Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Art of Lying

Dr. R. Albert Mohler. Jr. covered the topic of lying children recently in a blog article titled, Are We Teaching Our Children to Lie? He made the good point that we inadvertently teach them to lie when we ask them to behave in ways that are unnatural. For example, when we tell them to smile and act enthused over a gift that they really do not like. We may cover this over as "manners," or call it a white lie, but the effect is the same. What is interesting is that children quickly learn to develop this skill and bring it to bear on other occasions. What started out as a face-saving exercise, or a way to show appreciation to a family member, quickly turns into a means of concealing true intent and desire. Certain studies have even linked intelligence with the ability to lie, especially among children. Po Bronson of New York Magazine writes,
Encouraged to tell so many white lies and hearing so many others, children gradually get comfortable with being disingenuous. Insincerity becomes, literally, a daily occurrence. They learn that honesty only creates conflict, and dishonesty is an easy way to avoid conflict. And while they don't confuse white-lie situations with lying to cover their misdeeds, they bring this emotional groundwork from one circumstance to the other. It becomes easier, psychologically, to lie..

So, is it ever right to lie? Are manners that important? When we teach our children, either through our words or our actions, are we intentional in teaching them biblical values, or are we unintentional and sloppy in our own lives? When we ask our children to "grin and bear it," are we setting ourselves up to be lied to later?

An ethical dilemma: The Nazi's have come to your door and asked you if there are any Jews in your house (you are smuggling Jews out of the country). Do you say yes and risk your guests' lives as well as your own, or do you lie to cover yourself and them? Most of us would lie to save lives. Yet lies about minutia in life certainly are not so important as this. Rather than reading the Bible for loopholes (it may be right in this situation, because this passage might be interpreted this way), we should look at the overarching themes that flow through Scripture. We have been created in the image of God, a God who does not lie (and does not have to). We are to live in such a way as to please him and to represent him to the rest of creation, including each other. We are to say what we mean and mean what we say, realizing that our words have power. We must do what we say, making vows unnecessary. We should raise up our children in the way that they should go so that when they are older they will not depart from it. In a world where we live for God, we must not lie (because if we do so, representing God, we present God as a liar to the world). We must live in a way that makes lies not only wrong, but unneeded. We must also intentionally raise our children likewise.

1 comment:

Steven Douglas said...

I might also note that because this is not a perfect world, and lies abound in our culture, the result of honesty will generally be offense. The world does not value honesty, and cannot understand it. It not only expects lies in the little things but the big things as well. Just as we expect people to tell us the gifts we give are perfect, politicians are expected to break their stumping promises.

What happens when the Nazi's come to the honest man's door then? Ideally speaking, he would tell the truth resulting in his own death and others'. We might call this a crime on his part, but that is only because we have been so indoctrinated. If we hold truth to be the ideal or "good," we must see lies as twistings or marrings of that truth (evil). If lying is evil, how can we, as Christians, participate in it. Let us remember Peter's admonishment, "To sum up, let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. For, "Let him who means to love life and see good days Refrain his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking guile. "And let him turn away from evil and do good; Let him seek peace and pursue it." 1 Peter 3:8-11