Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What's in a Lie?

"Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour." (KJV)

Or, as one modern Bible perversion (heavy sarcasm) puts it -

"You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." (ESV)

What exactly constitutes a lie? The other day I got into a "discussion" with a friend of mine about the nature of a lie.

We were discussing the TV show "Survivor" (of which I've only seen maybe 2 episodes). I was trying to argue that if a player in the game said, "I won't vote you off the island." and then did in fact vote said player off the island - it wasn't a sinful lie because it was in the context of a competitive game in which deception is sometimes assumed.

Hear me out.

When Peyton Manning pump fakes in one direction in order to deceive the defense, but then turns and throws the football in the other direction - he's not really lying, because the nature of the game presumes the possibility of deception.

If a coach calls out a fake play, hoping to confuse the other team - nobody thinks he has broken the 9th commandment.

Why not?

Because the very nature of the game dictates that deception might take place (think bluffing in Poker) - thus the onus (responsibility) falls on the other players to not necessarily believe every pump fake they see, every fake call they hear, or every promise made on Survivor.

In the case of Survivor - it would take a naive person indeed, to believe that the other game show members were going to be honest.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me while were competing for a million dollars on nationally televised game show which has deception and trickery at it's core, shame on me.

A lie is that which contradicts reality. But when reality is just a game - a lie, is just a strategy.

So I guess the question is, can this concept find any application in real life?

Two immediate examples jump to mind - war and birthday parties.

1. War

Deception has long been used as a tactic during military combat. In fact, in 2001, Jon Latimer published a book chronicling warfare deceit in his book, "Deception in War: The Art of the Bluff, the Value of Deceit, and the Most Thrilling Episodes of Cunning in Military History, from the Trojan Horse to the Gulf War"

So we know it's used - but does that make it right?

Was it OK for Rahab to lie when soldiers were searching for the Jewish spies? (Joshua 2)

Was it a subtle form of trickery when Gideon surrounded the Midianites with trumpets and torches - sending the Midianites into a self-destructing panic? (Judges 7)

2. Birthday Parties

When you throw someone a surprise birthday party - is that a lie?

When everybody parks at the other end of the street, hides in closets and behind couches, and all the lights are turned off to give the illusion of an empty house (right before jumping out and yelling, "SURPRISE!") - is that a lie?

When you tell your spouse you were running late because of traffic, but you were really picking up a birthday cake - is that a lie?

When you put a small gift in a big box so that they won't guess what it is - is that a lie?

I think most of us would answer, "No."


Because, just like Survivor, Poker, Football, and War - the possibility of deception is assumed.

So why in the world did I write this?

Because I want you all to start lying like it's 1999?

Of course not.

My point is to simply try to think through the question, "What is a lie?"

We can become so familiar with certain words (e.g. love, sin, good, trust), that we don't stop and think through the implications of what they really mean.

How would you define a lie?

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