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Lying and Truth-Telling: A Question for Catholics and Atheists


EDITOR'S NOTE: Today begins a three-part series on the morality of lying. Our first post comes from Jim Russell, a Catholic deacon. Tomorrow, we'll hear from Patheos atheist blogger James Croft. And Thursday, Catholic blogger Leah Libresco will wrap it up.

Have you seen the newest Star Trek film, the second of the “re-boot” of the franchise? In it, Mr. Spock reminds Captain Kirk of a particular Vulcan trait—that Vulcans may never under any circumstances tell a lie—and then, by movie’s end, we witness the same Mr. Spock engage in a masterful bit of deception against a key villain, a deception that, of course, doesn’t involve any spoken falsehood, but one that proves just as effectively deceptive as any blatant lie.
Is this a contradiction? Can Vulcans be masters of deception just as long as they don’t say anything untrue?

Well, if you think Vulcans have an interesting perspective on what lying is and isn’t, wait till you consider how we humans have dealt with this issue for the last couple millennia or so.

Back in the day, long before followers of “The Way” (Christianity) came upon the scene, the morality of lying was a topic debated by ancient philosophers and left largely unresolved. Was it ever okay to lie? What really is a lie? One might have thought that, with the advent of the Catholic Church—and with it the “Magisterium” (the Church's official and Holy-Spirit-guided teaching authority)—such a debate might have been settled long ago—at least for Catholics, that is.

But sometimes the truth is indeed stranger than (science) fiction. And here is the truth: For two thousand years, the Catholic Church has left this question somewhat unsettled: whether or not all falsehoods spoken with the intention to deceive are immoral acts of “lying."

This in-house Catholic concern remains a legitimate theological debate, and it flares up occasionally in the Wild West of the Catholic blogosphere. Before we get into the details of the Catholic view of lying, though, let’s take a moment to mention a couple aspects of this issue that make it interesting to both atheists and Catholics.

First, the “societal” or “common-good” aspect of truth-telling is incontestable. Thus prohibitions against lying transcend anything religious or sectarian. The stability of human society really depends on the good will that ought to exist among individuals, and that common good can only be realized by truthfulness. Having said that, many questions remain about how this pursuit plays out among so many people with diverse moral perspectives.

Second, there is an “apologetic” aspect to this issue that really cuts both ways, relative to atheists, Catholics, and morality. The usual claims made—which I've seen several times in the Strange Notions comboxes—focus on the contrast between a moral system built upon moral “absolutes” (such as is found in the Catholic faith) and a moral system devoid of moral “absolutes” (such as is found among many, though not all, atheists).

Catholics often claim the moral “high ground” because the Catholic morality builds upon the foundation of the moral absolute. But, as we will see regarding lying, the Catholic system does not, in fact, pin everything down for us, put it in a box, wrap it in a bow, and leave it on our Catholic doorsteps merely to open up and “repeat as often as is necessary.” Far from it. Indeed, on many moral issues, such as lying, we Catholics find ourselves in a place similar to that of a “non-moral-absolute” non-believer: we’ve got to use our best individual judgement when making particular moral choices about truth-telling. In such a case, the moral “absolute” doesn’t give us a ready-made answer regarding how to behave in specific instances.

However, this also must mean that the atheist ought to concede that we Catholics are really not taught by Mother Church to merely check our intellects at the door and do whatever the moral checklist says we should (or should not) do. The truth is, from the Catholic view, the moral “absolute” is only part of the moral equation. Another part of that equation is all about properly forming conscience and then acting on that properly formed conscience. At the end of the day, we Catholics—just like our atheist friends—are called upon to apply concretely in our own lives what we have come to believe about right or wrong. The Church completely recognizes and respects the rights of conscience of its Catholic members.

So What Does the Church Really Teach About Lying?

The briefest of thumbnail sketches on the history of lying and Church teaching would go like this. The early Church’s embrace of the Ten Commandments yielded for us the “moral absolute” of the Eighth Commandment: Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. This is bedrock. But, like another Commandment (Thou shalt not kill), it leaves much for us to reflect upon and properly interpret. The Early Church Fathers were not unanimous in their treatment of what it meant to “lie” and whether all “lying” was sinful. But St. Augustine wrote an important treatise on the subject titled “On Lying” in which he opined that all spoken falsehood with intention to deceive is immoral. Over time, many (but not all) theologians gravitated toward the Augustinian view—and his definition of lying. As did St. Thomas Aquinas, whose definition of lying, “speech at variance with the mind,” is a bit different but consonant with Augustine. What then emerges in the Church is what is known as the “common teaching of Catholic theologians” on the subject of lying.

But what is “common teaching”? It’s the common theological opinion (note “opinion” and not official magisterial teaching) of Catholic theologians and is most often taught in Church catechesis as the “safe” opinion upon which Catholics may form their consciences. In fact, the Augustinian view (the view shared by “Vulcans”) is that one must never “lie” under any circumstances. And it’s the “common teaching” of the Augustine/Aquinas perspective that is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church today:

"A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving...By its very nature, lying is to be condemned. It is a profanation of speech, whereas the purpose of speech is to communicate known truth to others. The deliberate intention of leading a neighbor into error by saying things contrary to the truth constitutes a failure in justice and charity." (CCC 2482, 2485)

But for Catholics, the “common teaching” is not the only option for us. It’s definitely a “safe” way to live—never speaking a falsehood with intention to deceive under any circumstances. But the many cases in which we would seek, in defense of self or others, to employ deception against unjust aggressors, have caused others to take less rigorous views. One need only read Cardinal John Henry Newman’s essay on “Lying and Equivocation” to see that this debate retained nearly all its force well into the nineteenth century despite the existence of the Catholic “common teaching.” Even G.K. Chesterton famously said, “Every sane man knows he would tell a lie to save a child from Chinese torturers.”

So the debate over what is and isn’t lying continues among Catholic theologians (and bloggers) in our own time. The “common teaching” leaves Catholics with a safe alternative for most cases, but once we begin to consider how we should act when confronted with the famous “Nazi-at-the-door” or the “save-the-Starship-Enterprise-with-a-well-placed-falsehood” or the “undercover-narcotics-cop-infiltrating-the-drug-ring” or the “covert-spy-fighting-the-totalitarian-regime” or “future-pope-letting-a-fugitive-assume-his-priestly-identity-to-escape-the-country”—fill in the blank. We begin to see that the Catholic “common teaching” on lying is ultimately a work in progress.

Now, I do believe there is a future, thoroughly “Catholic” solution worth proposing (and I will propose one of my own in an upcoming book, God willing). But in the meantime, much may be gained and learned in opening up this subject to the many voices in the Strange Notions comboxes.

Is there something of value in the Catholic understanding of truth, the meaning and purpose of speech, the desire to form a trusting society built on the avoidance of the lie?

What might the atheist have to say about the nature of truth apart from God and what we might owe our fellow neighbors and friends when it comes to truth-telling?

Can Mr. Spock and St. Augustine come to a place of mutual agreement regarding what we should never do—speak a deceptive falsehood—from very different starting points? Or does Spock's deception via an artful "truth-telling" still constitute at lie at its core? What do you think of the Catholic “common teaching”? What non-theistic moral framework might suffice for helping guide us regarding when we might speak a falsehood, or not?

The questions abound and perhaps the answers will as well. Maybe the Catholic and the atheist will turn out to be not so very far apart on this one!
(Image credit: Demotivateur)

Deacon Jim Russell

Written by

Deacon Jim Russell is a lifelong St. Louis resident, "cradle" Catholic, husband, father of eleven, and grandfather of two. Ordained to the Diaconate in 2002, Deacon Russell serves as Director of Liturgy for Immaculate Conception Parish in Dardenne Prairie, Missouri, the second-largest parish in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. For several years, Deacon Russell and his classmate Deacon John Beckmann produced a half-hour radio program for Catholic radio titled “Faith Conversations with James and John”. Deacon Russell’s academic/theological interests currently are focused on the sanctity of marriage and the work of Blessed Pope John Paul II, particularly his “Catecheses on Human Love” (Theology of the Body).

