Let’s be honest, we all lie, and we lie a lot.
It’s ok, we’re all friends here. You can admit it – lying is a regular part of everyday social cohesion. We don’t call it lying, we call it tact, but it’s still lying.
Like when we automatically say to the mother of a newborn baby, “Oh, your baby’s adorable”. Sure, most of them are, but there are some newborns that, shall we say, need to grow into their features.
Or when a patient walks in and asks, “Hey, have you lost some weight?!” No, I’ve actually gained five kilos, but thanks for your flattery.
Even some of the most brutally honest people still figure out they have to lie at some point. My children, for example. They have absolutely no diplomacy filter between their brains and their mouths, “Aw, Dad … you stink”, or “Dad, you’re really fat. You need to exercise.” But when their butt’s on the line, things change, “I only ate one biscuit …”, or, “He started it …”.
Adults are no better. Sometimes when things are important enough to us, we bend the truth to fit our world-view. It’s often subconscious, though confirmation bias of our opinions can also be overt.
Sometimes we’re right, sometimes we’re wrong, and sometimes there is no right or wrong, but our beliefs shape our interpretation of the world, and the language and actions that stem from them. And most of the time, it doesn’t really matter.
“Chocolate is the nicest flavour of ice-cream”.
“Beer is better than cider.”
“The Broncos shouldn’t have lost the NRL Grand Final.”
“Holden’s are better than Ford’s at Bathurst.”
“Donald Trump is a great guy.” **
Hey, if you think Donald Trump is a great guy, then you’re welcome to your opinion. It ultimately makes no difference, if you like Trump, or I like vanilla ice-cream, or if you’re a ‘Ford guy’.
Though what about when someone in the public sphere lies, or allows their opinion to shape their version of truth? Is ‘a little white lie’ ever truly acceptable?
For example, is it justifiable if news reporters lie about themselves or their motives to get to the truth of a story? For example, in an article written as an ethical primer for journalism students at Indiana University, Henry McNulty recalled an expose he was part of in which reporters posed as couples trying to get into the local real estate market. The investigation exposed some inherent racial prejudice amongst the realtors, and eventually lead to the state governor ordering a formal investigation into real estate discrimination.
While he noted that the investigation had noble goals and positive outcomes for the community, he also concluded that the end should never justify the means.
“Credibility is our most important asset. And if we deceive people in order to do our job, we’ve compromised that credibility before a word is written”, he said.
In recent times, the Safe School’s program has come under intense scrutiny. For those not familiar with it, the Safe Schools program was touted by its supporters as an evidence-based anti-bullying program for mid-late primary school students, although its primary agenda appears to be in promoting the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender (LGBT) lifestyle and ideology. Or as one commentator put it, “In reality, the debate is between those who support the right to childhood and children’s bodily dignity, the right to an education that educates, not indoctrinates, versus those who believe Marxist activism constitutes sound school curriculum.”
A post came up on my Facebook feed in the last couple of days, titled, “Gender Ideology Harms Children”. It was published by the American College of Pediatricians, which sounds like an official body, except that the American Academy of Pediatrics is the peak body of paediatricians in America. Then the style of language of the statement was inconsistent with that used by most peak bodies – this statement by the American College of Pediatricians was very strongly partisan. I couldn’t help but wonder who the American College of Pediatricians actually were.
As it turns out, the American College of Pediatricians are a group that promote a very conservative agenda under the guise of official medical and scientific opinion.
In their core values, they state that their college:
“A: Recognizes that there are absolutes and scientific truths that transcend relative social considerations of the day.
B: Recognizes that good medical science cannot exist in a moral vacuum and pledges to promote such science.”
I’m all for good science, but one has to wonder if they’re going about it the right way, because while they declare their pledge to scientific truth, their next core value is essentially an opinion:
“C: Recognizes the fundamental mother-father family unit, within the context of marriage, to be the optimal setting for the development and nurturing of children and pledges to promote this unit.”
As much as I agree with and share most of their values, their pledge to opinion-based science is somewhat duplicitous, because opinion-based science isn’t absolute truth, it’s still a version of truth relative to their values and presumptions.
The irony hasn’t escaped some of the colleges critics, who have highlighted some of the factual errors and bad science that inevitably occurs when one tries to fit scientific findings into a set of values rather than drawing conclusions from the science.
In fairness, I’m not saying that the LGBT community is faultless either. I’m sure that an in-depth study of their sources would find some over-zealous misinterpretations of scientific data as well.
My point is that we tend to look for information that suits our own pre-conceived notions, and the Christian community can get itself into trouble by doing this. Christian lobby groups and church leaders need to be wary selectively accepting ‘scientific’ information that conforms to their world-view. They need to, in all diligence, ensure that the data they cite really does support their position, not cherry-pick or over-extrapolate. Otherwise they’re no better than the moral relativists on the other side of the political spectrum, or journalists who would justify mistruth to achieve a higher goal, or my eleven-year-old denying his biscuit binge.
One critic of the American College of Pediatricians wrote something very incisive in the title of his blog, “Lies in the name of God are still lies.”
It’s a fair call. Misleading with the best of intentions is still misleading. We may have the best of intentions, and feel justified in picking the science that conforms to our world-view.
Even so, God called us to speak the truth, because Jesus was the way, truth and life, and it’s the truth that sets us free. And our credibility is our witness. If we deceive people in order to do our job, we’ve compromised that witness before a word is written.
That’s the honest truth.
** The opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the authors, and are for illustrative purposes only … except the bit about the Broncos … but the rest is just illustrative.