’s something about religious books that makes them immune from fact-checking.
When Christians hear about Colton Burpo and all those other writers who claim to have gone to Heaven (or Hell), do they think “What a wonderful story! I believe it” or “That seems a little too good to be true… I should look into this”? I worry it’s the former when it should really be the latter. Of course atheists will argue that Christians don’t have very good bullshit detectors to begin with, but when someone is making millions of dollars and selling millions of books based on an improbable story, it should at least raise some red flags for everyone.
I know you can’t prove or disprove someone’s beliefs or thoughts, but the facts surrounding those stories ought to be verified by editors and publishers — and by pastors and readers, to the best of their abilities — before the books hit the market. That’s asking a lot, I know, but if these writers are portraying themselves as heroes or messengers of God, then publishers have a duty to at least let us know if the material is verified or unverified. Even if they can’t afford a fact-checker, they should be able to add that disclaimer.
To his credit, Mike Hancock, the director of Anthony’s group Avanti Ministries Ltd., asked for verification of the story and didn’t get it — he ended up resigning from the position and led the charge to investigate Anthony. We need more people like Hancock asking good questions.
(Thanks to Lynn for the link!)