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  • 42Oolon

    "What might the atheist have to say about the nature of truth apart from
    God and what we might owe our fellow neighbors and friends when it comes
    to truth-telling?"

    This atheist says lie as little as possible. The reason for this is that I believe the world will be better the more we can trust each other. The less deception there is the more we are likely able to trust each other and avoid harms and increase well-being.

    The moral system behind this is one of my own, and would take a long time to set out. Very briefly, it takes the avoidance of harm and furtherance of human well-being as largely axiomatic or obvious. I look at each case and try to figure out what the best course of action is. I think this is essentially what theists do as well, without the sometimes considerable extra discussion of whether it is consistent with god's nature. There is nothing about a lack of belief in a god that would lead one to my moral framework, but I think it is reasonable and many seem to agree.

    • Randy Gritter

      I would be interested in seeing your moral framework. I would especially be interesting in how you define value laden terms like "harm," "best," and "well-being." I suspect you are right that if we define those terms in very Catholic ways your system might be very similar to what Catholics suggest.

      Another big question would be whether you can just change the system if you run into a hard moral choice. Like when the truth is really hard and a lie becomes tempting. Can the system be tweaked to let you tell the lie or does it remain solid and force you to comply even when it is hard?

      • 42Oolon

        I could point you to Sam Harris The Moral Lanscape, which gives a description of those terms that I would generally accept. They mainly have to do with prioritizing human health and the freedom to make personal choices.

        No, I would not change the general principles, but everything is subject to change on learning new information, I suppose. Specifically I would say it is immoral to lie in circumstances where doing so causes harm on balance. Eg yelling fire in a crowded theatre when there is no fire. It would be moral to lie to the nazis about hiding Jews to save them.

  • Kevin O’Brien

    http://thwordinc.blogspot.com/2013/08/damned-catholics.html - unbelievable. May God have mercy on our souls.

    • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

      Kevin, please read our Commenting Policy before commenting. We expressly forbid people dipping in to offer a link to their own site without relevant and substantial commentary.

  • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

    Thanks in advance for any comments appearing here for part one of this trio--I'll do my best to be responsive to any/all thoughts on the post (including, of course, any Catholics struggling to understand this question)! JR

  • 42Oolon

    An interesting issue, not really relevant to this post, but more to the series, would be: how do we know that the Bible is not full of lies. How do we know, even if God exists that the things for which we have only the Bible's word are not lies?

    This engages the problem of evil. Check out Justin Shieber's recent debate on this at reasonable doubts, but the argument is as follows.

    Evil exists, terrible suffering and pain for which we can see no point. E.g, a tsunami that kills 100,000 people. While a good god could have stopped this, it did not. That means either the god intended the evil, doesn't exist, or has a larger plan for good, that we just can't understand. It the latter is the case, though there may be an absolute morality, we have virtually no understanding of it or what issues God might be needing to deal with that results in the seemingly meaningless suffering on Earth. In fact, it could be that the Bible is all lies about Jesus and salvation, done in order to ensure some other greater good. Our inability to understand the massive pervasive suffering and harm here shows how little we know of god's plan. We are so ignorant, that we can't even be sure that the Bible is true, unless we can independently verify things.

    • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

      One thought I'd offer is to be careful to distinguish, first, between "lies" and "error". The distinction is certainly one of intention.
      Of course, not that I would agree that the Bible has either error or lie, but you'd have to parse your inquiry such that you'd ask about error, then about lying.
      As to how little we know of God's plan, this is in a sense true--which is why theists believe that it's *God* who reveals that to us. That said, the Bible is a *result* of this revelation, as opposed to the "origin" of it, so to speak (again from a Catholic view). Thanks for the comment! JR

      • 42Oolon

        Right, the question is, given the scale of our ignorance or god's plan, demonstrated by the massive gulf in understanding how he could allow so much suffering, how do we know we can trust revelation at all? Even with revelation, we remain so ignorant, that it could very well be that the revelation, including god's revelation of his own honesty, could easily be lies to further some other unknown but massively more important good.

        • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

          Well, from a Christian viewpoint (at least mine), we believe God Himself played the *ultimate* trump card, so to speak, when it comes to suffering--His crucifixion, death, and resurrection. He *aligned* Himself with our suffering, as an act of love and mercy.
          That's why I put trust (faith) in the rest of what He revealed. And I think that's a consistent viewpoint to take, even if others may disagree...thanks, JR

        • jakael02

          42Oolon - you make a good point and raise good Q's. IMHO, you can't answer those questions intellectually.
          Once someone comes to know God's love, they find themselves with infused wisdom, understanding, and knowledge that transcends the sheer intellect but rather is infused into the heart.
          This is how I have answered the questions you have raised. It's "only" answered through prayer.

        • Julius

          Your point is interesting, but I think ultimately unimportant because it begins to get to hint at that we can't ultimately know anything. For example, if you can't take at face value that someone did something for the reasons they said absent evidence to the contrary, how can you then speculate that they did it for other motives. You would need proof that the person acted for other motives. I see this as basically leading to Descartes "Cogito ergo sum." If you can't take at face value that someone acted for a specified reason absent any other evidence, why then should you be able to trust that your own senses aren't deceiving you and you are actually totally alone in a universe of your own creation. (Now, I realize that there really is no way of knowing whether or not such a case is true, it is unproductive to speculate on such things without any real proof, seeing as it simply ends any dialogue.)

          • 42Oolon

            If you are requiring absolute certainty, yes, all anyone can know is "I think therefore I am" theist or atheist. And neither can have any clue as to whether anything else exists.

            If you accept that the world exists, induction, our senses are generally mapping something real, then Christians still have this problem.

          • Julius

            I merely posted this to point out that your line of argument is unhelpful because you can't know. If you have no cause to believe that someone is a liar, it's not really helpful to suppose they are a liar. Therefore, I say that your musing on whether God is lying to us for a greater good is an argument that does not really advance any point. You can't prove it, I can't disprove it, so what's really the point?

  • Kevin O’Brien

    I take it all back. I was wrong. Deacon Jim has been right all along. Shea was wrong, Scott P. Richert was wrong, the Catechism of Trent was wrong, St. Thomas Aquinas was wrong, St. Augustine was wrong, the modern Catechism is wrong. The Bible is wrong. How blind I've been not to see it!

    I am publicly coming out in support of Lying. And other things.


  • Randy Gritter

    The church says and does. How many bishops are actively exhorting parents not to tell their kids about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy? How many are calling for police to end sting operations that involve lying? These examples and some wilder hypothetical questions are good for blogs. But if you had to list the top 20 things the church needs to focus on I doubt this is a problem. Both Catholics and atheists pretty much get the lying question right. Whether the answer is never or almost never is really a very minor issue.

    A bigger question might be how to react when politicians lie. Obama and Bush were caught in many lies. We don't seem to care. We elect them anyway. Can we have a functional democracy without a certain level of honesty among candidates? Does the public acceptance of lying as a political strategy mean democracy is not going to work as it should?

    • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

      Yes and Amen, Randy--the in-house debate among Catholics is one in which we seem unable to take "yes" for an answer--as in "yes," we have to form our own consciences to the best of our ability regarding how we apply the 8th Commandment to truth-telling, because of the many intricacies involved. Those who embrace the Church's common teaching on lying can be "right" without having to declare other well-formed moral theological opinions that guide personal conscience to be "wrong."
      I am personally looking forward to the remaining two posts on this subject, for which I hope this one can help set the stage....thanks again for commenting!

  • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

    It is interesting to note that one of the changes to the second edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church was to the paragraph on lying. The first edition said the following:

    To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead into error someone who has the right to know the truth.

    In the second edition, it was changed to the following:

    To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error.

    If the Nazi's came to your door and asked if you were hiding any Jews, the first edition would have permitted you to say no. The second edition narrows the options.

    • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

      Right, David--and what's even *more* interesting (to me at least) is that JPII indicates that the Second Ed *repeats* the content of the first edition. So, why the change? Because the edited text better expresses what is still viewed as "the" common teaching on lying, which is the kind of teaching the CCC is supposed to rely upon in the absence of direct magisterial statements on a given moral issue.
      And, yet, we can and should remember that the *first* edition was also sanctioned as a "sure norm" for catechesis by the Holy Father. Which is one good reason to recognize that, for Catholics, either view would offer a permissible basis upon which to form one's conscience...
      thanks! JR

    • Scott Murphree-Roberts

      When I look at any question like this, I tend to go back to the two greatest commandments on which hang all the law.

      If I'm lying to a Nazi to protect an innocent, am I not "loving my neighbor as myself" by a) preventing the Nazi from committing a sin, and b) protecting the innocent? If I tell him the truth that the object of his search is in my home, am I not participating in and enabling his crime against the innocent?

      Lying for personal gain is easily wrong. Lying to protect an innocent from evil seems obviously right to me.

      Absolute proscriptions work well if you can't reason from an informed conscience. But we live in a fallen world where there may not be a clear and clean path out of every situation. I believe our consciences are the Holy Spirit's guidance through difficult situations.

      Edited to add: And I also believe (like Benjamin Franklin) that what God commands is not good because he commands it. Rather he commands it because it's good. Humans work a certain way. Parents continually correct their children's behavior to conform to the way people work best. God, who created people, does the same.

      • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

        If I'm lying to a Nazi to protect an innocent, am I not "loving my neighbor as myself" by a) preventing the Nazi from committing a sin, and b) protecting the innocent?

        And yet, suppose we have a defector from China who has extremely valuable information that the Chines know we have not obtained from him yet. The Chinese issue an ultimatum and demand that will execute the defector, or they will launch a nuclear missile aimed at New York City. In spite of the two greatest commandments, it would be absolutely prohibited to kill the innocent defector to save 8 million New Yorkers. Cardinal Newman said the following:

        "The Catholic Church holds it better for the sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions on it to die of starvation in extremest agony, as far as temporal affliction goes, than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one wilful untruth, or should steal one poor farthing without excuse."

        • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

          Newman's work "On Lying and Equivocation" makes it clear that he understands that a person of faith can't hold multiple views on the question of lying at the same time and thus must select a view to take. He understands that there are permissible views on the matter that are less rigorous than his own. ....

    • Kevin Aldrich

      To agree with your conclusion, one would need to look at the original to see if the actual words have changed or if it is just a different translation. In either case we'd need to know why the changes were made.

      • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

        To agree with your conclusion, one would need to look at the original to see if the actual words have changed or if it is just a different translation.

        In a sense, there was no "original." The first version of the Catechism to be published was in French in 1992. (I was so eager to get my hands on the Catechism that I went to a French bookstore and bought myself a copy in 1992.) The first English version was published in 1994. These versions and others contained notes that they were subject to revision when the Latin typical edition (editio typica) was published, which happened in 1997. At that point, the various existing versions of the Catechism (French, English, etc.) had to go into second editions to reflect the final approved Latin version. A list of changes required in the English version to bring it into conformity with the Latin version can be found here.

        One of the most remarked-upon changes was from the first edition, which read:

        2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. They do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial.

        To the second edition, which read:

        2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial.

        This was a significant step backward, since many religiously and politically conservative individuals incorrectly insist that a homosexual orientation is a choice. Exactly why the statement, "They do not choose their homosexual condition," was deleted is unclear to me, since it was true. However, if I understand Jim Russell's position, material in the first edition of the Catechism remains authentic Catholic teaching. (Of course, whether or not a homosexual orientation is a choice is not a matter of faith but a matter of fact, so it is not exactly subject to being a matter of Catholic teaching.)

        • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

          "However, if I understand Jim Russell's position, material in the first edition of the Catechism remains authentic Catholic teaching."
          Hi, David--the meaning of "authentic teaching" is part of what can be confusing, particularly regarding the Catechism. The example you mention would be another case of wanting to "follow the footnotes" to see exactly what is "magisterial" (officially taught by the pope and bishops) and what may not be. The statement "they do not choose their homosexual condition" probably doesn't originate in a *magisterial* teaching source. As such, it becomes a question of trying to phrase things as clearly as possible in a catechism, which by its nature contains both "magisterial" and "non-magisterial" content.
          So that might help with the reason why certain statements got refined or tweaked from Edition One to the official "edition typical" of the CCC. Both are referred to by JPII as a "sure norm" for catholic teaching. So my point was that there really can't be anything in the first edition that is somehow inherently "suspect" as regarding its truth value.
          Two decades after the CCC, we seem to be forgetting that catechisms don't "make" teachings, but instead *repeat* them. So, regarding the level of certitude associated with each teaching, we have to look *beyond* the CCC for its source material.
          In the case of lying, for example, the source material is from the Church Fathers and from Aquinas, but not from the magisterium itself....

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            It is my understanding, and I believe there is a statement to this effect possibly by Pope Benedict XVI, that nothing in the Catechism carries any more weight merely by reason of being included in the Catechism than it did before the Catechism was written. The Catechism, being an outline and summary, contains no new teachings, and it does not elevate any of the old teachings to some higher level by mentioning them. Whether you cite the passage on lying from the first edition or the second edition, the Catholic teaching on lying remains unchanged. The two statements do not contradict each other.

          • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

            Right you are, David--Cdl. Ratzinger, in the "Introduction to the Catechism of the Catholic Church" (Ignatius Press, with Cdl. Schonborn), makes clear that the magisterial "weight' of the Catechism lies in its *whole* rather than its parts, so to speak. To reject the CCC as a whole would be to reject the Catholic faith. But, it is altogether proper--and necessary--to *accept* the content of the CCC based on the individual "weights" of individual teachings, for Ratzinger also makes clear that no teaching receives *any* additional magisterial "weight" by merely being *repeated* in the CCC. Thus, when it comes to any common teaching of Catholic theologians found in the CCC, it does not become "magisterialized" by being in the CCC. thanks, JR

        • Kevin Aldrich

          As you say, we don't know why the change was made in either the modification of the point about lying or homosexuality. We can only speculate, which would be off topic in the case of the latter.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            As you say, we don't know why the change was made in either the modification of the point about lying . . .

            I think I know why the change was made in the passages on lying. Jim's point is that certain aspects of the Catholic view on lying are still up in the air. The statement in the first edition reflects a legitimate Catholic viewpoint. The statement in the second edition is less specific and can reasonably said to include the statement from the first. If they had been as follows, then there would be a contradiction:

            First Edition: To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead into error someone who has the right to know the truth.

            Second Edition: To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error. Whether the person led into error has a right to know the truth or not is immaterial.

            Also, in the first edition, the right to know the truth is undefined. One might make a case that everyone, including murderers in search of their potential victims, have a right to know the truth. I wouldn't make that case, but those who believe that speech must always be truthful are more or less making that case implicitly.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            As long as it is not yet defined by the Magisterium, I'm of the position that there are circumstances in which not all deception is "intrinsically immoral lying." Kevin O'Brien, whose comment was nixed, makes a forceful argument to the contrary.

          • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

            Kevin A--I think you may want to more deeply examine the "opposition" expressed in certain places on this issue. My assertion is, as you say, that the common teaching on lying is, by definition, non-magisterial, and according to the Ludwig Ott definition of "common teaching" (in his classic "Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma"), this means that the common teaching falls in the "field of the free opinions."
            The opposing position is absolutist in its claim that this teaching is part of the official teaching of the pope and bishops, yielding the accusation that anyone taking a less rigorous view is *dissenting* from the magisterium. Indeed, that even saying it's "common teaching" is dissenting, according to this view.
            The only problem is that, when required to produce a *magisterial* statement that all lying so-called is intrinsically evil, no one can produce one. The claim instead is that, by being in the *Catechism*, it's magisterial, which of course is demonstrably false. So, any claim that the teaching on lying somehow belongs to the "ordinary magisterium" of the Church is quite erroneous....
            So, honestly, there really is no "forceful argument" to back up a claim that we *must* accept the common teaching. Indeed, go back to all sorts of pre-CCC documents and you'll see the teaching is *consistently* referred to as common teaching.
            Some *may* find the "common teaching" *itself* to be compelling and forceful, and that's quite okay. But this is one case in which we are called upon to form conscience guided by principles and sources that are ultimately found among the field of the free theological opinions, as noted by Ott, by Newman, by Chesterton, etc...

          • 42Oolon

            It might be worth taking a step back to ask yourself if you are really trying to decide whether or not things like lying to the Nazis to save Jews is moral. I would suggest that none of you would for a second think this would be immoral. That you have already decided it is moral and are simply trying to rationalize how this could be consistent with Bible commands not to lie and a teaching that God never does.

            My point is that you also first apply a utilitarian morality and then try to rationalize it with the Bible.

            You might pause to ask why, if an all loving God inspired the Bible, he was not more specific, why he did not bother explaining that lying is obviously okay in some circumstances. Why he did not prohibit child abuse, but was very specific about mixed fibres. And so on.

          • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

            Kevin A--I could have been more clear about the *lack* of a "forceful argument" in the case of the commenter to whom you refer, who makes the straight-faced claim that the teaching on lying found in the Catechism is actually *infallibly* taught by the "ordinary universal magisterium."
            This is, of course, provably false--first, such infallibility exercised by the ordinary universal magisterium cannot be "declared" infallible by us non-magisterial folk. But more to the point is the clear *historical* record that shows a plurality of views among saints, bishops, theologians, and Church Fathers not only before Augustine himself but loooong after (again, check out the Newman essay linked above).
            Doctrine infallibly taught by the ordinary universal magisterium must not only be taught everywhere by the Pope and bishops but also *every-when* (including before Augustine, who is the one who came up with the definition cited in the CCC! But the reason Augustine wrote is *because* of the plurality of views and complexity of the issue that existed in the Church before him...). As such the teaching on lying cannot be declared "infallibly" taught by the ordinary universal magisterium.
            Additionally, to make this absurd claim of infallibility, you would have to adequately explain why the evidence of the last hundred years--Catholic encyclopedias, moral theology manuals, popular books by clergy on moral teaching, etc. (even the *current* multi-volume Catholic Encyclopedia published *this* century)--all make clear that this teaching is *common teaching*.
            Which is why I have to insist that there is no "forceful argument" to be made against the historically demonstrable truth that the teaching remains among the field of the free opinions, which in turn obliges us to form conscience either according to the common teaching or another reasonable moral theological opinion...

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Doctrine infallibly taught by the ordinary universal magisterium must not only be taught everywhere by the Pope and bishops but also *every-when* . . . .

            Wouldn't this mean that nothing that wasn't a settled question in the time of the earliest Church could never be settled? Didn't St. Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Thomas Aquinas argue against the Immaculate Conception, which is now dogma?

            I agree with you that a case cannot be made that it is an infallible teaching of the Church that to knowingly say something untrue is always wrong. But I can't see how it can be argued that for a teaching of the ordinary magisterium to be infallible, it must have been universally taught from day one.

          • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

            David--this is a *great* observation because it gets to the distinction that exists among the "modes" of infallibility. The "every-when"/"everywhere" part applies specifically to the universal ordinary magisterium rather than to the infallibility of the pope or the councils.
            In the case of a dogmatic declaration such as the Immaculate Conception, it was actually necessary to have a pope or council declare it as infallible dogma *because* it had not been addressed or taught by the magisterium previously as infallible teaching. It required the authority of the pope to declare it so.
            Prior to the declaration, Catholics were, in fact, free to embrace the Immaculate Conception teaching, or take a less rigorous view such as Aquinas did, based on his understanding of human conception and development. Now, we *must* believe it.
            Compare this to something the pope and bishops have *always* held to be true in faith and morals, something they teach authoritatively and in unison from the beginning--that would be the stuff of the ordinary universal magisterium. And that is clearly not what we're dealing with regarding the moral theological debate of what constitutes the sin of lying...
            Does the distinction here seem clear? thanks, JR

  • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

    Were I cynical (and of course I am not) I might wonder if the Church was being inconsistent (note I did not say hypocritical) on the matter of lying. Lying, according to the Church, is intrinsically evil. There are other intrinsic evils on which the Church takes an absolutist position. (I will not name them here for fear of hijacking the discussion.) In fact, it is in the nature of something defined as an intrinsic evil that an absolutist position must be taken. Chesterton may have said, "Every sane man knows he would tell a lie to save a child from Chinese torturers,” and although I personally find that a compelling argument for the permissibility of lying under certain circumstances, were the implied scenario about some other intrinsic evil, the Catholic response would be that morality is not determined by what every sane man would do.

    • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

      Hi, David, you wrote: "Lying, according to the Church, is intrinsically evil."
      But here is part of the difficulty--the necessary precise language is that "lying, according to the "common teaching of the Church's moral theologians," is intrinsically evil. This is indeed the strongest opinion, historically, among the Church's theologians. But it isn't the *only* opinion. And, further, it raises the next question: "Even if one concedes that there is a moral act we call 'lying' that is intrinsically evil, are there *other* moral acts resembling what we call 'lying' that are *not* intrinsically evil?"
      This is the nature of the question debated for centuries, even before Christianity.

      • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

        As I understand it, it is an undisputed teaching of the Catholic Church that lying is intrinsically evil. The question is what constitutes lying. If lying is defined as deceiving someone who has a right to know the truth, then deceiving the Nazis to prevent genocide against Jews is not lying. However, if the purpose of speech is to convey truth, and the "perverted faculty" argument is employed, then any deliberately deceptive speech is a lie and is morally prohibited. The "perverted faculty" arguments for sexuality, according to the Church, prohibit the use of contraception for married couples completely. It seems to be the absolutist case against contraception is not consistent with the non-absolutist case against lying. Or take masturbation. There are no circumstances under which masturbation is permitted, even for medical reasons. If we follow the non-absolutist case against lying, we could define masturbation as self-stimulation for the purpose of pleasure outside marital sex. So defined, masturbation would be permissible for the purpose of providing a sperm sample to analyze in the case of a husband and wife having difficulty conceiving.

        It seems to me that the non-absolutist case against lying smacks of consequentialism. Instead of saying lying is wrong but permissible in circumstances where not lying would do serious harm, the non-absolutist position seeks to redefine lying. The saying, "Every sane man knows he would tell a lie to save a child from Chinese torturers,” seems to me to be essentially consequentialist, but since the Church does not accept consequentialism, it must find an absolutist position against lying and maintain that lying is always wrong, but some things that look an awful lot like lying are not really lying.

        There was a major exchange among some of the big names in Catholic moral theology on this issue awhile back, and it makes for fascinating reading. It began in First Things with Fig Leaves and Falsehoods: Pace Thomas Aquinas, sometimes we need to deceive by Janet E. Smith, followed by The Case Against False Assertions by Christopher Tollefsen and Alexander Pruss, followed by Why Tollefsen and Pruss are Wrong about Lying by Janet E. Smith, followed by Smith, Tollefsen, and Pruss on Lying by Edward Feser. I am sure others commented, too, but those are the main ones.

