Faking It (Ep. 4)

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President Barack Obama goes to church. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

“Faking It”: Society gets by on life’s little deceptions. So how do they work, and how did they get Barack Obama elected? Listen to a kosher-keeping bacon lover, a fake father and charlatan churchgoer, and one of the Game Change authors.

Not long ago, we published a blog post by a woman in Texas whose family, she explained, “fakes Christianity for social reasons.” It was such an intriguing topic that we’ve turned it into a full-blown podcast. Thus the latest episode of Freakonomics Radio: Faking It(You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes or elsewhere, get the RSS feed, read the transcript, or listen via the media player above). It explores some of the many ways in which so many of us fake it — religiously, sure, but also in politics, in social situations and in the bedroom. Is all this faking a menace to society? Or do we all benefit from everyone else’s fakery? You’ll have to decide for yourself.

The episode was also inspired by a fascinating passage about Barack Obama in the book Game Change. So you’ll hear from Mark Halperin, one of the book’s authors, who will explain the dilemma that had Obama faking it. You’ll also hear from Kara Newman, a kosher-keeping food writer, who comes clean on her illicit love for bacon; and from a guy we call Brian, who maintains a series of mirages about his faith and family.

One of the best parts of making this episode was the interview with William Ian Miller, a law professor at the University of Michigan, who wrote a book called Faking It. Miller’s the guy who may convince you — at least he convinced me — that the way we look at fakery may be all wrong.


I once worked with a Jewish fellow who admitted to me that he was agnostic. He lived in a Jewish neighborhood and stayed home during the Jewish Holidays simply because he didn't want his neighbors to know his true belief. It is amazing what social pressures make people do.


Daniel Dennett and Linda LaScola write about non-believing clergy


Al V.

Isn't fakery of this type just a more extreme version of the social falsehoods we all commit every day? Such as telling a host/ess that we enjoyed a meal we could barely eat, or telling a friend how much we love an ugly outfit?

Chris R

Excellent podcast. Looking forward to further analysis in this area. I happen to believe faking relious belief causes more serious effects than is often admitted by our society. Sure, faking religious belief to your elderly grandmother may be quite harmless. On the other hand, faking religious belief to your children is quite another story.


Ever since the 1980s, Washington has gulled its citizens and creditors by debasing official statistics, the vital instruments with which the vigor and muscle of the American economy are measured.
The effect has been to create a false sense of economic achievement and rectitude, allowing us to maintain artificially low interest rates, massive government borrowing, and a dangerous reliance on mortgage and financial debt even as real economic growth has been slower than claimed.
The corruption has tainted the very measures that most shape public perception of the economy:
The monthly Consumer Price Index (CPI), which serves as the chief bellwether of inflation;
The quarterly Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which tracks the U.S. economy's overall growth;
The monthly unemployment figure, which for the general public is perhaps the most vivid indicator of economic health or infirmity.
The truth, though it would not exactly set Americans free, would at least open a window to wider economic and political understanding. Readers should ask themselves how much angrier the electorate might be if the media, over the past five years, had been citing 8.7 percent unemployment (instead of 17 percent), and average annual growth in the 1 percent range (instead of the 3-4 percent range).
The real numbers, to most economically minded Americans, would be a face full of cold water. Based on the criteria in place a quarter century ago, today's U.S. unemployment rate is somewhere between 13 percent and 17 percent; economic growth since the recession of 1999 has been mediocre, despite a huge surge in the wealth and incomes of the superrich, and we are falling back into recession."
The cleat of reality is out there folks-just don't expect to get it from the government.



Al V., Why do you tell your friends you love their ugly outfits, aren't they your friends? Real friends don't let friends wear ugly outfits.


Isn't fakery of this type just a more extreme version of the social falsehoods we all commit every day? Such as telling a host/ess that we enjoyed a meal we could barely eat, or telling a friend how much we love an ugly outfit?
Perhaps your examples fall under the catagory of politeness. I might tell someone I enjoyed their meal or like their outfit because I'm protecting their feelings. But when someone keeps their beliefs to themselves to avoid potential judgement/ridicule it is because they are protecting their own feelings. That to my mind is a bit more "fake."

