Monday, August 22, 2011

Temptation to Lie is Always Present

All of us find it convenient at times not to tell the truth, to deceive and, sometimes, to tell outright lies.  In the competitive worlds of politics and business, politicians and merchants often feel it necessary to lie to achieve their goals. And many others have come to accept lying as an unavoidable strategy for those who intend to succeed in our highly competitive societies.

Moral theologians have always had trouble with giving wiggle-room not only for the mundane lie but also for the lie that people feel necessary to save the life or reputation of another. Even the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2483) has come down on the side of strictness: "Lying is the most direct offense against the truth. To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error. By injuring man's relation to truth and to his neighbor, a  lie offends against the fundamental relation of man and of his word to the Lord."In an earlier edition of the Catechism the words "in order to lead into error someone who has the right to know the truth," have in recent editions been  removed.

We will never know, on this earth, the damage done to society because of lies. But we do know, on a personal level, that when trust is lost it harms not only others but ourselves.

We can all recount stories of deception we have experienced, and in a Catholic magazine a number of  persons from the literary world have decided to tell their stories and how they feel about lying.  One of the writers mentions the time she was riding on the subway when a well dressed man approached her, saying he came to Seoul to be with his classmates but  had too much to drink and didn't have enough money to return home. He showed her his business card and told her he would send the money to her as soon as he returned home. The card indicated that he was a school teacher and listed his telephone number. Shortly after he left,  she felt he may not have been what he said, and called the number. "This number you have called is not listed," she was told. She had a good laugh.

Another writer quotes the Korean proverb, "Lying well is better than having a small rice paddy." He believes lying can be a help in conducting ones life, explaining that to lie well is not to do harm to nature or to others. But also says that lies like this are extremely rare. There is little doubt that lying does prove helpful in achieving the material goals many desire, but these goals are often pursued mindlessly in the competitive world we live in, and we don't  see what happens to us and to others as a consequence of this behavior.

One writer concludes his essay with a listing of scripture quotes on lying. "Each one deceives the other, no one speaks the truth.They have accustomed their tongues to lying, and are perverse, and cannot repent" (Jeremiah 9:4). " Delight not in telling lie after lie for it never results in good" (Sirach 7:13). "A liar's way leads to dishonor, his shame remains ever with him" (Sirach 20:25). "The false witness will not go unpunished, and he who utters lies will perish" (Proverbs 20:9). "Do me justice , O God, and fight my fight against a faithless people; from the deceitful and impious man rescue me" (Psalms 43:1).

And we all can say: "Lord, help me to guard my lips from lying. Amen."               

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