        It seems to me quite obvious that the position that it is always wrong to lie is fanatical. If I am hiding a potential murder victim, and the potential murderer rings my doorbell and asks if I am hiding his intended victim, I am going to attempt to deceive him and get him to go away by any means possible, including a flat-out lie. The debate is fascinating, but I have no doubts about what I would do, and I would have no moral qualms in doing it.

  • Loreen Lee

    There are several issues involved in this debate in which I find conflicting basis of assessment. The comparison of the eighth commandment with lying, generally, for instance I find problematic.
    In lying, it is generally assumed that there is an intent to deceive, whether or not the consequences are considered meritorious or not. But when it comes to 'bearing false witness against one's neighbor', could there perhaps be on occasions a problematic of 'self-deception'. It may be possible to overlook the truth that we cannot 'know' another persons mind, at least directly.

    We assume knowledge of character and intent, for example, through intimacy over a period of time, induction from behavior, and interpretation of what another person says. But can it not be true, that we can opine what we believe to be the motivation of another? Cannot we say, for instance: "She did that because she wants people to think she knows more than they do." Such comments are, within the psychology today, often identified as projections. Such comments reveal the long held truth that we often see in others what we fail to see in ourselves. (the gospel about the mite in one's eye, for instance).

    But are not such estimations of another, whether based on one's own fallibilities or not, forms of 'bearing false witness'. To be perfectly truthful about another, might with such a comparison, require us to not only see ourselves in truth, but to overcome the jealousies, resentments, and other emotional characteristics that we can attribute to another.

    Yet I doubt whether in such instances the person considers their opinion, to be either a lie, or the bearing of false witness. Self-deception can be a far more difficult illusion to assess, perhaps than the intent to deceive others, which would assume I believe a rationally based intention, or motive, rather than a response from an emotional basis, alone. Lying generally, is not necessarily the same as 'bearing false witness' I would conclude.

  • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

    What I took from this article is that the Catholic Church says that lying is generally wrong.

    I think most atheists and agnostics would agree. If they didn't, how would you know?

    • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

      Hi, Paul--I think that your wording is "colloquially" on the right track regarding "lying is generally wrong" as capturing something of what the Church teaches. But we need a bit more precision to capture what we in the Church think we *do* know--we know there is something we typically call "lying" that is, as a moral act, *always* wrong (rather than generally). But what we *don't* claim to know is whether all moral acts that "look like" that act (e.g, "speaking falsehood with intention to deceive") fall into the "always-wrong" category.
      This is why we end up speaking of this as a matter of properly forming conscience, which ultimately yields a great similarity, I'm guessing, to how the atheist might determine the morality of lying. thanks, JR

      • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

        Colloquial is about as good as I get on a lot of these issues! I'm glad that the author thinks I understood him. That makes me happy. Thank you.

        This is why we end up speaking of this as a matter of properly forming conscience, which ultimately yields a great similarity, I'm guessing, to how the atheist might determine the morality of lying.

        Yes. There does seem to be a lot of overlap. That's probably a good thing. If this is a "natural law" issue, then ideally the positions of Christians and non-Christians should coincide. We're both working from the same playbook.

    • DannyGetchell

      I see what you did there. Nice!!

  • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

    This all reminds me of studying Kant in introductory philosophy classes and being absolutely stupefied by his deontological ethics. We were often presented with the "Nazi at the door" scenario - say, the opening scene in "Inglorious Basterds." Consider, the professor said, that you may lie about the whereabouts of people in hiding, but they may have since relocated to the place you pretended they were. In that case they are dead anyway, and in addition, you just lied.

    "And?" As hard as I tried I just couldn't see lying as the wrong course of action in that scenario. I agree with Chesterton that any sane man would go ahead and tell a lie if it meant saving an innocent life. This notion, related to the thorny question of "double effect," will invite all kinds of criticisms of hypocrisy and double-dealing for people who so often adhere to moral absolutes. But I think to understand it fully we need to look at a third, middle way - the tradition of "virtue ethics," an alternative to both deontology and consequentialism running from Aristotle to Aquinas to Alasdair MacIntyre.

    I'm really looking forward to reading the two response articles. Thanks Jim!

    • Loreen Lee

      Thanks Matthew. I too dealt with the 'Nazi issue' when I was studying Kant. A reason why I didn't want to deal with it here. But your comment is provocative. I feel that what they always left out of consideration in those classes was the element of 'power'. Could the situation not be described as a contest between two versions of reality that constitute the respect truths of the 'powers that be'.. Perhaps in this way, one of the truths could be held to be more 'absolute' than the other, in which case, the person wanting to protect a life in face of a Nazi 'power grab', might bear more weight. It could possible not even be regarded as a lie in that case, but a refusal to compromise the truth. Although the tactic was discussed in those classes to evade the issue as well as within the blog. Thus could it not be argued that the deception in this case could be regarded as actually acting for the 'more absolute' truth, even in the face of coercion.

      But power itself can be deceptive. So I struggle with the question as to whether a lie need necessarily be 'verbal'. I just find that there are many ways to deceive. One can put the key chain back on the shelf for instance without saying anything about taking the car for a spin, despite daddy's orders not to. Indeed the deception can be so clever, that it never gets to a verbal exchange.

      Just a few examples that I hope will raise the issue as to whether the commandments, and even the expressions of natural law encompass the realm of possibilities that bear at least some relevance in determining what should be the case in matters of conscience with respect to specific instances.
      On the question of Aristotelian virtue ethics ,in relation to the intentionality expressed in the maxim of deontological ethics: I equate virtue ethics more with the emotions than reason. In my previous comment, for instance, a person's self-deception could be regarded as 'innocence' of the fact even, if the person was judged to be speaking 'unconsciously' as it were, and others were unaware of their own particular frailties with their own character development, within the virtue ethics criteria.
      Intentionality implies, to my mind, more conscious forethought, than virtue ethics, which does not dismiss from possibility, that the conscience has not been adequately 'examined'. Intentionality can be just as private and sometimes more so than the character traits of virtue ethics.

      When it comes to power, for instance, many compromises with deception become possible. Again, I feel an inadequacy exists with respect to the current criteria of assessment, for although power has only been examined explicitly within philosophy in the last century, more familiarity with its abuses might have an effect on how elements of coercion might be factors within the 'sins' recognized by both the courts and the magisterium.

  • GreatSilence

    I suppose that as a trial lawyer I am either uniquely qualified to address this topic, or completely disqualified :)
    As a general rule lying is wrong and is to be avoided. There are however a few examples in everyday life where I am quite comfortable to creatively re-assess the truth, to the point where I hardly regard them as lies. Here I believe that we should be careful of being too legalistic. For me personally it often boils to a balancing of harm. I do lie about how delicious my mother in law's cooking is.When the question about "Honey, do these jeans make my backside look fat" comes up, I have been known to lie. The Nazi at the door example referred to by others is another example where I would lie without blushing.
    To hurt someone out of proportion, all in the interests of not lying, is not compassionate. It can even be selfish.
    These few concessions to social adaptability should however not be used to widen that definition too far. Human nature being what it is, we may slowly move the goalposts to a stage where we are lying quite often, all under the pretense of being compassionate. To know where to draw that line is a difficult skill.

