Honest Tenacity; Tenacious Honesty
By Fr. Jerry Pokorsky ( bio - articles - email ) | Mar 20, 2023
Speaking the truth is a matter of justice. The Eighth Commandment reads, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” Don’t lie. A few moral precepts that cluster around this Commandment are: don’t gossip; don’tunjustly reveal natural secrets (detraction); and don’t slander.
Silence is golden. Not everyone needs to know the fullness of the truth about difficult family situations, sins forgiven and forgotten from long ago, persistent emotional difficulties, etc. A defendant in court has a right to claim the Fifth Amendment, reckoning that his words may incriminate him in a court of law. Although the accused (like St. Thomas More) may refuse to testify, he must not lie. We may sum up the Eighth Commandment: “Never lie—and do not reveal natural secrets unless required in justice and charity.”
The crisis of truth begins when parents don’t correct children for those little self-protective lies. “Did you eat the cookies?” “No.” The parent chuckles inside, seeing that the kid is oblivious to the cookie crumbs around his little mouth. A wise parent does not laugh but gently corrects the little malefactor.
Patterns of uncorrected childhood lies metastasize into the deadwood of adult mendacity. Teenagers may lie about their behavior after failing to come home on time. Young adults may lie about their academic and sports exploits. Employees may lie on their expense reports. Professionals may lie about their accomplishments because they think the misrepresentations are essential to promotion. Accomplished liars often rise to the top of the corporate world, the political world, and even within the Church.
The abuse of the truth and the virus of widespread lies threatens to usher in a new strain of totalitarianism. The bald-faced lie now defines much of our culture, politics, and religion. Even fact-checkers have become lying spin artists. “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (Jn. 8:44)
The blind man, with his sight restored by Jesus, refuses to weasel out of his predicament (cf. Jn. 9:1-41). The Pharisees attack him as an accomplice of a sinner who violates the Sabbath. The man cured of his blindness could escape from the clutches of the Pharisees with a few teeny-weeny white lies. Instead, he refuses to budge, doubles down on the truth, and bears the consequences. The Pharisees toss him out onto the street. Jesus seeks him, reveals His messianic mission, and the man becomes His disciple.
During the Cold War, Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn explained that the Soviet regime was a totalitarian fabric of lies. Party leaders lied; members of the Party lied to advance within the system; family members lied to retain academic status or to keep their jobs. Individually, there is not much one can do to upset a totalitarian regime except for one essential disposition: “Our way must be: Never knowingly support lies!” [On the day the Soviets arrested Solzhenitsyn, February 12, 1974, he released the text of his justly famous essay “Live Not by Lies.” Solzhenitsyn provides the choice: “Will he remain a witting servant of the lies…or has the time come for him to stand straight as an honest man, worthy of the respect of his children…?” Resolving never to lie, he:
- ”Will not write, sign, nor publish in any way, a single line distorting, so far as he can see, the truth;
- Will not utter such a line in private or in public conversation, nor read it from a crib sheet, nor speak it in the role of educator, canvasser, teacher, actor;
- Will not in painting, sculpture, photograph, technology, or music depict, support, or broadcast a single false thought, a single distortion of the truth as he discerns it;
- Will not cite in writing or in speech a single ‘guiding’ quote for gratification, insurance, for his success at work, unless he fully shares the cited thought and believes that it fits the context precisely…
- Will not raise a hand in vote for a proposal which he does not sincerely support; will not vote openly or in secret ballot for a candidate whom he deems dubious or unworthy;
- Will not be impelled to a meeting where a forced and distorted discussion is expected to take place;
- Will at once walk out from a session, meeting, lecture, play, or film as soon as he hears the speaker utter a lie, ideological drivel, or shameless propaganda;
- Will not subscribe to, nor buy in retail, a newspaper or journal that distorts or hides the underlying facts.”
Solzhenitsyn is a realist. “Yes, at first it will not be fair. Someone will have to temporarily lose his job. For the young who seek to live by truth, this will at first severely complicate life, for their tests and quizzes, too, are stuffed with lies, and so choices will have to be made. But there is no loophole left for anyone who seeks to be honest… “
“And as for him who lacks the courage to defend even his own soul: Let him not brag of his progressive views, boast of his status as an academician or a recognized artist, a distinguished citizen or general. Let him say to himself plainly: I am cattle, I am a coward, I seek only warmth and to eat my fill.”
We must add: “I have betrayed my Communion ‘Amen.’”
As we join Jesus in front of Pilate before His Crucifixion, never lie: “For this was I born, and for this came I into the world; that I should give testimony to the truth. Everyone that is of the truth, heareth my voice.” (Jn. 7:17)
The tenacity for honesty of the man cured of his blindness directs us to Jesus and His Way of the Cross.
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Posted by: Cinciradiopriest -
Mar. 24, 2023 2:46 PM ET USA
The Church would be much stronger in the world if she only carried our Fr. Pokorsky's sound advice.