When Lying Becomes a Virtue – Baptist News Global
Is it wrong to lie? The question would have seemed impossible 50 years ago. Now the ninth commandment becomes superfluous: “Thou shalt not bear false witness.
If, as philosophers point out, we live in a post-truth era, we also live in an era of lies. Richard Harvey Brown observed that the seven cardinal vices became seven living capitalist virtues. Add lying to the list of vices turned into virtues.
This produces a moral conundrum for Christians. Once upon a time there was an evangelical movement that brought honor to Christianity. This movement has worked for the rights of women, workers, the poor, immigrants, the homeless and the “lesser”. This movement dedicated everything to a gospel message that every human being is “salvable” by the grace of God. They have incorporated the social gospel into the fabric of their being. The poor will be blessed. The meek will inherit the earth.
And yet when the pace secular political power came, the leaders of the evangelical movement betrayed everything. These men have embraced the Big Lie, the most lying political candidate in American history – and the lie that America is God’s chosen nation – to have a seat in Washington, D.C.
All those thousands of sermons, all those doctrinal lessons, all those prayers of repentance and contrition canceled out by a new allegiance to lies, lies and more lies.
“There is no word of the Lord in the land of lies.”
There is no word of the Lord in the land of lies. People search from sea to sea, but they do not find the word of the Lord.
A people with “impure lips” dominates the anchor institutions of our democracy. Political leaders lie for the sake of lying, even when there is no reason to lie. When a politician lies to everyone, insults everyone, we have a problem.
We live in a time full of lies — political lies, religious lies, conspiracy theories, corporate lies, advertising lies, personal lies. We live in a time when people know they are lying and continue to lie.
The lie took precedence over the truth. Many seem to feel liberated from the truth itself, cut off from the foundations of moral life. Like teenagers raised in a strict moralistic home who go to college and go “savage,” Americans freed from the restraints of truth fall for every lie they hear.
The leader who gets away with lying can be projected as strong. The lie becomes a weapon borrowed from the devil to defeat the enemy. If this is true, we are dangerously close to a neo-fascist situation now. When there is an audience that despises the truth – the habit of seeking and telling the truth – we have turned the lie into a virtue.
In the movie american mobster, Newark detective and aspiring lawyer Richie Roberts is ostracized in his neighborhood after turning over nearly a million dollars he found in a gangster’s car. At least three times in the film, Roberts is asked if he actually handed over the money instead of keeping it for himself. No one can believe he would be so honest. We seem to have reached that kind of disbelieving atmosphere where people won’t believe a politician will tell the truth. Maria Konnikova, in Politics, reported that presidential candidates in 2016 lied 25% of the time. “All politicians lie” has become the accepted mantra.
I ask my fellow evangelicals how long this untenable argument will find a place in your cathedrals where we claim to speak God’s truth.
The gospel world is increasingly resembling “Assassin’s Creed,” an open-world action-adventure stealth video game franchise. The philosophy of the Brotherhood of Assassins is that nothing is true, but everything is permitted. Since the foundations of society are fragile, anything can be changed by one’s actions, as long as an individual is willing to accept the consequences of those actions.
Our national politics is flooded in shore-to-shore lies – liberal lies, conservative lies, conspiracy theories. We are a people of lies living in a land of lies. The people of Isaiah with “impure lips” resemble us more than ever.
In the corporate world, there is a paradox known as the trip to Abilene. It’s the story of a family that travels to Abilene, Texas in the middle of a hot summer in an unair-conditioned Buick. The trip is an absolute disaster. When the family finally returns and the truth hits the ground, it turns out no one wanted to go to Abilene. The corporate trainer who tells this story gives the example of a corporate executive who led his company to invest in processing peanut oil into jet fuel. When everyone finally admits that no one thought it was a good idea, millions of dollars were wasted. Welcome to Abilene!
Either voters have decided to believe the lies, or they have concluded that it doesn’t matter if a political candidate is lying. In both cases, we have entered the dangerous moral ground of saying, “Lying is fine” or “Lying is necessary if we are to save our nation.”
Lying has become a virtue compared to the “vicious evil” of liberals, democrats, feminists and homosexuals. It seems that lying is not only good, but also helps to win elections. The downside: it undermines the belief in goodness.
“Not so long ago in American politics, a politician caught lying would feel a sense of shame and experience the loss of his career.”
Not so long ago in American politics, a politician caught lying would feel a sense of shame and experience the loss of his career. Our national identity, from the start, was based on notions of honesty on the part of our leaders. The “cherry tree” myth of our most prominent founding father, George Washington, has been repeated by generations of students: “I can’t lie.” Another of our greatest presidents was known as “Honest Abe”.
Billy Graham, expressing the hearts of many Americans in the 1950s, told Dwight Eisenhower, “I don’t think the American people would be satisfied with a president who doesn’t belong to any church. God, Flag, Honesty, Character, and Church were part of the American package even if it was only for appearances. Honesty and character were expected although not always complete. Some of our leaders have been dishonored and driven out of office by lies or even the suggestion of lying: Richard Nixon, Newt Gingrich, Anthony Weiner. Evangelicals, in particular, insisted that speaking the truth and having high moral character were prerequisites for election.
However, American voters, like to win more than they like to lose. Under Bill Clinton, Democrats discovered that people didn’t care if the president had sex with an intern if he was keeping the economy warm. The personal life of a president did not matter. Character was not important.
“The train of permissiveness left the station with Clinton and derailed with Trump.”
So Republicans learned a valuable lesson: If you offer to make America great again, you can lie, lie, elect, elect. The train of permissiveness left the station with Clinton and derailed with Trump.
The “anything goes” attitude can be traced to the political philosophy of liberalism in its recent form. The Liberals taught the Conservatives that we are all imperfect. “I’m only human” has become a liberal slogan. “Who am I to judge another person? These are bad lessons that have been well learned by Republicans who are now throwing them back in the face of liberals.
Democrats as Republicans concluded that prosperity and popularity mattered far more than promiscuity and prevarication.
This has brought us to a situation where a politician is lying, his advisers and his publicists are repeating the lie and telling more lies. Faced with lies, they defend lies. As a politician continues to lie, the lies get bigger, bolder, and more blatant. The new bottom line is that a politician just has to be open and honest about his lie.
The followers of lies reach a point of no return. While the leader tells lies, the lies reinforce his position as the best leader and call on followers to demonstrate their commitment to him by continuing to believe his lies despite evidence to the contrary. Supporters must swallow the lie and accept the illusion that the leader is stealing by the seat of his pants, making stuff up and lying through his teeth for the good of the nation.
“The new bottom line is that a politician just has to be open and honest about his lie.”
So where does this leave us? There are at least two elements to lying. One focuses on short-term gains for the ruling party. The other, longer road awaits the inevitable denouement of lies as people tire of lies.
The foundation of political power rots from within, and the whole scaffolding of lies crumbles.
Evangelicals have a way to save us all, and only a true gospel moment can save us. The word of the gospel that initiates our salvation is “repentance.” The alternative to lying and false witness is called metanoia in the New Testament, “repentance”, literally “change of mind”. Or in the Hebrew Scriptures, “to turn”, a change of direction.
In the emotion of this moment, only a mixed metaphor will suffice: We can find our way out of the swamp of lies that pile up like dry bones in the valley of death. We can know the truth and the truth will set us free. We can speak the truth in love. As people of truth, evangelicals, of all peoples, should come back from the dry rot of the political desert.
Rodney W. Kennedy is a pastor in New York State and teaches preaching at Palmer Theological Seminary. He is the author of nine books, including the new The immaculate error, on how evangelical Christians gave birth to Donald Trump.
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