The Ethics of Truth – II

truth-or-lieLast week’s lesson focused on the prohibition against lying. The lesson was framed within the contradiction between Biblical revelation in Holy Scripture and the ethics of truth as understood by St. Augustine, John Henry Cardinal Newman, and Immanuel Kant. The former illustrate instances in which our LORD tolerates (or even  rewards us for) lying. The latter, in their absolutism, seem to argue that God violates His own ethical standards.

After having read the assigned texts (see The Ethics of Truth – I), what are we to learn?

  1. We learn that the views of Augustine, Newman, and Kant are simply not supported in the biblical witness! The prohibition against lying is manifestly not absolute. Conditions exist in which lying is permissible and may even be obligatory.
  2. We learn from these texts that the LORD approves of lying that serves a higher purpose. In other words, and this will bother many of you, the ends sometimes justify the means! This understanding also goes against much of Christian tradition (but not Holy Scripture!) that it is wrong to commit a sin in order to serve a higher purpose. Clearly, this is not always the case.

Since the LORD has a purpose for all things (Prov 16:4) and, more often than not, we are not privy to His purposes (Mic 4:13), the question is raised: How are we supposed to discern when lying serves a higher purpose? The answer to this question is your assignment for next week.

Keeping in mind the texts from last week take a moment and weigh the ends that were accomplished by lying. In addition, though, consider the following two ethical dilemmas:

  • The year is 1938 and you, a devout German Lutheran, are hiding a Jewish family in a secret closet in your basement. When the SS comes to your door demanding to know if you have seen any Jews around the neighborhood, how do you respond?
  • You and Cardinal Newman are attending the wedding of your best friend’s daughter. However, the bride is unquestionably and objectively ugly. As you pass through the reception line you hear the proud husband ask Cardinal Newman in the presence of his new bride, “Isn’t my new wife beautiful?”. Cardinal Newman, reflecting on his understanding of the ethics of truth tells the husband, “I’m sorry to have to say this but I can not tell a lie. She looks like the South end of a North-bound skunk”. Do you admire Cardinal Newman for his commitment to truth at the expense of the bride’s feelings?

Now, go and study!

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