What is the cost of lies? It’s not that we’ll mistake them for the truth. The real danger is that if we hear enough lies, then we no longer recognize the truth at all.—Chernobyl, TV series.
Most people today will lie if necessary. If you ask them why they lie, it seems that most people believe that all will be forgiven at the end of time, especially if they are lying “for a good reason.” Now, most of these people remember their Ethics 101 that teaches, The end does not justify the means. “This is a nice philosophy,” they say, “but when the rubber meets the road of my life, I sometimes have to lie to keep things afloat.” The direct Word from God should sober-up such arguments:
But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.—Apocalypse 21:8.
Notice that cowards and liars (seemingly minor sins) end up in the same place of hell as murderers and sorcerers (seemingly greater sins). I recently asked a friend why she believes God puts all liars in the same place as sorcerers in the Apocalypse. She answered: “If someone casts a spell on someone else to fall in love with them, externally, the person under such a spell might even think that they are in love, but clearly they are not, because in essence, love requires freedom of will. Sorcery is a lie because it uses illusions to manipulate others’ freewill, and that’s exactly what lies do.” In other words, lying nearly-magically diverts another’s brain from the very truth that it was made for. Lying transforms another’s soul, which is, in-fact, one definition of sorcery.
But as to the object of a moral act, why is lying always evil? Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”—Jn 14:6 That means that when you lie, even to your children “for a good reason,” you cut yourself off from the Truth who is the only portal to the Father. You join your soul to the father-of-lies when you lie to someone, regardless of intention. Lying literally changes you into a different kind of being: “Lying makes one like the devil, because a liar is as the son of the devil.”—St. Thomas Aquinas. Lying to your children (spiritual or biological) to keep the peace may not affect them much in the moment, but a lie immediately harms your own soul, making your soul a “son of the devil,” as St. Thomas Aquinas said. (As we will see later, this doesn’t mean you have to always lay all your cards on the table, so to speak.)
In moral theology, for an action to be good, these three parts of an action must be good: 1) The object (the actual deed.) 2) The end or intention. 3) The circumstances (well-coordinated to the object, at least.) The Latin of moral theology on these three things reads, malum ex quocumque defectu, meaning, “If one aspect is bad, the whole action is defective.” In other words, an action is evil if even one of these aspects is missing. For a good act, you need all three aspects to be good: deed, intention, circumstances. Just one missing aspect makes the whole action bad. Thus, if you lie about someone with a good intention, it is still a purely evil act. Malum ex quocumque defectu.
Most clergy today think it’s okay to occasionally lie to their spiritual children to keep the peace. However, the clergy’s very “adult-spiritual-children” think it is wrong when their clergy lie to them, and they are correct. But many of these biological fathers and mothers may in turn lie to their own kids at times to keep the peace. Both groups are wrong. Whether lying to biological children or spiritual children, co-workers, friends or enemies, lies will always be the sticky net that ensnares the liar himself into ever-deeper diabolical traps because:
1) Every lie makes lying easier in the interior life for the liar. (In the 1966 movie, A Man For All Seasons, the diffident Rich says, “I’m lamenting. I’ve lost my innocence.” The more robustly-evil Cromwell quickly responds, “You lost that some time ago. If you’ve only just noticed, it can’t have been very important to you.”)
2) Every lie makes lying harder in the exterior life for the liar. (That is, liars always get tripped up in their numerous contradictions, since it’s impossible to remember every past lie.)
3) One doesn’t know when one is going to die, and thus one may not have time to repent for all a lifetime’s lies.
4) All the lies that calumniate another person require not only repentance and sacramental confession, but also public reparation to that person’s name for the liar’s confession to be valid. 1
5) Every single lie makes the liar more-and-more a son of the father of lies (satan) and an active rejector of the Truth (Jesus Christ Himself is the truth, as seen above in Jn 14:6)
6) The liar almost never gets away with it. In fact, he is usually caught even before the Final Judgment.
An example of the consequences of number six is seen in the testimonies of the conservative author Rob Dreher. Many people believe he left the Catholic Church to become Eastern Orthodox because of the priest-child scandals in the Catholic Church. This is not true. He left not because of the scandals per-se, but because of how many bishops lied to him about the scandals when he was asking good questions. Consider this: The very bishops that lied to him to cover their dioceses are now among the ones losing so many people because of the reporting done by him and other watchdog organizations (like Church Militant) that have uncovered so many scandals. The bishops should read the Gospel of St. Luke if they want to keep the laity in their dioceses: Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.—Lk 12:2.
Can the Christian completely refrain from lying while maintaining some unspoken deception against predators for the safety of the innocent? On this front, there seems to be some disagreement among the saints. For example, St. Augustine takes the hard-line view: “Let no one doubt that it is a lie to tell a falsehood in order to deceive. Wherefore a false statement uttered with intent to deceive is a manifest lie.” However, there are some interesting stories among the saints to the contrary. There is the famous story of when the incognito-St.-Athanasius was on a boat escaping his would-be captors. As they came down river, they said to him, “Have you seen the Bishop Athanasius?” He answered: “If you keep rowing, you will certainly overtake him!” Or, consider the wicked captors of St. John of the Cross. When St. John of the Cross escaped his Carmelite dungeon and fled to a Franciscan convent next door, the Poor Clares hid him. When the wicked Carmelite priests knocked on the door asking for Fray Juan De La Cruz, the Poor Clare mother superior simply said, “It would be a miracle if you found him in here!” (Notice that St. Athanasius and the Poor Clare never technically lied in their careful legerdemain of words.)
We can say that it is never permitted to lie to your children, but obviously children don’t have a right to know everything their parents know. As I frequently say, “You can never lie, but you never have to lay all your cards down.” For example, if your five year old asks you where babies come from, you don’t have to tell him the truth. You can simply say “From mommy’s tummy.” But you can’t say, “Baby Jackson came from from a stork.” No, baby Jackson did not come from a stork. That would be lie. (In fact, the Catechism of Pope St. Pius X says that even lying-jokes are not permitted. I had to modify my sarcastic sense of humor last year when I read this!)
The opening line of the 2019 British TV series Chernobyl is brilliant: “What is the cost of lies? It’s not that we’ll mistake them for the truth. The real danger is that if we hear enough lies, then we no longer recognize the truth at all.”—Valery Legasov. This TV series, Chernobyl, is less about exploding nuclear reactors than it is the cost of lying and truth in a communist regime. The Kremlin’s “central committee” always had a good reason for the lies they told: The good of the people, and keeping them in peace. We Catholic clergy have a lot to learn from this TV series as we approach a real pandemic (or even rioting and looting under a false-pandemic.) If Chernobyl is all about Communists lying for the good of the state and false-peace, then we Catholic clergy need to consider how easy it is to lie for “the Church.” Who do you think will feel more justified at the end of the day? The communist or the bishop? Who do you think will have more impetus to continue lying? The communist or the priest? Ah yes, we must “contain the spread of misinformation” as they say in the TV series Chernobyl.
We Catholics must now speak the truth and live in the Truth, regardless of distasteful consequences that come in the immediate future. Firstly, we must speak the truth because it honors God. Secondly, we must speak the truth because it saves souls, the first being one’s own. Thirdly, we must speak difficult truths (or at least stay silent when the listener has no right to the information we have) to save the dioceses of the West that are so sick of being lied to. Indeed, liars always get caught, usually before the Final Judgment: So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.—Mt 10:26