It’s Credo Friday. Here’s another bit at the core of what I believe.
In I and Thou, Martin Buber invokes the Latin phrase, “Mundus vult decipi” that means “the world wants to be deceived.”
In the 2000s, fictional TV doctor Gregory House’s catchphrase was, “Everybody lies.”
Marketers, media pundits and psychologists discuss the phenomena of confirmation bias – my tendency is to hear (not just listen to but only consciously register) information that agrees with my beliefs and the conclusions to which I have already come.
I believe the world’s fatal flaw is our inclination to be deceived, to deceive others and to deceive ourselves. As the great Italian philosopher Billy Joel has said, “…if you look for truthfulness You might just as well be blind It always seems to be so hard to give…” We hide the truth and the truth is hidden from us.
Saintly curmudgeon, Stanley Hauerwas, in an address to graduates gave them this advice, ““Do not lie.”
He went on to say:
You have to be thinking: “Is that it?” Is that all he has to say? I have to sit here and listen to someone who tells me what I already know?” I am sure you think you do not need me, in my profession as a moralist or even in the role as a graduation speaker, to tell you never to lie. You may not remember when or where you learned not to lie but long before this day you knew that though in some circumstances you may have to say what is less than true, in general lying should be avoided.
Yet the general agreement that lying should be avoided masks our confusions about what constitutes a lie. Lying may be rightly understood as intentionally saying what we know to be false in order to deceive, but it turns out we often are unsure we know what is true. Thus the Austrian-British philosopher, Wittgenstein, remark in Culture and Value that “the truth can be spoken only by someone who is already at home in it, not by someone who still lives in untruthfulness, & does no more than reach out towards it from within untruthfulness.”
In my almost 4 decades as a follower of Jesus and 3 decades as a pastor of one sort or another, I can’t think of anything I could tell another Christian about living out their pledge of allegiance to Jesus that is more important, more effective and more helpful to doing life together than, “Do not lie.” And, as Hauerwas points out, it seems simple and obvious and like one of the basics that all followers of Jesus learn to do right from the start – but we don’t do it.
And we suffer because of it. And the world suffers. All of our relationships suffer. At the end of the day, your own sense of self suffers because of our unwillingness to give up lies.
We’re big on big truths, truths that make us feel right and we lean into about the ‘wrongness’ of others. But the essential things are always the little and small things, the simple elements that make up real life. All of our big truths only have authority when they can rest comfortably on top of all the little things about which we’ve been honest.
I saw a movie years ago, The Invention of Lying, where the genius of Ricky Gervais fails this once by confusing telling the truth with being mean. The movie suggests that a little bit of lying makes the world a better place because it saves us from going around all the time telling people they’re fat, dumb and ugly. Saying everything that passes through your mind is not the same thing as “do not lie.” Saying things that you feel or believe are true in a cruel, mean or careless way is not the same thing as “do not lie.” “Shooting from the hip” and “calling it like I see it” is not the same thing as “do not lie.”
I say this because some of us, like Ricky, see “do not lie” as license to hurt others or an invitation to live in a world where all of our insecurities will be exposed and used as fodder for someone else’s cruelty. People who use “do not lie” in that way are bullies, plain and simple. Jesus was never, is never and will never be a bully. So we shouldn’t be either.
In Recovery we have one of those bumper sticker sayings, those clichés that we hear so casually that we sometimes miss the importance of it, “we’re only as sick as our secrets.” From the Fall story to our fictious lives on social media where our tendency is to compare our best moments and carefully crop our reality, our desire is still to cover things up. We cover things over, deny, and pretend the Emperor has clothes on and that I can see them – and all this does – this practice of lying, is break down community, hinder my relationship with God and distort my vision of others and myself.
So I encourage myself all the time with “do not lie.” And I tell myself and others, “Question everything.” God is never afraid of the truth. Healthy leaders welcome questions. People who want to grow emotionally, spiritually and relationally will practice not lying. We all grow best in soil that is rich in the truth.