Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 25, 2002
Is it always wrong to tell a lie?
By SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
Is it always wrong to tell a lie?
This is a very timely question considering some of the happenings in our society today.
A lie is any word or action which is generally intended to deceive another. Traditionally, lies have been classified according to their purpose: malicious, that is, injurious to others; officious, lies which are advantageous to oneself; jocose, lies told for amusement. To withhold the truth from someone who has no right to that truth is not a lie.
The Catholic Catechism gives an extended two-page analysis of lies (no. 2475-2487). It classifies them by their destructive effect on the reputation of others. Calumny harms another through remarks which are not true. Detraction reveals another's faults which were unknown to the one to whom they are revealed. Rash judgment assumes faults of others without sufficient proof.
The Catechism also includes boasting and irony when it disparages another, as well as flattery, adulation or complaisance which can encourage others in malicious acts. False witness and perjury are condemned.
A lie is clearly and inherently wrong because it is directed against truth. The gravity of a lie can be determined by the kind of truth which is deformed, the circumstances, the intentions of the one who lies and the degree of harm suffered by the other. It always offends charity and justice, "does real violence to another" (no. 2486) and always requires reparation.
All of these are serious lies, injurious to charity and justice towards others. But the aspect mentioned by the Catechism which, I believe, is most important for each of us in everyday life is: "It contains the seeds of discord and all consequent evils. Lying is destructive of society; it undermines trust and tears apart the fabric of social relationships" (no. 2486).
Read the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. They had no obligation to neither sell their land nor give the proceeds to the community. However, they withheld some of the money from the sale of their land and lied about it. Each in turn told a lie and each in turn dropped dead.
Nowhere else in the New Testament does such a drastic event happen. Peter upbraided them not for withholding some of the proceeds from the sale, but for lying.
Why was the punishment so severe?
I believe it was because trust was the underlying factor that enabled the Christian community to survive and grow as the one Body of Christ. Without complete and utter trust in one another, the early Christian community would have been destroyed quickly by their persecutors, but also by their inability to believe in one another again. Unity would have been shattered and their love for and charity toward one another would have been devastated.
How would they have been able to gather for prayer and breaking of the bread? How could they share a meal together? How could they share the Lord's Supper, the gift of Christ's love to them? The whole fabric of their community would have been destroyed from within. There would have been no need for persecution by the enemy from without.
As a society, we need to consider the effects of lying or cheating and defrauding, not only for the specific cost or pain involved (though it can be very great), but what it does to human relationships. We need to ask ourselves if we have become such a society that cannot trust one another.
If we have, perhaps we need to try to find ways and means to become once again an honest and trustworthy society. We need to teach truthfulness to our children by our example as well as by our words.
Lying is denounced in the Gospel as the work of the devil. In John's Gospel, Jesus says: "You are of your father, the devil.
"When he lies, he speaks according to his nature for he is a liar and the father of lies" (8:44).