Saturday, September 25, 2010

Pants on Fire: Is it ever right to lie?

In a presently re-circulated clip of Christine O’Donnell of the Tea Party from the 1990’s on Politically Incorrect with Bill Marr, she suggests that people should not lie. Sounds good so far, right? But put to the test, by her co guest, of ‘would you lie if you were hiding some Jewish people and the Nazis are at the door’ she, in many more words, said no. To be fair, she did say that she thought that G-d would provide a way for her. Out of the situation I assume she meant. (Unlike six million other people, which in my opinion bespeaks an underlying belief. But that’s another article.)

Ladies and gentleman, we do lie. Up up up, spare me your incredulous comments and stern looks. We lie to spare someone’s feelings. As in “Does this dress make my but look fat?” Of course we say no. I’ve never heard someone say “Why yes, it sure does” or “If that’s what your going for, mission accomplished” or “It makes your rear look big enough so show a drive in movie on; hey what’s wrong?” Our best selves might say no, but make a smooth and subtle suggestions about the person’s change of clothes. For example, “I’ve really always liked you in that black and green dress.” The Talmud says, “For the sake of peace one may lie, but peace itself should never be a lie.” And who doesn’t want to keep peace in their own homes and in their friendships. (Master of the obvious says-I am NOT talking about not gracefully challenging someone close when necessary.)
And hopefully we lie when someone is in danger, especially possible mortal danger. The Talmud says, “Whoever destroys a single life is as guilty as though he had destroyed the entire world; and whoever rescues a single life earns as much merit as though he had rescued the entire world.” So should we lie if the Nazi’s are at the door? You betch. And I think most people (I know) would, or at least I’d hope they would. Would you lie to save yourself or others? Hopefully you would. Shifra and Puah, the two midwives, lied to Pharaoh in order to continue to spare the children and by doing so spared themselves. Abraham lied and asked his wife Sarah to say she was his sister because he thought it would save his life, so clearly better people than me have chosen this path.

What about tact and diplomocy. If one goes to visit a home and the owner has a guest whom isn’t particularly well liked, doesn’t one shake hands and try to be civil? Don’t politicians, at least in some part, owe it to the people they represent to behave with propriety and decorum? Don’t reporter’s in the interest of uncovering information treat even people they may loath with a certain amount of consideration? I resently saw the Lawrence Wright’s documentary “My trip tp Al-Qaeda”and without his defence and mindfulness in some situations, the film/book likely would have never been written. Additionally, he may not have made it back alive after the political climate increasingly worsened. Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi states, "It is permitted to flatter wicked people in this world." In this case, not simply to acquire the makings of a book, but to save his own life. And to his credit, Wright questions this himself in the documentary-Would he have killed Bin Laden given the opportunity? And when does he stand up for his own beliefs and when does he not? ( (Be warned-contains graphic images of cruelty to people and animals. )

There are many websites that misquote the Tulmad as a rasist tract and include the issue of consent to lie as part of their support for anti-sematism:
Clearly the misuse of this information is abatrary in supporting another cause.

When we tell our children not to lie, we know that they will also grow into adults with, we hope, a modicum of common sense. We teach them the value of life and the value of preserving life and we remind them through their education and daily life not to bear false witness and against habitual lying, and hopefully, the wisdom to know the difference.