It’s been said confession is good for the soul. I confess: I am a liar. It’s bad to lie. That’s common knowledge. Few would dispute it, but we all do it. Lately I told a whopper of a lie – a bald-faced fiction in a sticky legal situation. I’ll get to that in a minute.
So why is lying bad? Many would point to the Ten Commandments. They’re considered a good measure of ethics and morals. There are a couple of basic problems with that assumption, however.
First, the Ten Commandments don’t describe a good moral standard to live by. More accurately, they describe the low bar for morality. The moral mandates therein – don’t murder, steal, or cheat on your spouse, for example – are the absolute minimum behavioral dictates that separate us from animals. Following them doesn’t make me a “good person”. On the other hand, not following definitely qualifies me as a “bad person”.
Second, outside of the Judeo-Christian (and to some extent Muslim) ethos, only the last six have any meaning. Those who reject those monotheistic world views are free to reject the first four, which have to do with our relationship to God. Sadly, the Christian part of that world has tossed out the fourth commandment, too. We have no Sabbath. We only have a day to go to church, for whatever that’s worth.
One more point: None of the ten tell us, in the general sense, not to lie. The ninth commandment, the one people usually think of, actually says, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” That’s just a narrow sliver on the spectrum of falsehoods. It gives us plenty of leeway to deceive, cheat, and mislead. Most of us use a lot of that real estate.
The prohibition on lying comes from various other sections of scripture. For example, the Proverbs have plenty of negative things to say about lying, maybe the worst of which is that God hates a lying tongue. A quick search on the internet or concordance give me all the reasons I need to avoid the practice.
Yet, I did it anyway. When I was filling out an online application, I was asked to acknowledge the truth of the following statement:
I have read and agree to the terms and conditions as described above.
I had not read even one word of the voluminous legalese above that sentence. In my arrogance and wanton disregard for all that is good and decent, I clicked on the “Accept” button and proceeded to perform my transaction. Mea culpa.
Wow, do I feel better now!