To lie is to bear false witness. It is to make an untruthful statement intended to deceive.
Jesus says, “Do not bear false witness.” (KJV) Lying is wrong. But why? Jesus explains,
Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! (NIV)
Centuries later, the philosopher Immanuel Kant came up with a secular account of why it is wrong to lie which, it seems, Jesus had prefigured. In his essay On a Supposed Right to Lie from Philanthropy, Kant went so far as to claim that it would be wrong to lie to a would-be murderer even to save an innocent life.
Truthfulness in statements that one cannot avoid is a human being’s duty to everyone, however great the disadvantage to him or to another that may result from it… [I]f I falsify… I… do wrong in the most essential part of duty in general by such falsification… that is, I bring it about, as far as I can, that statements (declarations) in general are not believed, and so too that all rights which are based on contracts come to nothing and lose their force; and this is a wrong inflicted upon humanity generally… For [a lie] always harms another, even if not another individual, nevertheless humanity generally, inasmuch as it makes the source of right unusable.
Kant based his moral philosophy on a maxim he called the Categorical Imperative.
Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.
You cannot will that the maxim, “Bear false witness,” become a universal law! If we all lied, all the time, then soon no one would believe a word that anyone said. After a while, no one would even hear what anyone said.
Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say.
Talk would be ignored, like a background noise tuned out. Ultimately, we’d be struck dumb. No one would bother to say anything at all, even the truth, since no one would believe him.
Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me!
To lie is not merely to commit a crime against he to whom the lie is told. It is to commit a crime against language itself. St. Augustine said
But every liar says the opposite of what he thinks in his heart, with purpose to deceive. Now it is evident that speech was given to man, not that men might therewith deceive one another, but that one man might make known his thoughts to another. To use speech, then, for the purpose of deception, and not for its appointed end, is a sin. Nor are we to suppose that there is any lie that is not a sin, because it is sometimes possible, by telling a lie, to do service to another.
Which brings me to my final point. Lying is an abuse of language. But it’s not the only one. The Biblical injunction, “Thou shalt not bear false witness,” has its corollary in M. Hare’s maxim, “Say what you mean, and mean what you say.” Words have meanings. To say what you mean, you must find the words that mean what you mean to say, and say them. Mean what you say, and say what you mean. Surreptitious redefinition is a species of pernicious redefinition. It, too, is an abuse of language.
Words and phrases have meanings. For example, Christianity is a belief system, a worldview, a way of life, an institution … and a religion. Secular humanism is a belief system, a worldview, a way of life, an institution … but not a religion. The word ‘religion’ is used to distinguish between creeds whose central doctrines include the reality of a god or gods, and those whose central doctrines do not, or which are explicitly atheistic.
Lie and, ultimately, language ceases to function. Use the term ‘religion’ to encompass secular creeds, customs and ideologies and, ultimately, ‘religion’ ceases to function. Pernicious redefinition is tantamount to lying. Dare I say it’s also akin to theft?! I used to be a “liberal”, until today’s liberals took the term ‘liberal’ unto themselves. Now I’m a libertarian. But for how much longer? How much time do I have before I morph into a traitorous idiot?
Ayn Rand was a libertarian and atheism is not a religion.