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TRUE OR FALSE? - by Ted Schroder


By Ted Schroder
March 19, 2006

When you hear the following statement respond with 'true' or 'false': The check's in the mail. I'll begin my diet tomorrow. Money cheerfully refunded if you're not satisfied. One size fits all. I'll be ready in a minute.

Congratulations! You have already won a prize in our $100,000 draw. This won't hurt a bit. I'm from the IRS and I'm here to help you. Black is white. The principle or law of contradiction states that it is impossible for the same thing to be or not to be. It must be either true or false. It cannot logically be both at the same time.

The ninth commandment: "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor," is meant to protect the truth. This distinction is at the basis of justice in the courts. The laws of evidence must support one belief against another.

Paul Zahl has drawn attention to this issue in his citing George Orwell's novel, 1984. The psychologist Erich Fromm, commenting on Orwell's portrayal of Big Brother, wrote, "In describing the kind of thinking which is dominant in 1984, Orwell has coined a word which has already become part of the modern vocabulary: 'Doublethink.'

'Doublethink' means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them." Paul Zahl goes on to say, "Doublethink ignores what logicians call the 'law of contradiction.'

It says that two opposing ideas can be true at the same time and in the same place. In other words, truth comes out of cancellation. Orwell expressed it most powerfully: you can control things by negating the significance of truth." (Seed and Harvest, March-April 2006, p.2)

This is why we are having so much difficulty today in social, moral, religious and political discourse. There are two opposing beliefs at large in our culture. Both cannot be true at the same time in the same place. For me to assert that the Bible teaches one belief as true, is to call its opposite, false. There is no way around that except by avoiding the subject.

It is not a matter of love. God loves the world, and loves all people. But the Scriptures also tell us that God does not accept all behavior. He loves the sinner but condemns the sin. This is why we have the commandments.

They are the words of a God who loves us enough to prevent us from destructive behavior - just as a responsible parent would do for his beloved child. The ninth commandment: "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" was meant to protect justice and truth in the courts.

Unless there is truth in communication, there can be no trust in relationships. Lies are intolerable in public and commercial life because of the political and economic damage they cause. They are outlawed, and labeled criminal.

This is why perjury, fraud, tax evasion, public defamation, calumny, and slander are prosecuted. "Imagine a society in which no one trusted another to keep a promise, in which every leader was expected to lie as a matter of course, in which every teacher was suspected as an academic cheat and every preacher a moral fraud, in which contracts were expected to be honored when they paid well and a friend's word was no better than a cigarette advertisement. No person in such a society could ever confide in a friend or seek help from a counselor.

No partner could ever bank on the loyalty of another. No one could make decisions in assurance of having the facts in hand. No one could be certain of his neighbor's next move. Life would be brutalized. Without trust, we change from a community to a pack, from a society to a gang." (Lewis Smedes, Mere Morality, p.223)

Why do we lie? Why do we bear false witness against our neighbor? Because we want to deny our responsibility, and we want to shift the blame to others.

We want to cover up our complicity. We don't want to admit our guilt. In fact, we can lie to ourselves, and come to believe our own lies. We want to protect ourselves from the truth about ourselves. We each have an image of ourselves and we work very hard to protect that image.

Self-deception is at the heart of lying. We have to believe we are right even when the evidence is against us. This is the condition of the whole human race, as the story of Adam and Eve shows us. In Genesis 3 we read that Adam and Eve disobeyed God, and suffered the consequences of guilt - they could not face God and so hid themselves from him.

When asked whether he had disobeyed God, Adam tried to pin the blame on Eve. He told the truth in such a way as to avoid accepting responsibility: "The woman you put here with me - she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it." He implied that God should take some of the blame too, for putting the woman in the garden to tempt him! When Eve was asked, she shifted the blame to the serpent: "The serpent deceived me and I ate."

All this was true, but it was said in such a way as to avoid responsibility, and to pass the buck. Truth and trust are the true victims of this cover-up. Pontius Pilate does the same thing in the trial of Jesus. Remember that, in this greatest trial in history, and the travesty of justice it enshrined, truth was its first casuality.

"The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward." (Matthew 26:59,60) Truth is on trial. Jesus said to Pilate: "For this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world, to witness to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me." (John 18:37,38) Pilate asked, "What is truth?" Truth was standing in front of him and he could not recognize it in Jesus.

He was so blinded by the lies he had fed himself over the years that he could knowingly accept false witness about Jesus. He took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. "I am innocent of this man's blood," he said. "It is your responsibility." (Matthew 27:24) Lying was such a sin in the early church that Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead when they were accused by St. Peter of falsely claiming to have given to the church all of the proceeds from the sale of some land, when they had only given a portion of it.

Their hypocritical and fraudulent behavior was severely judged. (Acts 5:1-11) St. James uses several metaphors to illustrate the damage that can be inflicted by our speech. The tongue is a bit used to control a horse, a rudder used to steer a ship, and a small spark that sets a forest on fire.

"When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.

Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell." "All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison." (James 3:3-8)

The Scriptures act as a mirror in which we see ourselves in various forms. We see ourselves as Adam and Eve, as Pilate, as Ananias and Sapphira, as wishing we could take back what we have said, as regretting our weakness, and cruelty, as evading responsibility, passing the buck, engaging in hypocrisy, as deceiving ourselves, and believing the lies we have told in order to maintain what we wish ourselves to be rather than what we really are. "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9)

We are all guilty of mendacity: the practice of lying, deception, falsehood in some form, and to some degree. We are guilty when we give the impression that we are self-made and self-sufficient. We lie if we claim to be good and deserving of God's love. "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us....If we claim we have not sinned, we make God out to be a liar, and his word has no place in our lives." (1 John 1:8,10)

It is the very inability to face the truth of our own lives, lived apart from God, which causes us to use euphemisms for sin. This happens when we re-describe what we are doing to make it more palatable. Instead of calling it sin, we call it a mistake, or being morally incorrect. Instead of adultery, it is an affair. Instead of fornication, it is making love.

Instead of fraud, it is creative accounting. Instead of a lie, it is misspeaking. Winston Churchill called lying a terminological inexactitude. All of us suffer from doubletalk. "With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?

My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs. Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water." (James 3:9-12) The problem occurs when we speak before we think. The Freudian slip occurs when we say what our unconscious, sinful mind is thinking and are embarrassed by what we reveal about ourselves. If we are to think before we speak the following acrostic may help us to discipline our tongue and prevent regrettable remarks. T - is it true? H - will it help? I - is it inspiring? N - is it necessary? K - is it kind? Jesus is the truth. If we want to stand for the truth against falsehood we are called to follow him.

"What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ's body we're all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself." (The Message, Ephesians 4:25)

An audio version of this presentation is to be found on www.ameliachapel.com
Amelia Plantation Chapel, Amelia Island, Florida.

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