  • Chris

    Unfortunately the author misrepresents, at the least, the debate on the issue. He presents the definition found in the current edition of the CCC as being "only" a common teaching, which is questionable at the least; but this view is presented as though it is THE correct one, when their are many moral theologians, much more qualified than he, who would disagree with it. (The citation of Ludwig Ott's book or a Catholic encyclopedia article as sources is hardly scholarly.) For honesty's sake he should at least alert the reader that his view is disputed. There are also other errors: the claim that the definition in the 1st edition of the CCC is still equally as valid as the second, with no reference to support this(and precisely because the definition was changed one should have some positive statement to claim the old one is still just as binding); that because multiple opinions existed at one point then there cannot be an infallible definition put forth; or that an infallible definition for which there were prior multiple opinions requires an explicit papal pronouncement.

    • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

      Hi, Chris--then let's be honest, indeed.
      Who are the top three scholars or moral theologians who say that the teaching on lying is something other than "common teaching"?
      Are there any top theologians claiming that this teaching on lying is *infallible* via the ordinary universal magisterium? If so, please offer a name.
      Having such names would interest me immensely.

      • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

        Hi, Chris--I note that the day has passed, and I have no knowledge of the names of moral theologians who differ with me on the claim regarding "common teaching"....to date, after years of study in this area, I remain aware of none.

    • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

      As to "other errors":
      Re the CCC 1st ed. my claim is that *both* editions were presented publicly as "a sure norm" for understanding the Catholic faith, and the Second Ed, we're told by JPII, *repeats* the content of the First Ed.
      Re multiple opinions and infallible definitions: Doctrine can develop such that things once contended can *obviously* be resolved with infallible declarations, either by pope or council. My point is that something that starts out being contended (and thus *not* taught always and everywhere in the Church by pope and bishops via the universal ordinary magisterium) can't be claimed to be *infallibly* taught later by the universal ordinary magisterium. Either pope or council can resolve longstanding disputed issues with infallible declarations.
      But, guess who gets to declare officially when something's taught infallibly by the ordinary universal magisterium? The Magisterium, not us. And, of course, the common teaching on lying has simply never been universally taught or accepted among the bishops nor among theologians. Please, read Newman's essay...

      • Chris

        Sorry, JR but I'm not going to go around in circles with you. You can label this a personal attack, but I don't care. For one, I have actually been through this particular issue with you before, such as on the bellarmine forum blog. You present yourself as an expert on all the issues you discuss when you are in over your head, and rely on your status as a deacon. And you know I'm not the only one- it seems whenever you take to the blogs many others notice your questionable tactics and even have to stop engaging you at some point. It's revealing that you feel a need to say that you really are interested in the truth. Only if there was a reason for suspecting the contrary would someone have to voice this.

        • Chris

          I tried to edit my comments and they were posted as a guest. Yes, some of them went a little too far which is why I wanted to edit/delete it and rewrite. But the basic premise remains.

          • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

            So, no names of the many other moral theologians you refer to above, then? (folks who say the CCC teaching on lying is *not* common teaching?) Okay with me, but it does kind of make your claim against me devoid of substance...

  • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

    One point of interest that I wanted to add to this thread for folks' future reference. Some people continue making the claim that the Catechism's Second Edition (editio typica) rephrasing of the definition of lying was deliberately done to correct a supposedly huge "loophole" in the first edition. But on the other hand, I am criticized for suggesting that the *second edition* contains the common teaching on lying, which *might* by definition not be completely free from error--that is, I'm accused of suggesting that the Catechism *now* might be teaching error (it's *not* actually what I'm saying, but it's what some say I'm saying).
    So the irony is this: *Everyone* who asserts that the second edition corrects a huge "loophole" is *necessarily* and unreservedly asserting that it was the *first* edition of the Catechism that taught error. The first edition of the universal catechism, declared as a "sure norm" by JPII, actually was *not* a sure norm for us, we're told. In fact it was so erroneous and *unsure* regarding the issue of lying that it actually had to be *fixed* and corrected in the second edition (which JPII *also* calls a "sure norm" that "repeats" the content of the first).
    So, can't one rightly ask, "If some folks actually believe that the *first* edition "sure norm" actually taught error on lying, how can we be sure that the *second* edition "sure norm" must somehow now be "correct" on lying, in contrast to the first edition?
    That is, if the first can teach error, why can't the second?
    And, by what *external* authority ought we really judge whether one is in "error" and the other isn't? Who decides?
    The alternative, of course, is this: BOTH expressions of what lying is--the first ed and second ed--are acceptable expressions, acceptable opinions for Catholics to hold. It's not that one is "erroneous" and the other is "true". Rather, it's that one expression (second ed) matches what is the "common teaching of Catholic theologians" (which is what *should* be in a universal catechism) and the other matches a less rigorous but still tolerated theological opinion which has not risen yet to the level of "common teaching" and therefore should *not* appear in a universal catechism.
    At least, according to my opinion, the Catechism does not and never did teach error. According to some who disagree with me, the Catechism *has* taught error, an opinion I cannot accept....

    • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

      Who knew JPII was a "magisterial dissenter" on lying?... :-)

      What do I mean? To reduce it to something slightly more absurd-sounding: anyone accusing a person who *accepts* the "right to the truth" phrasing (found in the first edition) of "magisterial dissent" because that phrasing is not identical to the *second* edition phrasing, is *also* accusing the *magisterium* who gave us the first-ed definition of magisterial dissent in that first edition...

  • Ignorant Amos

    I'm a bit confused Jim. Religions are built on deceit. The Catholic church is replete with examples of deceit for gain. Church fathers have advocated such.

    From Medieval Source book: St. Ignatius Loyola: Spiritual Exercises

    To be right in everything, we ought always to hold that the white which I see, is black, if the Hierarchical Church so decides it, believing that between Christ our Lord, the Bridegroom, and the Church, His Bride, there is the same Spirit which governs and directs us for the salvation of our souls. Because by the same Spirit and our Lord Who gave the ten Commandments, our holy Mother the Church is directed and governed.

    What were indulgences for financial gain during the medieval period anything else but deceit culminating in the reformation?

    Martin Luther stated.

    Although indulgences are the very merits of Christ and of His saints and so should be treated with all reverence, they have in fact nonetheless become a shocking exercise of greed. For who actually seeks the salvation of souls through indulgences, and not instead money for his coffers? This is evident from the way indulgences are preached. For the commissioners and preachers do nothing but extol indulgences and incite the people to contribute. You hear no one instructing the people about what indulgences are, or about how much they grant, or about the purpose they serve. Instead, all you hear is how much one must contribute. The people are always left in ignorance, so that they come to think that by gaining indulgences they are at once saved.

    Luther is also alleged to have said.

    "What harm would it do, if a man told a good strong lie for the sake of the good and for the Christian church … a lie out of necessity, a useful lie, a helpful lie, such lies would not be against God, he would accept them."

    St Jerome was aware of it when he wrote in his letter LII. to Nepotian.

    My teacher, Gregory of Nazianzus, when I once asked him to explain Luke's phrase σάββατον δευτερόπρωτον, that is the second-first Sabbath, playfully evaded my request saying: I will tell you about it in church, and there, when all the people applaud me, you will be forced against your will to know what you do not know at all. For, if you alone remain silent, every one will put you down for a fool. There is nothing so easy as by sheer volubility to deceive a common crowd or an uneducated congregation: such most admire what they fail to understand.

    The New Testament is full of forgery(lies) and interpolation(lies) and as a deacon you must be aware of such. If you are not, you should be.

    Bart D. Ehrman writes.

    “One of the most amazing and perplexing features of mainstream Christianity is that seminarians who learn the historical-critical method in their Bible classes appear to forget all about it when it comes time for them to be pastors. They are taught critical approaches to Scripture, they learn about the discrepancies and contradictions, they discover all sorts of historical errors and mistakes, they come to realize that it is difficult to know whether Moses existed or what Jesus actually said and did, they find that there are other books that were at one time considered canonical but that ultimately did not become part of Scripture (for example, other Gospels and Apocalypses), they come to recognize that a good number of the books of the Bible are pseudonymous (for example, written in the name of an apostle by someone else), that in fact we don't have the original copies of any of the biblical books but only copies made centuries later, all of which have been altered. They learn all of this, and yet when they enter church ministry they appear to put it back on the shelf. For reasons I will explore in the conclusion, pastors are, as a rule, reluctant to teach what they learned about the Bible in seminary.”

