The Twisted Ethics of Lying

Lying in our world often comes with compromising our morality. When you or I lie to another person, chances are we attempt to justify it in our mind. Telling a falsehood seems “right” to us in a twisted sort of way.

Of course, I think there are instances of people lying for the sake of pure dishonesty–think of someone who has abandoned all sense of conscience and just wants to stir up chaos. But a much more common way in which we break the 9th commandment is trying to wiggle our way out of telling the truth. We come up with excuses to lie. We trick ourselves mentally that being untruthful will be worth it in the end.

We think to ourselves a lot of things to justify dishonesty…

  • “I don’t need to warn that customer about this issue. I really need this sale!”
  • “I don’t need to tell my spouse about this… they’ll just be hurt by it.”
  • “It doesn’t matter if my favorite politician bends the truth. The only thing that matters is if they get the job done for me.”
  • “I ought to deny this wrongdoing. Besides, that person deserved it!”

Whether it is a lie of omission, shifting our words, or an outright lie, all of the above examples are common ways in which we try to lie as a way to justify some sort of end goal.

Perhaps you’ve heard of this phrase before: the ends justify the means. The cartoon Calvin and Hobbes often illustrates philosophical ideas like this one in simple, clear ways…

This philosophical idea was popularized a couple hundred years ago and has the technical name of utilitarianism or consequentialism. This ends-justify-the-means idea teaches that it doesn’t matter what we do as long as there is more personal benefit produced as an end result.

This might sound kind of abstract or complicated, but it really is simple. If we want some sort of goal, then it is OK to pursue whatever means necessary to attain that, even if it means possibly doing a morally wrong thing.

Thinking this way often causes us to believe some pretty wacky things. If the only thing that matters is utility and end-goal happiness, then we can justify all sorts of things, from the cartoon above with Hobbes the cat pushing Calvin into the mud, to any number of morally problematic actions.

Believing that the ends justify the means often leads us to lie in order to try to achieve something. If we believe we can do whatever we want, then lying is simply another tool to promote ourselves. In this twisted game of dishonesty, truth is not sacred if it means we can achieve some personal goal by abandoning it.

All this is preface to say that God teaches us that the truth really does matter. We shouldn’t bear false testimony as the 9th commandment teaches us, and we must always let our “yes” be “yes” and our “no” be “no” as Jesus noted in Matthew 5. We don’t need to embellish our words to exaggerate the truth. We don’t need to lie.

We simply need to be honest.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that lying is OK if it means you’ll be able to possibly enjoy some future benefit. Always stick to telling the truth. That’s the kind of ethics Jesus calls us to follow in the kingdom of God.

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