The Catholic Thing
HOME        ARCHIVES        IN THE NEWS        COMMENTARY        NOTABLE        DONATE
On Lying Print E-mail
By James V. Schall, S.J.   
Tuesday, 02 September 2014

Daniel Mahoney’s book, The Other Solzhenitsyn, follows the judicious pattern with which Mahoney, in previous books, treated de Gaulle, Aron, Manent, and other writers. We note that one of the commandments tells us not to “lie.” After reading Mahoney, we suspect that the “lie,” not murder, adultery, or stealing, is the most heinous of all the sins.

Certainly, in Solzhenitsyn’s judgment, it was the “lie” that was the foundation of modern totalitarianism. The “lie” made its killing possible. Its lie embraced almost anyone who went along with it either out of agreement or fear. The great courage of Solzhenitsyn was revealed not so much in suffering inside the concentration camp as in his adamant refusal to lie about the totalitarian order in which he lived. Not to lie means to tell the truth about what is.

The story of George Washington never telling a lie perhaps witnessed to something more fundamental in our politics and culture than we are wont to admit. To function at all, any justice system must require witnesses publicly to profess that they answer questions truthfully. To “perjure” oneself means precisely to tell a lie when one has sworn that he is telling the truth.

For a republic to be founded on the principle of “no official lies” is surely a good thing. We know that many men lie for many reasons. We deal with this fact under the headings of justice, repentance, and, if appropriate, clemency. We do not justify lying on the grounds that many in practice lie and know they lie.

            The “lie” is made famous in political philosophy both by Machiavelli and Plato. For Machiavelli, the lie was a tool in the arsenal of the politician, to be used, like truth, if it was deemed helpful to stay in power. But Machiavelli’s politician knew he was lying. He was not claiming it was “true.”

Plato’s “noble lie,” however, was not really a lie. It relates to what Solzhenitsyn had in mind. To those who live in untruth, the truth will seem like a “lie.” Modern ideology is a description of the world that does not correspond to reality. It seeks to implant, either by force or persuasion, an untrue system on human reality.

This is why, as Solzhenitsyn said, ideology must live by the “lie” and by force, why it must punish truth tellers who identify what is real, who affirm that a Gulag is a systematic killing of actual human beings for no reason but to maintain the ideology in power.


          Memorial for Unborn Children by Martin Hudáček (2011)

Plato is often blamed for founding such ideology. But he is really the greatest of the opponents to ideology. The best city is in “mind” or “speech.” Actual cities can never be perfect. To seek to make cities in this world perfect is the very essence of ideology. Man’s final end is transcendent to actual cities. To seek to impose transcendent perfection in this world, it is always necessary to use lies and force, as Solzhenitsyn never tired of showing.

What is a “lie”? A lie is a statement, presented as fact, which does not conform to a reality that we did not make or legislate into existence. Recently, the director of the State of California Health Department, in imposing, i.e., forcing abortion on Catholic universities, said that: “Abortion is a basic health care service.”

This is a public lie. Abortion is the direct killing of a human life. It is always lethal to the child and mostly deleterious to the mother and father. It is also a moral delict on the part of those who perform it and those who legally make it possible. To choose to live by and enforce this lie is to embrace ideology.

This is the most hateful of all kinds of lies. It is a lie responsible for killing more actual human beings than all the Gulags of the world ever thought of – over 1,300,000,000 abortions in the world since 1980.

What does a lie do? It makes communication between human beings impossible. To state that killing a child is “health care” is incoherent. The essence of a lie substitutes something plausible for what is true. The birth of a child and the health of a mother are goods. But motherhood, fatherhood, and childhood are not in opposition to each other, but part of the same coordinate reality. To separate them is to lie about them.

The broader issue of lying needs to be stated. If what I affirm is a lie, I cut myself off from reality. If I insist on making my lies public, even public law, I must not permit the truth that my lies deny to appear. I must prevent their statement. This is why lies and force are twins. The opposite of the lie is truth. This is the real issue that Solzhenitsyn spent his life affirming.

 
James V. Schall, S.J., who served as a professor at Georgetown University for thirty-five years, is one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. His most recent books are The Mind That Is CatholicThe Modern AgePolitical Philosophy and Revelation: A Catholic Readingand Reasonable Pleasures.
 
 
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

Rules for Commenting

The Catholic Thing welcomes comments, which should reflect a sense of brevity and a spirit of Christian civility, and which, as discretion indicates, we reserve the right to publish or not. And, please, do not include links to other websites; we simply haven't time to check them all.