    You might say omitting the truth is not lying, but it is certainly deceit. In any case, the commandment states "Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness", but if the bit that is usually left off the end is "Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness added against thy neighbor", all manner of possibilities can be.

    The Decalogue itself is lies. BTW, I was always taught the commandment in question was the ninth of the ten.

    • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

      Hi, "Ignorant Amos"--you wrote: "I'm a bit confused Jim. Religions are built on deceit. The Catholic church is replete with examples of deceit for gain. Church fathers have advocated such."
      *Are* religions built on deceit, and *is* the Decalogue, as you say late in your comment, "lies"? I suppose you would have an uphill climb to produce evidence on these points, as well as your claim that "Church Fathers" have advocated "deceit for gain" if by deceit you really mean "sinful lies"....
      As to staying more directly on topic for this piece, I'd comment on your assertion that one might say omitting the truth is not lying, but it is certainly deceit: I would say that lies of omission are quite possible, as are deceptions that are not sinful lies. And, yes, the numbering of the Decalogue can and does vary in different ecclesial traditions. In the Catholic Church it's Eighth. Also, you are correct that the "neighbor" part of this commandment does have a role in our discernment of truth-telling...thanks, JR

      • Ignorant Amos

        *Are* religions built on deceit,...

        Indeed. Christianity and Catholicism particularly.The money that was extorted from the masses from the display of phony "relics" of its "Lord," "Apostles" and "Saints" ...there were a number of 'authentic' burial shrouds scattered throughout the abbeys of Europe of which the Shroud of Turin is just one. Calvin said, "it would be made manifest that every Apostle has more than four bodies, and every Saint two or three." Everything from St. Peter's brain to numerous Jesus foreskin's...and enough pieces of the cross to build an ark. Wouldn't you class taking money from the poor under false pretences a sinful lie?

        ...and *is* the Decalogue, as you say late in your comment, "lies"?

        Well, given that even the esteemed Rabbi Wolpe has had to concede that the Exodus is probably a made up story, how did Moses, if he existed, get a Decalogue from God as described in the Bible?

        If I grant that the ten commandments are true, then I must concede a God that gave them, so they must be lies. Therefore, how did the commandments come about? They came about the way most things in the OT came about, they were made up or plagiarized.

        Perhaps they came from the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

        "For every "I have not..." in the Negative Confession, it is possible to read an unexpressed "Thou shalt not". While the Ten Commandments of Judaeo-Christian ethics are rules of conduct laid down by a perceived divine revelation, the Negative Confession is more a divine enforcement of everyday morality."

        Perhaps they came from Sumerian/Akkadian literary canons and the "Instructions of Šuruppak son of Ubara-tutu".

        "The Instructions contain precepts that reflect those later included in the Ten Commandments, and other sayings that are reflected in the biblical Book of Proverbs."

        Maybe even Babylonian Hammurabi laws were the influence. The ten commandments are not very special at all and as far as laws of morality go.

        "The Ten Commandments contain no revolutionary news, no trace of wisdom, nothing brilliant. One should maybe expect something less trivial from the Highest Being?"

        "The Babylonian civilization had a huge cultural, political, juridical and religious influence on the surrounding cultures, and also on the writers of the Old Testament."

        I suppose you would have an uphill climb to produce evidence on these points, as well as your claim that "Church Fathers" have advocated "deceit for gain" if by deceit you really mean "sinful lies"....

        Deceit for gain does not necessarily mean monetary gain. Furthering the benefit of the church counts too.

        Rome’s tradition and the so-called church father’s teaching do not line up! They readily admit this themselves. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XV, page 10, we read:

        “When the Church studies the ancient monuments of her faith she casts over the past the reflection of her living and present thought and by some sympathy of the truth, today with that of yesterday she succeeds in recognizing through THE OBSCURITIES AND INACCURACIES of ancient formulas and portion of traditional truth, even though they are MIXED WITH ERROR”

        The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VI, page 136, gives us this admission.

        "Substitution of false documents and tampering with genuine ones was quite a trade in the Middle Ages. Innocent III (1198) points out nine species of forgery [of ecclesiastical records] which had come under his notice.
        But such frauds of the Church were not confined to the Middle Ages; they begin even with the beginning of the Church and infest every period of its history for fifteen hundred years and defile nearly every document, both of "Scriptures" and of Church aggrandizement."

        "For 1500 years, Augustine was considered one of the greatest teachers of the Catholic church. His influence was so great that about 200 years after his death at least three works were forged in his name. These works justified practices that were unknown in Augustine’s time. It was these forgeries that Thomas Aquinas quoted from (along with the forgeries of Gratian). Since Thomas Aquinas is considered the greatest teacher of Catholic history, these forgeries are still exerting their influence. These works are named De Condition Cordis (Summa, Part III, Fourth Number, 119), De Penitentia (Summa, Part III, Third number, 57) and Hypognosticon (Summa, Part III, Third Number, 77)."

        Aquinas has quoted those other forgeries, the Clementines.

        Collins, in his celebrated "Discourse of Free Thinking":
        "In Short, these frauds are very common in all books which are published by priests or priestly men... For it is certain they may plead the authority of the Fathers for Forgery, Corruption and mangling of Authors, with more reason than for any of their Articles of Faith.."(p.96.)

        Well I guess there is no chance that any evidence that would convince the faithful.

        For 1500 years, Augustine was considered one of the greatest teachers of the Catholic church. His influence was so great that about 200 years after his death at least three works were forged in his name. These works justified practices that were unknown in Augustine’s time. It was these forgeries that Thomas Aquinas quoted from (along with the forgeries of Gratian). Since Thomas Aquinas is considered the greatest teacher of Catholic history, these forgeries are still exerting their influence. These works are named De Condition Cordis (Summa, Part III, Fourth Number, 119), De Penitentia (Summa, Part III, Third number, 57) and Hypognosticon (Summa, Part III, Third Number, 77)."

        (Golden Mouth) John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, was an important Early Church Father.

        In his "Treatise On The Priesthood, Book 1."

        "Do you see the advantage of deceit? ..."

        "For great is the value of deceit, provided it be not introduced with a mischievous intention. In fact action of this kind ought not to be called deceit, but rather a kind of good management, cleverness and skill, capable of finding out ways where resources fail, and making up for the defects of the mind ..."

        "And often it is necessary to deceive, and to do the greatest benefits by means of this device, whereas he who has gone by a straight course has done great mischief to the person whom he has not deceived."

        It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone Jim that the RCC has employed deceit. lies and subterfuge to further itself in the past, we have witnessed just such shenanigans firsthand in these modern times.

        • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

          You've gone at some length to share your view, so I appreciate your effort--it's obviously a larger question beyond the scope of my much more modest post. But I'd like to follow up on the Catholic Encyclopedia content you mention--is this from the "old" (online) Catholic Encyclopedia or the "new" "New Catholic Encyclopedia" now in a 21st-Century edition? Since you reference "pages" I want to be sure of the source.
          Oddly, when you mention the Egyptian Book of the Dead above, it makes me think of the Mormon "scripture" known as the "Book of Abraham"--a supposed translation from Joseph Smith from an ancient papyrus--Smith "translated" it to be a story of Abraham and Sarah in Egypt *before* the Rosetta Stone was discovered. The papyrus was authentically translated afterward--a funerary page from a "Book of the Dead"--just wondered if you had that reference in mind above?

