Monday, May 17, 2010

lying versus bearing false witness

            Only in modern times has philosophy divorced itself effectively from theology, but the past relationship cannot be denied and on certain topics, philosophers confuse themselves when they forget their theological roots.  The matter of "lying" is one of them.   If the philosopher is of a school where a word or phrase can mean one thing and one thing only then he is ill equipped to consider the matter of "lying."  He is like the Pharisees and Sadducees whom Jesus cast into outer darkness where there will be moaning and gnashing of teeth.  He is like those about whom Augustine (I believe it was) said, "Legalism is at the root of all heresy." 
            The alternative to seeking "my definition over yours" or "this must mean one thing and one thing only" is to look at "God's thrust"; which is what (I suspect) most theologians have done over the years.  What was the original intention of the commandment "thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor" which has been translated to the confusion of almost everyone to "thou shalt not lie." 
            The bearing of false witness against one's neighbor involves testifying in order to harm him, or to gain some advantage over him.  Not harming one's neighbor is at the root, or thrust, of this injunction, and we find less to debate if we restrict our concern to the avoidance of harm rather than move it into a legalistic debate over the meaning of "lie."
            One finds this thrust I have referred to elsewhere in the Bible.  "Who is my neighbor?" a legalist demands of Jesus and he tells him the story of the Good Samaritan.  Legalists passed by on the other side of the street, but the Good Samaritan stopped to help the wounded man.  Jesus thereby moves the injunction beyond not doing harm to doing positive good.  We are to love our neighbor as ourselves.  So questions of whether we should admit to the Nazis that we are harboring Jews should be put in this latter light rather than in perversely remaining in the former, legalistic, darkness.  Treating our well-loved aunt kindly when she asks if her horrid dress suits her does not violate the injunction to do positive good -- though it may violate the legalist's desire to have a word mean one thing and one thing only.

1 comment:

Pastor Brian said...

Very helpful, thank you.