Students cheat on exams and papers at their schools and colleges; schools and colleges then lie to accrediting agencies about their student GPAs or job placement rates. Journalists get caught and have to confess to making up quotes from persons they never interviewed; a husband or wife gets caught and has to confess to all the lies told over time to hide a long-standing affair.
We appoint committees and blue-ribbon panels to investigate the adequacy of regulatory mechanisms for Wall Street. We put compliance officers in place for businesses of all types. One writer claims his research on American corporate life shows that somewhere between ten and twenty percent of the payroll of the typical corporation is spent for people whose job it is to watch its own employees, its suppliers, and its customers for fraud.
Truth-telling as a way of life cannot be crafted by laws, codes of ethics, stiff fines, and jail terms. Personal integrity as a way of life comes about only from the soul of a man or woman with character.
If I lie to you, I demean you as a person — deliberately misrepresenting the facts or withholding from you something you have the right to know. Thus the paternalism of some physicians or families to a patient who is seriously ill.
If I lie to you, I am robbing you of your freedom — forcing you to make decisions on the basis of false or misleading information. Thus the tactics of some salespersons or televangelists.
If I lie to you, I am arrogant in the extreme — playing a role which says I have the right to decide when you should be given full-enough information to make your own informed decision and when I should make that decision for you instead. Thus the strategy of certain political or religious leaders that puts others at jeopardy for the sake of some end-justifies-the-means scheme.
It isn't a new problem. In Jesus' time, people played games with truth-telling too. "Swearing" by one's own head, Jerusalem, or heaven was less binding than an oath taken with God's own name. The issue wasn't vowing to speak truthfully in court but simple, straightforward honesty in the daily routine.
"Do not say, 'By heaven!' because heaven is God's throne. And do not say, 'By the earth!' because the earth is his footstool... Just say a simple, 'Yes, I will,' or 'No, I won't.' Anything more is from the evil one" (Matthew 5:34-37 NLT).
Jesus' words still mark the path that is right for us to travel today.