Beckett: Why Do We Lie?

In National Geographic’s June 2017 issue, 231:6, Yudhijit Bhattacharjee writes an interesting article called “Why We Lie” that completely misses the mark of humanity’s total depravity since the Fall of Man. What he describes is a characteristic of total depravity, but he fails to recognise it as such, not that one could expect him to since he is not writing from a Christian perspective at all. Yet what he writes about is not new information for the Christian.

He accurately writes that we lie to “inflate [our] image” and to “cover up bad behavior,” whether we are trying to protect someone else or ourselves (pp. 36-38). Interestingly, he notes that lying comes very easily to us, remarking that “to lie is human.” I agree with him. However, he unsurprisingly attributes this to evolution, saying that the lying we learn to develop between the ages of two and five is “akin to the evolution of deceptive strategies in the animal kingdom, such as camouflage” (p. 38-39). He quotes ethicist Sissela Bok, who says, “It’s much easier to lie in order to get somebody’s money or wealth than to hit them over the head or rob a bank.” It’s true. It’s illegal to assault someone and rob a bank; it is not illegal to manipulate someone and deceive them into giving us what we want.

However, this is not a result of evolution. We Christians know better. This is a result of the Fall of Man. There are many reasons for which we lie, as Bhattacharjee details, but the primary two he listed—to inflate our image and hide bad behaviour—first takes place in Genesis 3.

When God confronts Adam in his sin, Adam hid from God. Other than Adam and Eve’s realisation that they were naked, this is the first time Scripture indicates something is drastically wrong since they’ve eaten the fruit. Adam and Eve never hid from God before because they were in a perfect relationship with Him. Now that relationship was severed—threatened by their own rebellion.

When God asks Adam where he is (God knew where he was), Adam explains that he hid because he was afraid since he was naked (v. 10). Once again, something is very wrong here—Adam was terrified of God, particularly of what God might do to him for disobeying His will. This is a fear of God that was never meant to be. God asks, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” God already knew the answer; this is more of an interrogation for Adam to confess.

And he does confess, but by sinning even more. Adam replies, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (v. 12). There we have it: the first human lie. Adam refuses to take the blame, so he lies and puts the blame on his wife. He thinks that by doing so, he is hiding his own sin and thinks this makes him out to be the better person. This is more of a white lie, however. He tells the truth by saying Eve gave him the fruit, but he lies by playing it off as if he’s not guilty. He might as well have said, “The woman you gave me made me do it. See? It’s not my fault. I was forced to. I felt pressured. I did nothing wrong.”

But he wasn’t forced or pressured. He made the decision along with Eve. And this has been how humanity has functioned ever since. Bhattacharjee is right, “Being deceitful is woven into our very fabric” (p. 38). Of course it is. Satan deceived the woman and the man followed suit, so it is only natural that being deceitful is a deep part of who we are as sinners.

In our day and age, Bhattacharjee makes the observation that “our ability as a society to separate truth from lies is under unprecedented threat,” which social media does not help the matter (p. 38). Unfortunately, he writes this with a political agenda, which is unsurprising considering National Geographic’s sudden liberal endorsement in recent years.

He gears the article and the studies he mentions towards Trump and his voters. For example, he writes, “In 2015 Swire-Thompson and her colleagues presented about 2,000 adult Americans with one of two statements: ‘Vaccines cause autism’ or ‘Donald Trump said that vaccines cause autism.’ (Trump has repeatedly suggested there’s a link, despite the lack of scientific evidence for it.)” (p. 50). However, this article is now outdated, and the study now irrelevant. Trump has recently changed his view on vaccines earlier this year toward being pro-vaccination.

It is true that there are people who falsely believe vaccines cause autism, but today most of these people are among liberals rather than conservatives, especially considering Trump’s altered view on the matter. Bhattacharjee also fails to apply any studies of lying towards liberals who are science deniers. For example: science that invariably proves life in the womb since the stage of the zygote, as well as biology and DNA that proves one to be a male or female despite what one feels. These, too, are people (specifically liberals) who are unable to separate truth from lies. But of course, National Geographic wouldn’t like such studies to be applied to the dogma they endorse and promulgate.

Politics aside, Bhattacharjee gets so close to something we Christians have known to be deeply interwoven in humanity since antiquity: our total depravity. We are all skillful liars; we all do it. Bhattacharjee openly admits this, “Lying, it turns out, is something that most of us are very adept at” (p. 38). This is because at our very nature, we desire to have a positive image of ourselves and to hide our bad behaviour, just like Adam and Eve since the moment they ate the forbidden fruit. The moment something threatens our image or we do something bad, our natural instinct is to cover it up; we will seldom refuse the temptation.

Our inclination to lie is not because of evolution, and it is not the fault of whatever political party you affiliate yourself with. It is because of original sin. Fortunately, we have a God who never lies. Also in Genesis 3, God promised a saviour would come through the woman’s seed, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall strike your head and you shall strike his heel” (v. 15, Hebrew translation). God kept His promise in Christ. As Peter says, “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth” (1 Peter 2:22).

Christ the truth teller came to save us miserable liars. At the end of his article, Bhattacharjee asks, “What then might be the best way to impede the fleet-footed advance of untruths into our collectives lives? The answer isn’t clear. ” (p. 51).

No, the answer is clear. It’s the simple, Sunday school answer. The answer is Jesus Christ. As Jesus said, “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). Movies and TV shows quote this all the time, specifically, “The truth will set you free.” This is quoted with great ignorance. I don’t think they know they’re quoting Jesus, and even if they do it doesn’t mean what they think it means.

It does not mean that simply telling or knowing the truth will set you free. That is not what the context of this quote suggests. Just before this, Jesus said to the Pharisees, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing on My own authority, but speak just as the Father taught Me” (John 8:28). That is the truth. In other words, the truth is that Jesus is the Messiah—the Messiah who came with the specific purpose from God the Father to die for you. And that is the clear answer.

You are a liar and you have been lied to. You lie to inflate your image and to hide your sins. You have been lied to when people tell you that abortion saves lives, that transgenderism is not a mental illness, that all religions are equally valid, and that you can put your faith, trust, and hope in anything you desire. These are all lies that have been masterfully crafted by the lord of lies: Satan. The Fall of Man began with a lie—Satan’s lie—and he continues to lie to you today.

But Christ comes and tells you the truth. He tells you the truth with Law and Gospel. He points out your sin—His Word is quite direct about it; and with the Law He tells you the truth of the Gospel, that He forgives you unequivocally. By faith, and in Baptism, He gives you His Holy Spirit to help you turn away from sins: whether that be lying, sexual perversion, greed, or what-have-you. We are simultaneously saint and sinner, which separates us from other sinners, meaning we are sinners (and saints simultaneously by the Holy Spirit) who are justified in the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the answer to impede the untruths in your life. It is not always pretty, but the truth of Christ sets you free from the bondage of sin.

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