The 9th Commandment.
“You must not tell lies about (and therefore to) other people.”
[ King James version, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.”]
This obviously applies to courts of law. There can’t be Justice unless people tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” There must be no subtractions, modifications, or additions – no hiding, skewing or larding the facts. Donald Trump can hold up a Bible, but clearly doesn’t read it. No doubt it contains ‘fake news’, and the only people likely to buy into it are the world’s ‘losers’.
In Old Testament times, there was no state prosecution system. The witnesses themselves were the prosecutors. They were also the executioners. If the verdict was stoning to death, the main witness would ‘throw the first stone’. Any witness, however, who gave false evidence, would suffer the penalty that would have been inflicted on the accused. ‘Think before you speak’, and how! Needless to say, women and slaves (the same ‘thing’ some would say) were not allowed to give testimony. In later, post-biblical, times, evidence from women could be permitted “in matters not considered important enough to bother male witnesses.” Well, just so.
What is at issue here is the total importance of truth, and the complete unacceptability of lies. What could be more relevant in this global internet age, with its posting, tweeting, twittering and trolling? Has there ever been such misinformation and disinformation, defamation and abuse, on such a worldwide conveyor-belt scale? It’s all so easy to produce, so difficult to police and, too often, not only socially toxic but also personally, even tragically, deadly. How many suicides does it take before we deal seriously and effectively with this scourge?
It’s all the more necessary, then, to hold to account ‘role models’ – those who particularly exploit the power of the spoken and written word – such as politicians and clerics, media owners and broadcasters. Churches could do without ‘leaders’ who excuse and cover up, instead of exposing and condemning, the sexual abuse of children. Nations could do without ‘leaders’ who regard serial lying as being ‘smart’, or who think that ‘facts should never get in the way of good stories’.
There’s never been a more important time to stand up and be counted – to call out the “false witness”, the lying and deceit, the bluster and ballyhoo, the muck-raking and mud-slinging, the scurrility and slander. Democracy is fragile. Its preservation requires transparency, truth telling and open access to information and facts. Its enemies are denials and cover ups, empty slogans and emotive scapegoating, hyperbole and hypocrisy – the list is endless.
As usual, Jesus of Nazareth has something useful to say about this in Matt. 5:37 : “Only say ‘yes’ if you mean yes, and ‘no’ if you mean no : anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” Lying is a devilishly bad business to be sure, in more ways than one.