Why Is It So Easy to Lie?
NO ONE likes to be lied to. Yet, people the world over lie to one another for various reasons. A survey that appeared in the book The Day America Told the Truth, by James Patterson and Peter Kim, revealed that 91 percent of Americans lie regularly. The authors state: “The majority of us find it hard to get through a week without lying. One in five can’t make it through a single day—and we’re talking about conscious, premeditated lies.”
Lying is a common practice in nearly all aspects of modern-day life. Political leaders lie to their people and to one another. Time and again, they have appeared on television denying any connection with the scandalous schemes in which they actually were deeply involved. Sissela Bok, in her book Lying—Moral Choice in Public and Private Life, observes: “In law and in journalism, in government and in the social sciences, deception is taken for granted when it is felt to be excusable by those who tell the lies and who tend also to make the rules.”
Referring to political lying in the United States, Common Cause Magazine of May/June 1989 observed: “Watergate and Vietnam certainly rivaled Iran-contra in terms of government deception and public mistrust. So what made the Reagan years such a watershed? Many lied, but few were remorseful.” It is with good reason, therefore, that the common people do not trust their political leaders.
In international relations such leaders find it difficult to trust one another. The Greek philosopher Plato observed: “The rulers of the State . . . may be allowed to lie for the good of the State.” In international relations it is as the Bible prophecy at Daniel 11:27 says: “At one table a lie is what they will keep speaking.”
In the business world, lying about products and services is a general practice. Buyers have to enter contractual agreements with caution, being certain to read the fine print. Some countries have regulatory agencies in the government to protect the people from false advertising, from injurious merchandise that is represented as being beneficial or harmless, and from fraud. Despite these efforts, people continue to suffer financially from lying merchants.
For some people, lying is so easy it becomes habitual. Others are generally truthful, but when cornered they will lie. Few refuse to lie under any circumstances.
A lie is defined as “1. a false statement or action, especially one made with intent to deceive . . . 2. anything that gives or is meant to give a false impression.” The intention is to cause others to believe something that the liar knows is not the truth. By lies or half-truths, he strives to deceive those who are entitled to know the truth.
Reasons for Lying
People lie for many reasons. Some think they are obligated to lie about their abilities in order to get ahead in this competitive world. Others try to cover up errors or guilt with lies. Still others falsify reports to give the impression that they have done work they have not done. Then there are those who lie to damage another’s reputation, to avoid embarrassment, to justify previous lies, or to defraud people of their money.
A common justification for a lie is that it protects another person. Some consider this to be a white lie because they think it does not injure anyone. But do these so-called white lies really leave no bad effects?
Consider the Effects
White lies can set a pattern that can lead to a practice of lying that may involve more serious matters. Sissela Bok comments: “All lies defended as ‘white’ cannot be so easily dismissed. In the first place, the harmlessness of lies is notoriously disputable. What the liar perceives as harmless or even beneficial may not be so in the eyes of the deceived.”
Lies, no matter how innocent they may seem to be, are destructive to good human relationships. The credibility of the liar is shattered, and there may well be a permanent breakdown of trust. Famous essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “Every violation of truth is not only a sort of suicide in the liar, but is a stab at the health of human society.”
It is easy for a liar to make a false statement about another person. Although he presents no proof, his lie creates doubt, and many believe him without investigating his claim. Thus the reputation of the innocent person is damaged, and he carries the burden of proving his innocence. It is, therefore, frustrating when people believe the liar rather than the innocent person, and it destroys the innocent one’s relationship with the liar.
A liar can easily develop the practice of lying. One lie usually leads to another. Thomas Jefferson, an early American statesman, observed: “There is no vice so mean, so pitiful, so contemptible; and he who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual.” It is the road to moral collapse.
The Reason It Is Easy to Lie
Lying began when a rebellious angel lied to the first woman, telling her that she would not die if she disobeyed her Creator. It resulted in incalculable harm to the entire human race, bringing imperfection, sickness, and death to all.—Genesis 3:1-4; Romans 5:12.
From the time of disobedient Adam and Eve, the insidious influence of this father of lies has created a climate in the world of mankind that stimulates lying. (John 8:44) It is a decadent world in which truth is only relative. The Saturday Evening Post of September 1986 observed that the problem of lying “touches business, government, education, entertainment, and simple day-to-day relationships between fellow citizens and neighbors. . . . We’ve bought the theory of relativism, the single big lie that says there are no absolute truths.”
Such is the viewpoint of habitual liars, who lack any empathy for those they deceive. Lying comes easy for them. It is their way of life. But others who are not habitual liars may lie unhesitatingly out of fear—fear of exposure, fear of punishment, and so forth. It is a weakness of the imperfect flesh. How can this tendency be replaced by a determination to speak the truth?
Why Be Truthful?
Truth is the standard our great Creator has set for all. His written Word, the Bible, states at Hebrews 6:18 that “it is impossible for God to lie.” This same standard was upheld by his Son, Jesus Christ, who was God’s personal representative on the earth. To the Jewish religious leaders who sought to kill him, Jesus said: “Now you are seeking to kill me, a man that has told you the truth that I heard from God. . . . And if I said I do not know him I should be like you, a liar.” (John 8:40, 55) He set a model for us in that “he committed no sin, nor was deception found in his mouth.”—1 Peter 2:21, 22.
Our Creator, whose name is Jehovah, hates lying, as Proverbs 6:16-19 clearly states: “There are six things that Jehovah does hate; yes, seven are things detestable to his soul: lofty eyes, a false tongue, and hands that are shedding innocent blood, a heart fabricating hurtful schemes, feet that are in a hurry to run to badness, a false witness that launches forth lies, and anyone sending forth contentions among brothers.”
This truthful God requires us to live by his standards in order to receive his approval. His inspired Word commands us: “Do not be lying to one another. Strip off the old personality with its practices.” (Colossians 3:9) People who refuse to quit the practice of lying are not acceptable to him; they will not receive his gift of life. In fact, Psalm 5:6 says frankly that God “will destroy those speaking a lie.” Revelation 21:8 further says that the portion of “all the liars” is “the second death,” which is eternal destruction. So our accepting God’s view of lying gives us strong reason to speak the truth.
But what should be done in a situation where the truth might create an embarrassing situation or bad feelings? Lying never is the solution, but saying nothing sometimes is. Why speak lies that can only ruin your credibility and make you subject to divine disapproval?
Out of fear and human weakness, a person may be tempted to seek refuge in a lie. That is the course of least resistance or mistaken kindness. The apostle Peter succumbed to such a temptation when he three times denied that he knew Jesus Christ. Afterward, he was cut to the heart for having lied. (Luke 22:54-62) His genuine repentance moved God to forgive him, as is evident in his later being blessed with many privileges of service. Repentance with a determined decision to stop lying is the course that brings divine forgiveness for doing what God hates.
But rather than seeking forgiveness after a lie, preserve a good relationship with your Creator and maintain your credibility with others by speaking the truth. Remember what Psalm 15:1, 2 says: “O Jehovah, who will be a guest in your tent? Who will reside in your holy mountain? He who is walking faultlessly and practicing righteousness and speaking the truth in his heart.”