Lying

A few years ago a young person I know took the ACT and scored a 34. Or 35. I don’t remember.

To those who may not know, that’s a high score. And in the case of my young friend, the score was a reasonable representation of their academic acumen. This young friend reported this score as part of their application to the only school they wished to attend: BYU.

I remember talking with this friend about other possibilities: Stanford, MIT, Harvard. This young person would just shrug their shoulders.

I heard that when they submitted their combined BYU/BYU-I application, they were accepted by BYU-I within hours. It took BYU considerably longer to tender an offer.

This episode came to mind as I read about the college cheating scandal, where dozens of individuals, several of them famous people, paid tens of thousands of dollars for professionals to take entrance exams on behalf of their college-bound children. One woman paid $50,000 and in turn was able to provide her son a 35 on the ACT to use in his college applications.

In another story that caught my eye, fentanyl is now killing enough people that America’s life expectancy is on the decline. The stories related to that headline are filled with those who have lied. In this case, their lying is associated with thousands upon thousands of deaths.

In a third story, Venezuela is tumbling into fatal disarray. The root cause: fraud and corruption (fancy words for lying).

Exodus 20 doesn’t actually include, “Thou shalt not lie,” as one of the commandments. We are warned against two similar sins: stealing and bearing false witness against a neighbor. Leviticus 19 explores the various deceits that are related to unrighteousness that are to be avoided (Leviticus 19:11 specifically mentions lying). Suffice it to say that anyone raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition has learned from their infancy that lying and deceit are bad.

On the other hand, I have in my day been entrusted with sacred or personal or state secrets. My failure to shout these secrets from the housetops does not constitute lying. Or, at least, were I to disclose such secrets in public, I would lose my friends, affiliation with my faith, my job, and my liberty.

There are those facts which need to remain hidden in order that the world may be healed. This is the purview of holy individuals, friends, and nation states.

Then there are those facts which were created in order to rend the fabric of the world for the unholy benefit of the few. These must be exposed. This is the purview of honest individuals (whistleblowers), law enforcement, and the United Nations.

I would offer a third category: facts which were hidden to heal the world of the past, but which need to be revealed in the present so that a proper understanding of the past can be had for the benefit and healing of the present world. This is the purview of historians.

Don’t lie. Don’t cheat. Don’t steal or kill or bear false witness. Obedience to these things is not childish, nor does it matter if surveys suggest modern folks don’t care as much. The outrage against the college cheaters is proof that modern folks do indeed care very much.

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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but may have privately defied the commandment for love of his wife, Emma.

13 thoughts on “Lying

  1. Hi Meg. I am on board with you about lying. But there are some areas where I have concerns, or maybe just questions. What about lying to save lives? There are Biblical accounts of even prophets lying to save their own lif=ves as in isaac and Abraham. In one instance, Abraham is actually instructed by the Lord to do so, although it technically was not a lie. But there are many other such accounts of lies in the Bible by people who are doing do to save the lives of others. What to make of them?

    Glenn

  2. I think the case of the rich buying entrance to elite schools is complicated by several factors. As one article on the issue pointed out, large donations have always been seen as a way to grease the process, but since there are lots more people with means to do so than there are slots available, the extra twist of cheating on college boards and faking athletic prowess give the added advantage. On the other hand, there are cases of well to do families who happen to have a minority status using that status to take advantage of ‘equal opportunity’ practices which have resulted in reducing the chances of a significant group of prospective students, namely those with Asian descent. I recently attended a high school graduation ceremony in Salt Lake and most of the best achievers in the school had Indian, Chinese, or Japanese names. I have thirty+ grandchildren, but fortunately only a few of them bear the stigma of a distinctively oriental name, although most of them seem to have a fair portion of whatever makes orientals high achievers.
    Meanwhile those with the means can find ways to educate their children in ways that will give them advantages over their similarly able peers. Many people who can afford alternatives don’t choose to have their children attend public schools.
    This case is simply a far more blatant example of gaming the system.

  3. Hi Glenn,

    I indicated that there are times when it is appropriate to keep secrets. For example, my grandparents fled mainland China on the final day it was possible to leave prior to the Communist closing of ports. Even so, there was some subterfuge involved. I’m sure my grandfather did not parade the fact that he was a general in the Nationalist Army. Their very presence on the outbound transport was likely stealthy, given that my grandfather suggested leaving his young daughter behind (my grandmother insisted on bringing her daughter along in their flight).

    On the other hand we have the story where Joseph F. Smith openly admitted to being a Church member, with the full expectation that this admission would earn him death (or at least a beating). In that one case, he earned the respect of the bullies and they let him go. But complete honesty will not always be consistent with safety.

    As those who revere the Book of Mormon, we have as canon a story where an individual was instructed to kill in a situation local law enforcement would not have found extenuating. The story isn’t even conveniently hidden in the middle or back of the book. That’s much more “outside the lines” than Abram being instructed to identify Sarai as his cousin (which was true, by the way).

