I watched a clip from a show called Politically InCorrect with Bill Maher recently. It was from quite a while back and it featured Senate hopeful Christine O’Donnell. Apparently she was on this show a number of times while it was on the air. Her particular “angle” I guess you’d say is that she was the conservative christian voice on a panel. She was young, perhaps not even thirty yet, very passionate about her opinions. This clip in particular was about lying. It caught my attention because I think about the idea of telling lies a lot.
She spoke over and over about how lying is wrong and sinful and that no one should lie. Of course this was countered by a number of other panelists positing hypotheticals. Eddie Izzard posed this situation, “what if you were hiding Anne Frank and the nazis came to your door?” She had trouble answering that. She ended up falling back on “I’d trust that God would give me the words.” She still would not concede that there might be a time, place or event in which it was alright to lie.
I get that. I actually love her conviction. I’ve said before that I do not tell lies so on one level I do understand her passion on it. The difference between Christine O’Donnell and myself in this is that I would not say, “no one should tell lies” or “it’s a sin to lie.” I don’t know if that’s true. All I know is that I do not tell them. This doesn’t mean that I’ll never lie or that I haven’t lied. I have, quite a lot, actually.
The reason I don’t tell lies isn’t because I think it’s a sin in and of itself. I don’t tell lies because I’m an excellent liar. I can be very convincing. Maybe that is why I’m a writer or why I love believable and lovely fiction. If I were a terrible liar I would probably not give it all much thought but I know that I can lie well and that scares me. The sin in me isn’t that I would tell a lie, the sin is that I might begin to rely on that too much, that I would build false relationships and cause more hurt than I can even imagine. I truly fear that my lying might lead me to become an evil person. I believe we all have that potential as much as I believe we all have the potential to be outstanding and upright. For each of us, though, the path to becoming evil is slightly different. It’s like the scenes from the Imaginarium of Dr. Parnasis…what we see inside our heads fits us, is peculiarly ours even if some of our elements are related to someone else’s elements.
Knowing this about myself brings me to a new place, a place of commitment. Just as someone who realizes they are an alcoholic must decide whether or not to drink, I realize my skill at lying is an addiction. I realize it can lead to no good if it is a habit I don’t monitor constantly, so I choose not to engage in it.
This is why Eddie Izzard’s question is potent for me. I put myself at the front door of a house which hides Anne Frank as a soldier pounds on the door and I know without fail that I will lie if I’m asked. I know without fail too, that I will be believed and that good will be done there. The issue isn’t the lie here, the sin doesn’t reside in the lie. The sin resides in the fact that anyone has to hide in my attic in order to live. The evidence of the sin isn’t my telling a mistruth, the evidence is the knock at the door. If my life work is to do good then by telling that lie, I have done so.
The truth is that I am fortunate enough to not be in that position. In my every day life there is simply no room for my telling lies. There are no life saving moments (so far) which require me to lay aside my commitment to truth telling.
In this we cannot make broad statements anymore like “it’s ALWAYS wrong to lie” because that’s judging and patronizing and perhaps not even accurate. The statement we can make as adults to one another is “I choose not to tell lies….” and I suggest that we cannot make that statement at all until and unless we each know why that is important for us. I choose not to tell lies because my lying is hurtful and dishonest. You may say that everyone’s lies are hurtful and dishonest, there may be some truth in that but also, that may not be the case. I can only make choices for myself in how I am going to behave. I can have hopes and expectations that others will choose to not tell me lies. I make it clear to most people I meet that I value honesty more than I dislike confrontation but I cannot make someone choose truth.
This leads me back to Christine O’Donnell and the great number of judgmental christians out there. I hope and pray that she has matured enough in her faith by now that she understands more fully the nature of the Gospel. We are not made to stand in judgement of one another. We are made to love one another and that is far more difficult a task. It requires that we sit inside someone’s heart for long stands of time, it requires that we come to some basic understanding of their sin and their hate and their hurt. It means that we see, feel and hear all of this and that we choose love anyway. This is the way of Christ. It just is.