To Lie, or Not to Lie

By pintswaquinas November 16, 2022

Is lying always wrong?

Most of you probably just shouted, “Of course!”

But consider the following scenario: You’re in Germany during World War II. Some close Jewish friends of yours come to you and ask you to hide them from the Nazis. Of course you agree and hide them in a secret room.

Later, you hear a knock on the door and open it to find a Nazi officer standing there. He asks you if you are hiding any Jews in your house.

Can you lie and say there are no Jews in your house? Some of you may have said yes immediately. The rest of you may desperately want to agree, but hesitate because you wonder if lying is ever justified.

Is it?

Here is our friend Dr. Peter Kreeft’s take on this question. (In their conversation, Matt doesn’t agree with him on every point.)

Lying is a more relative thing than most evils.
Lying affects your interpersonal relationships. You lie to someone either to harm them or protect them. Lying to someone to protect them is not a bad thing.

In the Nazi scenario, lying would be justified because you promised to protect people from a death they don’t deserve. You’re also helping the Nazi officers from committing the additional sin of murder by convincing them that you’re not hiding anyone.

Lying, properly understood, is not an intrinsic evil.
Part of the debate boils down to how you define “lying.”

If you believe lying is “deliberately deceiving someone in a way that harms them,” then you think lying is an intrinsic evil (meaning it’s evil in and of itself). But if your definition is broader and includes deception with the intent of protecting someone from real harm, then it’s hard to argue that it’s intrinsically evil.

In fact, you may find yourself morally obligated to deceive someone who doesn’t have the right to know the truth you are hiding! Murderers don’t have a right to know where their intended victims are because they’ll use that truth to do evil.

The goal of speech is to communicate what is, but there’s more to it than that.
This goes back to our scenario of hiding the Jews. The main purpose of speech is to communicate the truth. But if that entails bringing a horrible evil upon a person, is your speech really in service of God?

Lying is a tricky topic and Dr. Kreeft gives us a lot to think about.

What’s your view? Is lying always wrong or is it sometimes justified? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section of the YouTube clip above or the social media post you clicked on to get here.


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