  4. As I noted in my first post, it is technically true that Sarah was Abraham’s sister in that they both had the same father, Terah, but different mothers. And I probably am guilty of a bit of presentism in this case. Or maybe own culturism because I was raised in a family with older siblings that had the same father as I but a different mother. They were always referred to as our hall-brother and half-sister. It is evident from the Biblical stories that such was not the case in that culture. All those who had the same father were considered siblings.

    However, the main point I was making was that the story as it was given was given with the intent to deceive both in the case of Abimelech (both Abraham and Isaac) and Abraham earlier with the Pharaoh.

    There is another situation where some type of deception was also sanctioned by the Lord when the Children of Israel were preparing to leave Egypt where they were told to borrow jewels and gold, etc. from their Egyptian neighbors.

    It is evident that there are nuances which have not been fully explored or information revealed, such as was the case with polygamy where the command was given and Joseph was placed between a rock and a hard place with the certainty of being destroyed if he did not comply and the secrecy that ensued o necessity to keep some type of control, however tenuous on the situation.

    It is just a lesson to me not to try to judge people from afar either geographically or chronologically because there are too many chances that I would not have the facts sufficient to render a righteous judgment, and maybe, just maybe that is why we have those stories recorded in our scriptures.

    I do know one thing, I would lie through my teeth to protect the lives and safety of my loved ones and throw myself on the mercy of God for so doing.

    Glenn

  5. Hi Glenn,

    Since you mentioned plural marriage as part of the establishment of the New and Everlasting Covenant, I would like to point out that I don’t agree with your characterization of Nauvoo secrecy being primarily about the covenants that created atypical family structures, but was rather about the need to teach the New and Everlasting Covenant in the face of a terrible rash of outright sinful and coercive behavior.

    As to lying to protect loved ones, I have related my family stories where a pedant could consider that lying was occurring. But the alternative would have been death.

    I get nervous when people suggest it is acceptable to lie in any case of protection, as protection can mean many things, such as protecting a child from the somewhat mediocre future their actual academic performance might warrant. That level of “protection” returns us full circle to the sort of deceit that prompted my post in the first place.

  6. I try to be cautious about absolute statements such as about lying. When a parent leaves a child alone for a short while, he or she might instruct the child to tell a caller that the parent is napping. Or a parent might tell an older child, or even a young adult, that if they need an excuse to get out of some happening they should say that “Mom said I have to be home by nine tonight” even though she didn’t. Or someone in Europe a few decades ago might have answered “no” when asked if they had any Jews in the attic.

    I don’t want to encourage or condone lying, especially the sort that precipitated the original posting — but I do want to be cautious about absolute statements.

  7. Perhaps there is a reason that lying, per se, was not included as part of the ten commandments articulated in Exodus 20.

    Either way, people keep insisting that there are acceptable cases for “lying” even though I clearly articulated that there are times when failure to forcibly convey absolute truth is understandable and acceptable.

  8. Good point — the commandment isn’t not to lie; rather, it is not to bear false witness against one’s neighbor.

  9. “Wo unto the liar, for he shall be thrust down to hell.”
    2 Nephi 9:34

    That is about as absolute as you can get. Check out vs. 35
    “Wo unto the murderer who deliberately killeth, for he shall die.”
    It carefully assures that “murder” is defined as one who “deliberately killeth.” No such careful delineation in the prohibition on lying in vs. 34. Lying is bad.

    Tell you kids to not answer the phone while you are gone. Don’t instruct them in lying.

  10. Old Man,

    So, if you’re living in Europe in the early 1940s and you’re asked if you have any Jews in your attic, do you answer “Yes”? Does answering “No” make you a liar subject to hell?

    I think “No” is the right answer, whether or not it is the factually true answer.

    Generally, I agree that we should not lie. But I cannot make it an absolute. Sometimes, I think dishonest questions are not entitled to honest answers.

  11. Ji,
    Or is the right answer even harder? You don’t answer “yes,” you throw the interrogation table over and spit on the interviewer, screaming “I hate Nazis!” Then take the beating and limp away an honest man. Or maybe you do not walk away. That is the price tag on your honesty.

    The truth is that there are few Nazis wandering around our lives and there is plenty of lying going on. It places humanity in danger of hell. And why play the Nazi card so early in our discussion? A teenager can think of plenty of extreme scenarios under which most would violate commandments. But we are not most people. The real question that should be asked is how much hardship are we willing to endure to maintain our honesty?

  12. “I the Lord will forgive whom I will forgive.

    “But of you it is required to forgive all…”

    When all is known, it will be clear which actions and statements were godly, and which were not.

    I anticipate falling short of the highest standard, but rarely because I schemed on how to avoid all righteousness. My failure to always meet the highest standard is why I will throw myself on the mercy of Christ.

  13. I think a person who answers “No” to the question is an honorable and honest person worthy of heaven. Others will say he or she is a liar destined to hell.

    I won’t condemn those who disagree with me in this matter, even though they might condemn me. The apostle Paul said, “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind”.

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