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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Christian Myth #1 It's Always Wrong to Lie

I've decided to start a series on Christian Myths. When you've been around Christian circles long enough you realize that some "truths" that permeate the Church are not really true at all. This series is an attempt to debunk some of these myths.

Christian Myth #1 It's Always Wrong to Lie

When considering my largely misguided and misinformed youth, I remember having conversations in college with other Christians that I cannot believe I had.

They went something like this.

Me: So, dude, when someone, like, told the Nazis there weren't no Jews in their house, but there really were, that was sin, right?
Friend: Yeah, bro. That was wrong. It's always wrong to lie.
Me: Dude. That's crazy.
Friend: Yeah. I know.

This is stupid on so many levels. First of all, why was my grammar so atrocious in college? But more importantly, why hadn't I a clue about moral dilemmas? I had grown up in the church, had attended a Christian high school, and was attending a Christian University.

I blame myself. At that point in my life, I was doing a decent job on focusing on only the first part of Matthew 22:37; I was attempting to love the Lord with all of my heart and soul, but not with all of my mind. Interestingly, my academic pursuit of God began only after I left college.

Enough about me. Let's get to the meat of this. When confronted with a situation in which there are two options, and each option in itself would be a wrong, then you must choose the greater good. One famous example is from the book The Hiding Place. The ten Boom family, under threat to their own lives, hid Jews in their home to protect them from detection and almost certain death at a concentration camp. In order to do so they told the storm troopers that there were no Jews living in their house.

When faced with the option to lie or save a life, the lie no longer is sin. In fact, if the ten Booms had chosen to tell the truth in that situation, telling the truth would have been sin. I can hear the objection now, "You're saying that doing the right thing depends on the circumstance. That's moral relativism!" Yes I am saying that doing the right thing depends on the circumstance, but that is NOT moral relativism. Perhaps it will be helpful to look at the slides below. 

Moral relativists believe that whether something is right or wrong is based entirely on the person. If he or she believes it's wrong, then it's wrong. On the other hand, moral objectivists believe something is right based on moral truths that are the same for all people. The tricky part here is that that truth is dependent upon the circumstance.

An illustration.

1. Bob Barker, Alex Trebek, and Richard Dawson are each placed in The Hiding Place house and must decide whether to lie to save human life. 

The relativist says they can each decide based on their own morals. One may choose to lie; one may choose to reveal the Jews. The answer doesn't matter; following the subject's heart is what matters.

The objectivist says there is only one right answer. All should come to the same conclusion.

2. Now Bob Barker, Alex Trebek, and Richard Dawson are on the set of Jeopardy. Alex tells Bob and Richard they can each have $20,000 if they lie to the producer and say, "Alex should get a raise because his mother is ill."

The relativist says Bob and Richard can each decide based on his own morals. One may choose to lie; one may choose not to. The answer doesn't matter; following the subject's heart is what matters.  

The objectivist says there is only one right answer. Both should come to the same conclusion. It is always wrong to lie based solely on personal gain.

In other words, not only is telling a lie (in #1) the appropriate and right thing to do; it is the right thing to do, in that situation, for all people at all time.

The Bible has several examples of people who were in a moral quandary that chose the greater good. Rahab deceived the guards by hiding Hebrew spies. Hebrew midwives deceived the Egyptians so that Hebrew babies would not be killed. The apostles preached the word of God despite being told not to.

Before you find yourself in a moral dilemma, it might do you some good to think about how you would respond. I know my college self would have fallen right on his face trying to respond. Don't be like him. He didn't even know how to speak properly, let alone have moral wisdom.

1 comment:

  1. Have you read Bonhoeffer's biography by Eric Metaxas? It may inform this conversation further. Particularly this: “At the Dohnanyis’ house that September, Bonhoeffer famously said that, if necessary, he would be willing to kill Hitler. It would not come to that, but Bonhoeffer had to be clear that he was not assisting in the fulfillment of a deed he was unwilling to do.” [Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy; (Thomas Nelson, 2010), p.388 "Operation 7"] It seems Bonhoeffer was faced with the ethical question of how far can the Christian disciple go in his opposing evil. Are there circumstances in which assassination can be justified? I think there's a degree of certainty here that killing Hitler would have saved many, many lives.