A Pandemic: Fibs, Lies, and Half-truths

by Mike Patrick

We generally consider fibs or little white lies rather obnoxious and inconsequential. But they become the first step down a slippery slope of dishonesty. I understand that people want to protect others from unnecessary hurt. For instance, if a woman asks her husband if he likes her new hairdo, he may say it looks good in order to spare her feelings, but he really doesn’t care for it. He has to choose the lesser evil: dishonesty or hurtful words. Or, to take it a step further, some husbands act in a dishonest way with their wives because they fear rejection. They might think, “If she knew me, she wouldn’t love me.” This behavior is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even though she doesn’t know the truth, he knows that she doesn’t know. Therefore, he can never feel fully accepted by her because he knows she doesn’t fully know him.

Mike Patrick

It becomes a little more serious when we tell outright lies. Typically, people lie because they fear being caught in some dishonest, immoral, or illegal act. We laugh when watching America’s Funniest Videos when a preschooler with chocolate all over his face denies having gotten into the cookie jar. The humor evaporates when people from whom we expect honesty lie. For example, we all know of the reports of the dozens and dozens of court cases, even the U.S. Supreme Court, that the Trump administration lost the election because no evidence of election fraud surfaced. Yet, accusations continue to reappear months after the election. We see, as well, the horrendous consequences of the thousands of people who acted on that lie on January 6 this year in Washington, D.C. Some politicians, Republican or Democrat, tell untruths because they want to maintain their political careers and exercise power in decisions made to steer our country in a certain direction.

Another example which shows that no career category escapes such close scrutiny may surprise you. I know a number of ministers, and I assume many more than I know, who exercise their legal right to opt out of Social Security. However, the only reason the IRS allows a minister to do so rests on the fact that he or she opposes government or public insurance (Social Security, Medicare) on religious grounds. Dishonest ministers sign the paperwork (Form 4361) to opt out, but, in reality, they simply want to avoid paying the Social Security self-employment tax (15.3%). However, most, if not all of those dishonest ministers, reach retirement and sign up for Medicare or even half their spouse’s Social Security benefit. What happened to their religious opposition to socialized care then? By the way, how many people cheat on their income taxes?

Perhaps the worst illness of this moral pandemic comes with the telling of half-truths. Half-truths surpass the danger of outright lies. A half-truth has an element of truth and therefore sounds more believable. So, politicians can lead people in a certain direction more easily by slanting what people believe based on a half-truth. Journalists can do the same. By emphasizing only one viewpoint, the reader or news watcher can be misled by only half the truth. 

Conspiracy theories are an ever-present element in a free society. Someone said jokingly, “Where two or three are gathered together, there is a conspiracist.” People look for ways to find a scapegoat for all their problems. In the 1950s, some people believed that adding fluoride to the water occurred because of a Communist plot. These days, many people have become lazy when it comes to searching for the truth. So, conjecture replaces diligence and fear replaces reason.

Sometimes we misspeak the truth because we did not know better. We can apologize and make a correction and amends. The Bible speaks clearly. The eighth of the Ten Commandments forbids us from bearing false witness. In our courtrooms, we hear about the pains and penalties of perjury. The New Testament speaks of a coming day when we will have to give account of every empty (NIV), idle (KJV), careless (ESV) word spoken (Matthew 12:36).

Mike Patrick retired as Chaplain and Ministry Education Coordinator after 27 years at Hendrick Medical Center

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