          • Ignorant Amos

            Apologies for the confusion, my references to those pages came from "Forgery in Christianity", so "old" Catholic Encyclopedia I'd imagine...they were two quotes lifted from a 1930's book. I guess it was a bit of a surprise to the author that the CE would include such a damning indictment for the times.

            The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XV, page 10 can be found on page 19 on the following version.


            The reference to the problem of forged religious documents, what is deemed a forgery, Innocent III's measures to deal with the problem, and the Innocent III reference to having outlined specific cases in, "Innocent III (1198) points out to the bishop and chapter of Milan nine species of forgery which had come under his notice" can be found on the "Forgery, Forger" page of any version of the CE.


            Do you doubt there was any problem with scriptural forgery(lies) during Christianities history?

            A more contemporary treatise on the subject is Bart Ehrman's, "Forged: Writing in the Name of God--Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are"

            The Clementine Pseudepigrapha Books (20 of them). The CE makes no bones about their use in RC theology and the fact they were re-edited because "the 20th book and part of the 19th are wanting".


            As an aside, and an example of the harmful misuse of forgery, the Laudabiliter Bull is regarded as just such.

            The Bull of Pope Adrian IV Empowering Henry II to Conquer Ireland. A.D. 1155.


            If the "Bull" was indeed a forgery, it must have served purpose because it wasn't revoked. On the contrary...

            "Led by Domnall mac Brian Ó Néill, King of Tír Eógain, they [the Irish] issued a Remonstrance to the next Pope, John XXII, requesting that Laudabiliter should be revoked, but this was refused."

            Lies and corruption to further the aims of the church, who would have thought such sinful antics possible?

          • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

            ***Lies and corruption to further the aims of the church, who would have thought such sinful antics possible?***
            I would--every day I wake up and look in the mirror...
            I'm quite sure there is no shortage of examples of moral failings--including lies--among many of the Church's members from "top to bottom". But I'm also quite sure that not everything you are mentioning above will be shown to be historically accurate.
            As to Scripture itself, the Catholic view is that the primary Author of Scripture is the Holy Spirit, regardless of who the human author is, so, for example, it doesn't really matter whether Paul wrote the Letter to the Hebrews, or Luke wrote Acts, etc.
            A Church founded upon the apostolicity of a denier, a doubter, and a ruthless persecutor of Christians (Paul), apparently, from the start, is not basing its claims on the "street cred," so to speak, of its leaders. The authenticity of the Church founded by Jesus Christ rests first upon Jesus Himself and, hopefully, the effect He has upon everyone else...

          • Ignorant Amos

            ***Lies and corruption to further the aims of the church, who would have thought such sinful antics possible?***
            I would--every day I wake up and look in the mirror...
            I'm quite sure there is no shortage of examples of moral failings--including lies--among many of the Church's members from "top to bottom".

            That is fine, we agree that just about everyone lies. I have no issue with that point. But in saying ...

            The early Church’s embrace of the Ten Commandments yielded for us the “moral absolute” of the Eighth Commandment: Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. This is bedrock. But, like another Commandment (Thou shalt not kill), it leaves much for us to reflect upon and properly interpret.

            I'm trying to point out the folly in trying to uphold this morality as objective because it happens to be in a revered holy scripture. Attempting to show the hypocrisy of an institution that makes such claims while utilizing such deception for gain, I'm trying to point out, by example, that the thesis is full of problems. Not withstanding the other examples given by other members that demonstrate that lying on certain occasion is the right thing to do...the church seems to agree in practice.

            But I'm also quite sure that not everything you are mentioning above will be shown to be historically accurate.

            Knock yourself out Jim...only one needs to stick for my point to stand.

            As to Scripture itself, the Catholic view is that the primary Author of Scripture is the Holy Spirit, regardless of who the human author is, so, for example, it doesn't really matter whether Paul wrote the Letter to the Hebrews, or Luke wrote Acts, etc.

            That doesn't bother you at all? It doesn't bother you that there is blatant lies within those scriptures regardless of the Holy Spirits preferred pen name? That anonymous texts written as "sinful lies" are being revered and used as Holy texts? Fair enough. I'm just wondering why the Holy Spirit would bother with anonymous hearsay?

            A Church founded upon the apostolicity of a denier, a doubter, and a ruthless persecutor of Christians (Paul), apparently, from the start, is not basing its claims on the "street cred," so to speak, of its leaders.

            Of course there is no way on this planet that Paul was telling lies though is there? Here's a novel idea, only the faithful can say he didn't tell lies. The atheist says he must have told at least some lies.

            Take the post resurrection assertion of "more than five hundred brethren at one time" witnessing Jesus appearance in Paul's letter to the Corinthians. Really? A grandiose fabrication to coerce the minions seems the most plausible explanation. Given that it is hearsay from the author, I'll stick with that conclusion any day. It's also telling that the tall tall never reached the gospel traditions.

            Other scripture refutes the testimony as lies.

            Acts 10:40-4: "But God raised him from the dead three days later and caused him to appear, not to everyone, but only to the witnesses that God had already chosen, that is, to us who ate and drank with him after he rose from death."

            Other scriptures also claim there to have been just 120 brethren living in Jerusalem at the time.

            The authenticity of the Church founded by Jesus Christ rests first upon Jesus Himself and, hopefully, the effect He has upon everyone else...

            The former is circular. The later is misleading. The effect the Jesus story has had on many, not everyone has been very detrimental, it also does nothing to uphold the authenticity of Jesus Christ, the church, or Christian texts.

            Another side issue, contrary to what Paul was doing the road according to the Acts, he was not on a mission to persecute Christians. But then again, who knows who wrote the Acts and for what purpose other than it appears to have been the same person that wrote the gospel according to Luke.

  • xyzzy

    Since the OP started with Vulcans, I want to comment that the story that "Vulcans cannot lie" is itself a lie. I cannot prove it, but I suspect they started this story so that they can gain great advantage from lying when it suits them.

    In "A Taste of Armageddon", Spock says to the guard at the disintegration booth "Sir, there is a multi-legged creature crawling on your shoulder"; there is no such creature -- it is an attempt to put the guard at ease, making him vulnerable to a neck pinch.

    In "The Enterprise Incident", Spock tells several lies: That Kirk ordered the Enterprise across the neutral zone on his own authority (the Federation wanted plausible deniability); that Kirk is "not sane" (Spock knew that the insanity was an act); that Spock used the "Vulcan Death Grip" on Kirk (there is no "Vulcan Death Grip", and Kirk is not even dead).

    On Organia, Spock tells the Klingons that he is a dealer in kivas, and allows their mind probe machine to discover that his main concern is how he will conduct his business under the Klingon occupation.

    And you can't say it is just Spock, with his half-human side:

    In Amok Time, T'Pau lies by omission when she does not tell Kirk that he is accepting a fight to the death. (She is a Vulcan and so is surely logical enough to know that outworlders are not familiar with her ceremonies. Plus Spock told her that Kirk did not understand what he was agreeing to.)

    In Star Trek VI, Valeris participates in a conspiracy to sabotage the Federation/Klingon peace talks and throughout the movie speaks as if she does not know who the conspirators are. She even participates in the search for the conspirators.

    Except for T'Pau (who I think was just being a dick), these lies all advance the greater good, as judged by the Vulcan who is lying. In that respect, the Vulcan view of lies is fairly similar to the Human view: Some lies are ok. Spock has no problem lying to the Romulan Commander in order to aid in stealing equipment from a Romulan ship. I suspect he is using the Nazi analogy here.

    The one thing the Vulcans have achieved that Humans have not is a better discipline. They do not routinely lie. They keep this disciplne so well that the rest of the universe actually believes that Vulcans do not lie. This gives them fantastically better credibility when they do.

    • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

      Great--*priceless*--comment! Thanks!