Comments (9)Add Comment
0
...
written by Carlos, September 02, 2014
In reading Solzhenitsyn I learned that lies are not far from murder. Once the state begins to lie murder by the state will surely follow. Our Lord stated the same thing about Satan: "He was a liar and a murderer from the beginning." Those promoting totalitarian ideologies are doing the work of the devil.
0
...
written by Manfred, September 02, 2014
What enables liars is no fear of punishment. The purpose of the oath swearing on the Bible is to say that if I lie, I will pay a penalty either in this world or the next.
This then requires another lie. "While we must believe that Hell exists because its eistence is de fide, we do not have to believe that anyone goes there." See CDL. Hans Urs von Balthasar and FATHER Robert Barron. The refusal of the hierarchy to refuse the Eucharist to a pro abortion politician, much less excommunicate them, lrads the State of California to demand that Catholic institutions provide abortions. The Church has become part of the Gulag, and not for the first time.
0
...
written by Theodore Seeber, September 02, 2014
And yet I have heard those taught by Jesuits promote the lies of abortion and Gay Marriage, under a claim of Academic Freedom. What is up with that?
0
...
written by Chris in Maryland, September 02, 2014
I will always remember that the former Archbishop of Washington, DC, Cardinal McCarrick, withheld the whole truth from the US Bishops, and failed to deliver Benedict's message urging them to take a stand against the lie. In that act, M revealed who he was, and what he was committed to. Alas, it is nothing new...
0
...
written by pgepps, September 02, 2014
Thank you!
People seem to readily forget that "speak truth to power" was practiced by St. Paul ages before the Left subverted the meanings of those terms--and by the prophets for ages before St. Paul!
0
...
written by R.A.S. Putin, September 02, 2014
The big lie in the totalitarian governments of the 20th century, although backed by military force, was fragile. Once perceived, it was almost universally disbelieved, even while being obeyed. Once force failed, the big lie fell apart.

The West's approach to the big lie has not been to centralize it in the government bureaucracy but to decentralize it among many social and cultural partners. We have ostensibly independent main-stream media feeding the public the big lie. We have ostensibly independent artists, film makers, musicians all parroting the big lie. We have supposedly "grassroots" (really astroturf) organizations all vociferously demanding the big lie be enforced even against explicit Constitutional rights. This social-cultural sedimentation of the big lie in the West makes it *anti-fragile* in the words of Nicolas Taleb. The enforcement of it is primarily through social and cultural indoctrination, not through the police and military. It becomes "not cool" to oppose it. And everyone wants to be "cool" these days, especially the young.

This gives the big lie in the West a strength that it never had in the old totalitarian states. Even Christians, even Roman Catholics are awash in the corrosive bath of this indoctrination. In a real way it is much harder to oppose this social-cultural implementation of the big lie than the earlier totalitarian version. Solzhenitsyn saw this clearly, and protested against the big lie in the West, just as he had about it in the Soviet state. Which is precisely why he has been caricatured as a rabid nationalist, a rigid authoritarian, and a narrow-minded defender of the Russian Orthodox Church. He toiled unremittingly against the big lie wherever it was found. And so must we. Ora et Labora.
0
...
written by Seanachie, September 02, 2014
"To function at all, any justice system must require witnesses publicly to profess that they answer questions truthfully. To “perjure” oneself means precisely to tell a lie when one has sworn that he is telling the truth." With this in mind, how can rational and informed Americans even consider the return of Hillary and Bill to the White House (or for that matter, the house next to your own)?
0
...
written by DeGaulle, September 02, 2014
@ R.A.S. Putin:

I just wish to thank you for one of the truest, clearest posts I have ever read on this site. And that is saying something. Both you and Father Schall have been very helpful today. (I have two of Nicholas Taleb's books on my shelf-about time I read them).
0
...
written by Paul V, September 02, 2014
Yes, the real IX Commandment is "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour". To bear false witness is a lie punishable by death, but not all lies are bearing false witness against your neighbour and therefore IMO do not break the IX Commandment. Depending on what the lie is about and the intention behind the lie or not revealing information which is a lie by omission would have to be taken into account to determine whether or not an evil has been committed IMO.

Write comment
smaller | bigger

security code
Write the displayed characters


busy
 

Other Articles By This Author

CONTACT US FOR ADVERTISERS ABOUT US
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner