Lies, damned lies, and ‘religion’

To lie is to bear false witness. It is to make an untruthful statement intended to deceive.

Jesus says, “Do not bear false witness.” (KJV) Lying is wrong. But why? Jesus explains,

Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! (NIV)

Centuries later, the philosopher Immanuel Kant came up with a secular account of why it is wrong to lie which, it seems, Jesus had prefigured. In his essay On a Supposed Right to Lie from Philanthropy, Kant went so far as to claim that it would be wrong to lie to a would-be murderer even to save an innocent life.

Truthfulness in statements that one cannot avoid is a human being’s duty to everyone, however great the disadvantage to him or to another that may result from it… [I]f I falsify… I… do wrong in the most essential part of duty in general by such falsification… that is, I bring it about, as far as I can, that statements (declarations) in general are not believed, and so too that all rights which are based on contracts come to nothing and lose their force; and this is a wrong inflicted upon humanity generally… For [a lie] always harms another, even if not another individual, nevertheless humanity generally, inasmuch as it makes the source of right unusable.

Kant based his moral philosophy on a maxim he called the Categorical Imperative.

Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.

You cannot will that the maxim, “Bear false witness,” become a universal law! If we all lied, all the time, then soon no one would believe a word that anyone said. After a while, no one would even hear what anyone said.

Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say.

Talk would be ignored, like a background noise tuned out. Ultimately, we’d be struck dumb. No one would bother to say anything at all, even the truth, since no one would believe him.

Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me!

To lie is not merely to commit a crime against he to whom the lie is told. It is to commit a crime against language itself. St. Augustine said

But every liar says the opposite of what he thinks in his heart, with purpose to deceive. Now it is evident that speech was given to man, not that men might therewith deceive one another, but that one man might make known his thoughts to another. To use speech, then, for the purpose of deception, and not for its appointed end, is a sin. Nor are we to suppose that there is any lie that is not a sin, because it is sometimes possible, by telling a lie, to do service to another.

Which brings me to my final point. Lying is an abuse of language. But it’s not the only one. The Biblical injunction, “Thou shalt not bear false witness,” has its corollary in M. Hare’s maxim, “Say what you mean, and mean what you say.” Words have meanings. To say what you mean, you must find the words that mean what you mean to say, and say them. Mean what you say, and say what you mean. Surreptitious redefinition is a species of pernicious redefinition. It, too, is an abuse of language.

Words and phrases have meanings. For example, Christianity is a belief system, a worldview, a way of life, an institution … and a religion. Secular humanism is a belief system, a worldview, a way of life, an institution … but not a religion. The word ‘religion’ is used to distinguish between creeds whose central doctrines include the reality of a god or gods, and those whose central doctrines do not, or which are explicitly atheistic.

Lie and, ultimately, language ceases to function. Use the term ‘religion’ to encompass secular creeds, customs and ideologies and, ultimately, ‘religion’ ceases to function. Pernicious redefinition is tantamount to lying. Dare I say it’s also akin to theft?! I used to be a “liberal”, until today’s liberals took the term ‘liberal’ unto themselves. Now I’m a libertarian. But for how much longer? How much time do I have before I morph into a traitorous idiot?

Ayn Rand was a libertarian and atheism is not a religion.

8 thoughts on “Lies, damned lies, and ‘religion’”

  1. Beware your urge to make words mean what you want them to mean, for you may think you are tidying up the language, when in fact you are corrupting it, and loosing mean, and wrongfully imposing your narrow desires. Ayn Rand was a perfect example of a corruptor…a stealer of language… and it is a form of circular reasoning. eg First she redefines ‘faith’ to be devoid of ‘evidence’…and called it the opposite of reason… then uses this definition to argue Religion is Anti-reason!…and she does this sort of thing it all the time. When you pre-load everything to suit your self…and ignore how the words have been historically used…even if you think the words have been used too ‘loosely’… you are destroying what the truth they were trying to communicate. And this is where the Bible says “Professing themselves to be wise…they became fools”. The method you use is a type of ‘Secularization’. The better method… the biblical method is to try and grasp how the historical usage defined the words… and it could mean a word has many meanings…. that is the only way you will get at the real meaning that they were trying to communicate… not be redefining words as you think they ought to mean…technically ‘pretty’…yet completely wrong in the sense of historic usage.