Laura Einstein

The most common Faking it is this: carrying massive credit card debt due to their income unable to cover DAILY
Expense yet claim the debt is due to some big ticket items or vacation.
I would say at least half our so called middle class are Faking IT on almost daily basis.
Few years ago, when gas price increased some 27 cents,
there were those massive outcry on radio, TV, and newspaper. How many mailes you drive per week?
How come your middle class income can't even cover very
insignificant price increase? Are most American belong to
"middle class" in the first place??
Remember "homeownership is all time high" then waves foreclosures across this nation.
The most destructive human behavior is Self-Deception !


Newsday's blurb for William Ian Miller's Faking It (as seen at Amazon) is:
"William Ian Miller's "Faking It" (Cambridge University Press) is a brilliant, insightful and very funny study of the tendency to lay claim to more power. knowledge and authority than you really have." NEWSDAY

Contrast this with St Paul's statement in 2 Cor 12.6: "...I don't want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message" (New LIving Translation).

David McGrath

Two critiques (from someone who thoroughly enjoyed both of your books and many of your blog posts):

1) I would expect something more than a series of anecdotes out of your podcasts -- I already know people fake things; what did your conversation add in terms of actual analysis?

2) I find the repetitive musical interludes a persistent annoyance.

Robyn Ann Goldstein

Dear Laura;

It is true that we sometimes deceive ourselves into believing things that are not true. But it would be tragic if one were to assume that everyone is so deceptive (as some presidents, fathers, husbands and others have been). The sociologist Erving Goffman claimed that we are always playing a role (lying all the time). Forget about honesty and integrity. Well, he was simply incorrect. And perhaps there is someone out there willing to determine whether or not Goffman (in the end) learned that such a notion is at odds with what Science is about. I do hope that you print this. But again. I understand ....

Robyn Ann Goldstein

I will add this. Compete honesty can at times be brutal and harmful when it comes to friendships and loving relationships. If I told one of the people whom I love dearly that they are too fat (in such words)., it would them hurt deeply. I don't think that one should lie (when asked to offer an opinion), but there are ways of telling the truth that the person, to whom one is telling it to, will agree with it even if it hurts. An analyst friend of mine, reminded me once of the importance of the truth when it comes to establishing real relationships. It goes a long way.

Robyn Ann Goldstein

a somewhat interesting (typo) that Freud would be smiling about-

Fritz Mills

This is the same thing my mother called "white lies." Essentially, white lies provide social lubricant.


When you fake it to be a good person, that's only going to improve your inner core because the outside changes the inside.

The problem is when you fake it to be part of an immoral clique or group.

annie in austin,tx

Don't forget faking the big o, for reasons cited above.

Captain Democracy

The fact is the human condition is a lie! All history is a lie because it is always written by the victor. Take the Giza Pyramids which I am convinced was the Garden of Eden with a stone aged people who worshiped "Natures God" (YHVH) the true hebrews and then were conquered and the lion faced statue was chiseled off and replaced with Pharoahs face (snake) and today the negro black people are still suffering for what I believe is the "eternal mortal sin" and cursed by YHVH (God of Israel). Also I claim King Tut a "fraud" and the gold death mask too.

Yes the Bible is a book written by men over time of family heritage but the proof is a Giza that the "real" garden of Eden" was there before the egyptians arrived. So I have solved the riddle of the Sphinx.

Sean Dillon

OUTSTANDING! Really enjoyed listening to this. Found everything discussed absolutely fascinating. This was really well done. Congratulations and best of luck on this podcast.

James Bullock

It's called "the closet."

Arnav Shah

We humans, the ever so social creatures we are, have evolved a lot of mechanisms to maintain "social lubrication". So this sort of 'faking it' behavior is a pretty advantageous strategy. We see it all over the place in whatever institutional settings or groups we're in (be it religion or work or as fans of a sports team). I'm currently working with some professors on a theory of human institutional behavior and we have a lot to say on this. For now, I suggest checking out their recent book "Death from a Distance and the Birth of a Humane Universe" (www.deathfromadistance.com) for a pretty thorough and scientifically grounded take on human social behavior. Thanks for exploring this topic; I look forward to listening to this episode.