Is there a difference between lying and lying for Jesus?

9 04 2008

If you’ve spent any length of time in the atheosphere over the past month, you’ll be aware of the by-now-infamous “Expelled from Expelled” debacle involving PZ Myers. Myers himself gives the most entertaining account of what happened (but see also Matt’s series of posts on this incident). Basically, the producers of Expelled have been so desperate to get bums on seats that until very recently (hmmm) they were encouraging people to sign up on the movie’s website for private screenings, and to bring guests. Myers (who appears in the film as is thanked in the credits) signed up, arrived at the Mall of America screening with guests in tow, had his name checked off, and was then pulled out of the queue by a security guard, acting on the specific instructions of the producers, who threatened Myers with arrest if he attempted to enter the theatre. What the producers failed to notice is that one of Myers’ guests was none other than Richard Dawkins (who has written his own piece on the incident), who announced his presence to an ashen-faced producer Mark Mathis in the Q & A session after the screening.

Sure, it’s one hell of an own goal for the creationist movement, but for me the bigger irony lies in the tremendous amount of spin the producers and other ID luminaries have attempted to put on this incident, given Expelled‘s overarching thesis–that evolution –> atheism –> the Holocaust–and, by implication, antievolutionists’ claim to the moral high ground. (The motto of the production company behind Expelled reads as follows: “Producing world class media that stirs the heart and inspires the mind to truth, purpose and hope.” (Emphasis added.)) The creationists have been manifestly dishonest about the “Expelled from Expelled” fiasco–that much is certain–but they also seem to think they’re doing the right thing.

So here’s my question. Under what circumstances is mendacity theologically, ideologically or ethically justifiable?

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4 responses

9 04 2008
Karen

This is actually a difficult question. I’m an atheist, so I wouldn’t feel the need to lie for any religious reason. And I don’t particularly care to lie; it’s too damn much trouble to keep lies straight. But…

I’m as skilled at strategic lies of omission as the next person, I expect. As the old expression goes, sometimes it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission. Then there are the encouraging words one says to ill or troubled family and friends, which are excessively optimistic for the situation at hand. There are the vague half-lies of diplomatic rejection. “I can’t possibly, I’m just so busy” stands in for “I won’t, not even if hell froze over”.

But all of these aren’t real ethical issues. Would it be right to lie for my own gain of the gain of others important to me? I don’t think so. Would it be right to lie for a cause greater than myself? This is trickier, and I struggled for a long time before deciding no; truth sooner or later comes out, and the lie then diminishes the cause. Were I to truly believe in a deity which could not be diminished by any human action, maybe I’d think it was okay to lie in the service of that deity.

Would it be right to lie to save someone’s life or save them great bodily harm? I think so, depending on the circumstances. If I were a believer in a religion that said everyone who didn’t believe was going to suffer eternal torment, then it might be my duty to lie if it helps them believe.

The real problem is that the inherent lies within a religion can derail a perfectly reasonable set of ethics.

10 04 2008
AV

Would it be right to lie to save someone’s life or save them great bodily harm? I think so, depending on the circumstances.

I agree. If you happen to be hiding Anne Frank in your attic, surely it is justifiable to lie to the Gestapo about it.

If I were a believer in a religion that said everyone who didn’t believe was going to suffer eternal torment, then it might be my duty to lie if it helps them believe.

The difference, I suppose, is that in the case of lying to prevent someone from coming to bodily harm, the potential for harm is demonstrable. The “danger” of eternal torment in the afterlife is not demonstrable, and accepting this danger as a reasonable excuse for telling lies is dependent upon one sharing the particular religious delusions held by the liar.

Were I to truly believe in a deity which could not be diminished by any human action, maybe I’d think it was okay to lie in the service of that deity.

What if, as is the case with Christianity, telling lies in the service of a deity causes one to come into conflict with one of that deity’s major edicts (i.e. not bearing false witness)?

11 04 2008
Quote of the week #24 - Jeremy on anti-abortion dissembling « The Thinkers’ Podium

[…] raises another issue covered this week in the local blogosphere. The lying by the fundamentalist Christian right about the shenanigans surrounding the expulsion of PZ My…, that he had previously registered for (in accordance with the conditions of […]

11 04 2008
Bruce

Put simply, I think simply lying is demonstrated where one can point out that there is something pertinent to the argument that the alleged liar knows is not true. Be it the matter being discussed, or the honesty of the person pushing the line, or the quality of their scholarship.

Many people don’t know the pertinent facts about global warming, be they on either side of the debate. However, it doesn’t take such an in depth understanding to realise that The Global Warming Swindle was fraudulent.

Hence, it is relatively easy to accuse the supporters of the documentary of being fraudsters themselves.

The same is true of supporters of Expelled, some of the fraudulent “scholarship” being aired even before it was released!

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