I’ve heard the question over when is it ok to lie a few times recently. Overall the answer is, never. Christians are call to the Truth because in that is freedom. But there are the difficult questions side of it. We know that many Catholics, including priests and religious lied to the Nazi soldiers so as to save the lives of Jews living hidden in their homes, monasteries and convents.
I can’t think of any New Testament examples of a ‘good lie’ but in the Old Testament two stories stand out. The most well known is the story of the Hebrew midwives Shiphnah and Puah who lied to Pharaoh to save the lives of Hebrew boy babies that Pharaoh wanted dead.
The second example is when Jeremiah lied to the enemies of King Zedekiah over the advice he had given the King.
In these cases the mitigation for the lie is those demanding the information had no right to it.
It’s not easy to negotiate these kinds of mitigation against the rule “You shall not do evil that good many come of it.” It is far too easy to buy into the idea of doing something – or better yet, not doing anything – so that the good we think will come of it, (usually for ourselves) can be achieved. We turn a blind eye – which is lying to ourselves, far too often.
Despite the constant call from Jesus to seek the truth, follow the truth and be truthful, it seems that Christians can be just as dishonest as any other people. What’s worse is the dishonesty has been deliberate and self serving and like so many lies has been handed down through the generations.
The fallout from this is seen in children’s literature, particularly historical novels or books and obviously in some communities as I’ve heard so many deeply erroneous statements about the Church from people phoning Catholic Answers. There have been people throughout the years who have tried to restate the truth but lies are often fondly held to.
Even with those who are able and willing to correct, particularly historical black legends and misrepresentations, it’s still a right faff having to check what the children are reading in case it’s dishonest. The biggest problem is in anti-Catholic misinformation and in Victorian/Edwardian books in the public domain there’s too much racism and social-Darwinism to wade past. I haven’t found as much anti-Antisemitism has I had begun to think I would thankfully. But I really don’t understand why Christian writers should be so relaxed in misinforming their readers.
There have been good, honest writers from the Catholic side who have challenged the shoddy standards of historical accuracy from other Christians who either twist, edit out or just plain lie about Catholic people and the Church over the years.
Catholic writers don’t seem to feel the need to avoid the genuine bad stuff that has happened over the 2000 years of the Church. I suspect this is rooted in the stories of our greatest saints. You can’t really study the life of St. Bridget of Sweden, St. Catherine of Sienna or St. Padre Pio among so many others, without having to learn about the sins of the Church members, popes, cardinals and people. It helps avoid whitewash and keeps things real, without the need to twist the truth out of all recognition.
Over all lying is a very bad thing and best avoided. If we ever do find ourselves in a position where the only honest recourse is a lie – well, God help us, because those who have found themselves in that position are almost always under the power of tyrannies. But Christians have no business misrepresenting history or repeating lies just because they can’t be bothered to actually check out the truth.