The patient has been ailing for quite awhile and despite the best efforts of medical practitioners, there seems to be little that can be done to facilitate a recovery. The best they have to offer is to keep him on life support, hoping against hope that his condition may improve. That patient is truth.
We have evidence that the patient first started to succumb to his condition as long back as Adam and Eve. When God asked Adam why he had eaten of the forbidden fruit, Adam started truth on its death spiral by blaming the woman whom the Lord had given him as being responsible for his transgression. And the woman, Eve took no responsibility for her actions but blamed her failing on the serpent in the garden. It’s all been downhill since then.
Long before the popular song was written, mankind knew that, “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie.” That hasn’t prevented us from crafting some whoppers. But there used to be some guilt and squeamishness associated with dishonesty, even on the part of the prevaricator as he or she committed the offense. Perhaps the reason for that was that at one time most of us used to subscribe to an evanescent principle which we called, “The fear of God.” The word “fear” in this context is interchangeable with another word – respect.
The critics of religion are plentiful and vocal. They argue that science has debunked faith and that the only reality is what we can touch, see or hypothesize based on the eternal principles for which scientists are the shamans. The purpose of this post is not to argue the virtues or flaws either of religion or science. Rather, it is to consider the practical ramifications of how, having relegated God to the back pew and having put science in the pulpit, we have altered our society.
.Fundamental to any ordered society is the rule of law. The basis of any lawful society is that its citizens agree to be governed by laws and that the laws be faithfully and universally enforced, punishment being meted out to those who disregard or violate those laws.
How do we determine if a person has infracted a particular statute? In the United States and throughout most of the western world, the facts are adjudicated in a trial in which the evidence is examined and witnesses offer testimony. Either a panel of jurors or a judge weigh the facts as they are presented and then render a verdict.
As with science, it is fundamental to the judicial process that the data which is reviewed is pure and uncorrupted. That is why those who tamper with evidence in an attempt to influence the court’s verdict are subject to severe penalties. Similarly, we require that those who testify do so honestly. They are sworn in and must take an oath before the court will consider their testimony. But an oath to whom?
Our judicial system is predicated on tenets that are fundamental to the Judaeo-Christian experience and teachings. And underlying that is the belief that there is a God and the person who offers testimony falsely will be punished for violating his oath to Him. While it is true that we provide civil penalties for perjury, it is equally true that, other than in the most high profile cases, those charges are seldom pursued or imposed. Thus the prevaricator who has no belief in God, has little reason not to pursue his own agenda without the expectation of any consequences, thus potentially corrupting the entire judicial process.
If those who hold offices of public trust, presidents, celebrities, and sports figures, all of whom are the focus of our attention, behave deceitfully and are not called to account, it sets an example which others then feel empowered to follow. Our tabloids are filled with example after example of this sort of behavior. Scarcely a day goes by before yet another of those who are privileged is featured on the front page as the subject of the most lurid or disheartening stories.
Telling lies might not seem to be a big issue to the majority of our citizens. We’ve all told a white lie at one time or another. The question is not whether we have transgressed, but whether we recognize the difference between having done what we did and what we should have done and try to improve our behavior in the future. In other words, do we have a conscience.
In truth, religion has not succeeded in converting mankind to live a moral life. We have not yet heard from science if they can develop an implantable “honesty” gene. But without the fear of earthly punishment for “bearing false witness” and no concern for a final judgment, it is safe to say that there will be many of us who will remain committed to Living The Good Lie.