The eighth commandment reads “You shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” So, what this is referring to is lying. It’s one of the important commandments handed down from God to Moses. Pretty serious stuff. Yet, we all tell lies. Not just once in a while, but pretty frequently. “Lies –they are offenses against the truth expressed by word or deed; a refusal to commit oneself to ‘moral uprightness’ which are fundamental infidelities to God; in this sense, they undermine the foundation of the covenant with God.”(Wikipedia) Yet, we all continue to lie. I’m sure most of us seldom get through a week without lying. Our catechism explains that “bearing false witness or speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving encompasses all violations of truth.”
Lying is like so many of the Commandments, we know we shouldn’t do it, yet breaking this commandment is sometimes easier than truth telling.
Is it possible that there are less serious lies, known as white lies, that would result in less consequences? Isn’t there such a thing as lying to someone to protect them rather than hurting them with the truth. Isn’t it ok to tell a compassionate lie? My mother used to quote this saying she heard, “it’s not the lie, it’s the upkeep.” Oftentimes we feel when we tell a “white lie” such as the omission of a sensitive detail or giving false encouragement to someone it appears like there is justification in that instance in our not telling the truth. As an example, a doctor tells his patient they could live a long time with their cancer rather than tell them they have six months left to live because the doctor is worried their depression over their illness could lead to this patient committing suicide. I’m sure we can come up with several examples of compassionate lying.
There are accounts that various Church officials, including some at the Vatican including Pius XII, hid or authorized hiding several Jewish individuals to protect them from the Nazi’s. They even gave them false identification papers or false baptismal certificates so they could pass as Christian.
There are other tales of Pope Francis while living in Argentina admitting to helping priests that were arrested to escape by lying to officials. Perhaps this is something he later regretted.
I think it’s logical to assume most of the other commandments broken are followed by lies; such as adultery, stealing, killing?
Dr. Nancy Darling found in a study with teens that 98% of the time they lied to their parents. They lied about what they spent their allowance on, they lied about who they were dating, and what they wore away from home. They lied about movies they watched, they lied about who they went with and whether they had used alcohol or drugs or even hung out with friends their parents didn’t approve of. Finally, they lied about whether they attended parties with other drunk teens.
Dr. Darling also learned that 96% - 98% of these same teens knew that it was morally wrong to lie. Who was their number one influence for lying? It was their parents.
But isn’t it true that lying is not as bad as maybe killing or adultery right? Actually, committing any sin is an action done against God. God or Jesus never lied.
I read somewhere that we all lie an average of 3 – 200 times a day. That’s a lot of untruths being told. What would our world look like if everyone told the truth all the time?
The philosopher Immanuel Kant felt lying was always morally wrong. “To be human,” Kant said, “is to have the rational power of free choice to be ethical and to respect that power in oneself and others.” It was his belief that lying corrupts the most important quality of being human: the ability to make free rational choices. Each time a lie is told it contradicts the part of you that gives you moral worth. Lies rob others of their freedom to choose rationally.
Children learn as young as four years old to lie. They do this to avoid punishment.
Has lying become so commonplace that we don’t see it for the damage that can arise from doing it? Then there are many that are accused of embellishing the truth. “The fish was how big?” The problem with lying is after time has passed it becomes difficult knowing what the actual truth is.
In February 2015, news anchor Brian Williams was suspended without pay from NBC Nightly News for “misrepresenting events” while covering the Iraq War in 2003. An investigation revealed that Williams made a number of inaccurate statements about his role in many news stories. When he explained why he did this, he felt at the time he was merely embellishing the truth a little bit; unfortunately, in time, he began believing some of his own stories. He apologized several times for lying to the American public. In June 2015 he was reassigned to MSNBC with a commitment to not lie again to the public. Even with the best of intentions, trust in his ability to tell these news stories has been compromised.
In our society we have come to expect a certain embellishment of the truth by politicians, CEO’s of companies, the police, almost anyone in authority.
I think lying is a habit that’s difficult to break. Like any habit, it takes time and perseverance to actually stop the habit. Maybe we could put a rubber band on our wrist and pull it back to snap it every time we feel an occasion to lie. At the end of the day it is likely, we’ll just end up with a very red wrist. I like to think we can actually catch ourselves and reverse the habit? Maybe the answer is simpler, if when we start our day we make a commitment to God that today “I won’t lie. I’ll be truthful in everything I do and what I say,” perhaps then we will feel a little better when we can tell God that we stood by his Eighth Commandment!
About the Author
Catherine Mendenhall-Baugh (Cathy) completed her education in Special Education and English and now works as an Agent in the Insurance Industry. A mother and Grandmother, Cathy grew up in a large Catholic family and has spent the last 30 years as a caregiver for her husband, Jack. She is a cancer survivor which inspired her to begin writing six years ago.