  2. Bearing false witness is quite different to lying. It is perjury, making a false statement when you are under oath to tell the truth and is quite correctly condemned. It is only wrong to lie when you have promised to tell the truth. Did Moses lie when he told Pharaoh that the Israelites just wanted to go three days journey into the desert to worship, implying that they would return, when in fact they had no intention of returning? Ex 5:3

  3. Mark, Moses was not a perfect human being. He made errors. He comitted sins. What more He was raised up by God to fulfill particular purposes. In the light of these considerations he is not to be emulated in all things… only those things that we a both sure was righteous… and still aplicable to the purpose God has set for us in our own age. There are many examples of righteous things Moses did that we ought not to emulate for eg Curcumcison, and attending Animal sacrifices for the atonement of sins, Keeping the Sabbath etc. These things were Nesasary under the covenant The Jews had in that era, yet they are Not a part of our deal we have with God via The gospel of grace…otherwise called ‘The gospel of the uncurcumsision’ (Gal 2vs 7)…. ‘Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the Law’ (Read Gal 3… KJV) We are told to ‘Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing” (Gal5vs1,2).
    Instead Paul says “Those things, which ye have both learned, and recieved, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of Peace shall be with you” (Phil 4vs 9). Paul was not a perfect person either, yet he is our Apostle, our teacher, and our example how to live under Gods grace…rather than following Moses and the Law. Yet still….and this is a very relivant issue… Moses conversation with Pharoah happened *before* he recieved the commandment from God “Thou shalt not bear false witness”. There was no such comandment ‘Not to lie’ given before Moses himself recieved it. Likewise with such things as Incest. This means It was not ‘sinful’ for The sons of Adam, Cain, Seth, etc to take their Sisters to wife. There were no injuctions against such practices prior to Moses recieving the levitical laws.

  4. I concur with the belief that a person ought never tell a lie, yet I also believe it is morally evil to betray a person into the hands of evil doers. Thus rather than lie or betray, a person ought to remain silent unto death.
    If we are too weak to do that I would tell a thousand lies rather than betray someone into the hands of evil men…(eg Ayn Frank into the hands of the Nazis.)… and though I would know that I have fallen from the High ground, I would trust in God’s grace to uphold me. I know my Salvation is not dependent upon keeping the Law, but is solely by grace…without works… ie Salvation is the work of Christ on the cross. Unlike the jew attempting to enter Christs kingdom I do not have to endure unto the end to be saved. St Paul said he endured all things… not for his own sake….not for his own salvation, but for the sake of the Gospel and the salvation of others… ” Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” (2Tim 2:10)
    Thats one of the big differences from the Gospel of grace whereby salvation is the gift of God , from Christs Kingdom Gospel which required keeping the Law and other works to prove yourself fit/ worthy to enter the kingdom…Christ taught… “Then shall they deliver you up to be aflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my names sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another…But he that endureth unto the end, the same shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then the end shall come…” (Mat24vs9,10,13,14). This speaks of the great tribulation period after the Rapture…after the end of the dispensation of grace and Pauls gospel of grace. During the tribulation period the Gospel of Christs Kingdom being ‘at hand’ will again be preached…and will require believers to be faithful unto death to be saved… Then Christ will return and establish his kingdom in Israel.

  5. Words can used ‘on their side’ (as it were) for pedagogical purposes. I often do that as a teacher. We (as teachers) need to be aware that we are doing it, and we need to be careful our doing it. It is something that might appear on the surface as sophistry, but it is not sophistry. Let me give a name ‘foo’ to this practice. It is possible to practice foo and sophistry together, at least in the sense of flip-flopping between the practice. One can be a ‘fooist’ and a ‘sophist’ at the same time.

    I think Ayn Rand was pedagogically driven. If she was corrupt, she was a corrupt /teacher/. And if she was a corrupt /teacher/, then she was a teacher. And if she was a good teacher (I mean good in the art, not good in her curriculum) then she may have been at times doing just that.

    If so, one must be careful in any critique to distinguish [in the small] between when she is practicing the art of /sophistry/ and when she is practicing the art of /foo/. Otherwise one will shoot oneself in one’s own foot.

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