Thursday, 11 October 2007

The Power of the Lie

This from our latest parish magazines:

Who are Katerina Thanou and Pauline Davis-Thompson, and what do they have in common?

The answer is that they are the two women sprinters beaten into second place by Marion Jones at the Sydney Olympics in ad 2000.

If you have been following the news, however, you will know that Marion Jones has now admitted taking performance-enhancing drugs which helped her win those races. Arguably, therefore, Thanou and Davis-Thompson should have been standing on the podium hearing their countries’ national anthems played, and not Ms Jones. And even if they are finally awarded the gold medals, that moment will never be theirs —it is lost forever, and the memory of Sydney will always be tinged with disappointment.

That is the power of lying, and it helps explain why, out of the Ten Commandments, one is that ‘you shall not bear false witness against your neighbour’.

To lie about someone in such a way as to risk them being found guilty in court (which is what the commandment forbids) is tantamount to violence or even murder.

Yet every untruth destroys ‘neighbourliness’. Even the so-called ‘white lie’, which may be told so as to avoid harm, is a sign that the situation has already gone wrong.

More commonly, though, the lie is just a result of selfishness and sinfulness. We are quite happy to mislead the other person for our own advantage, provided we think we can get away with it. Who has not, at some stage, told a lie of this sort? There must be very few.

Yet in the end, lying is destructive even of the pleasures we hope it will allow us to enjoy.

It is rather unfortunate that Katerina Thanou, the runner-up to Marion Jones, is herself under suspicion about drug-taking. If she is guilty, we begin to ask who in that race could be trusted. And if no-one can be trusted, what will happen to the audience which sport normally attracts?

It may work to our advantage in the short term, but in the long term lying undermines all our relationships.

One man was asked by his boss to lie for him, but refused. When the boss threatened to sack him, his response was simple: “If I lie for you, then one day I may lie to you.”

Talking of which, a friend told me recently the three great lies of the business world are these: “Hi honey, I’m working late”, “The cheque is in the post” and, “I’m from head office, I’m here to help you.”

Which brings me to the point that the Church of England is currently proposing legislation to take ownership of vicarages away from parishes, where it currently belongs, and vest it in diocesan Boards of Finance. This, we are assured, will relieve parishes of a tiresome burden and be financially much better for them. I, of course, could not possibly comment.

Revd John P Richardson

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