RCIA CLASS 25
- THE IMPORTANCE OF TRUTH AND HONESTY
I. The ability to seek the truth and find it is crucial to the human person. As Pope John Paul II says, "One may define a human being . . . as one who seeks the truth." Fides et Ratio (1998) 28.
A. Without the ability
to know truth in itself, we cannot really know about another person
or any other thing; we can only know our feelings about them.
Thus, without truth, there is a fundamental selfishness and limitation
to the self.
the ability to know truth, reason loses all meaning. As St. Thomas
Aquinas argued, reason cannot function without truth because: (1) reasoning
means building upon some truths to arrive at other truths; and (2) without
the ability to arrive at truth, reason has no purpose. See
Summa Theologica, Part I, question 79, article 8. As the Vatican
II Council pointed out, freedom of religion, speech, and reason are
important precisely because we have an obligation to seek the truth
and adhere to it once found. See Dignitatis
Humanae (On the Dignity of the Human Person) 2.
C. Without an ability to know truth, there can be know ability to progress, or have any real sense of progress. For, as C.S. Lewis argued in chapter 2 of Mere Christianity, without a definite sense of truth, and in particular truth of right and wrong, it would be meaningless to say that we are progressing, for progress implies some definite goal that one is progressing to. Or, as he argued in The Abolition of Man, it is only by seeking the objective truth and living by it that we rise above passions. Without a desire for the true, the good, the beautiful, the holy (which in the end come together as one in the eternal law of God) the only thing left as a motive is earthly desires, which will if unchecked control us.
D. And, without a
sense of truth, there can be no real freedom. Freedom implies
the ability to control ones desires for the sake of something else.
But if the only thing one can know is one's own desires, thoughts,
opinions, etc, then the most powerful one will always prevail.
See John Paul II, Centissimus Annus (1991) 41. Real freedom
involves the ability to go outside of the self to seek something beyond,
and that implies one must know truth beyond oneself. As Jesus
says, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
II. In order to be able to arrive at truth, we must be able to trust others.
A. We can only ascertain
so many truths of our own sense experience. We must trust others
regarding almost everything, from historical events, to current events
we do not see, to laws of any sort, to people's intentions and feelings.
We must live by trust in order to know things. As Pope John Paul
II said in section 31 of Fides et Ratio, "Human beings are
not made to live alone. . . .There are in the life of a human
being many more truths which are simply believed than truths which are
acquired by way of personal verification. Who, for instance, could
assess critically the countless scientific findings upon which modern
life is based? . . . This means that the human being – the one
who seeks the truth – is also the one who lives by belief."
C. The desert fathers,
and especially Evagrius Ponticus, developed the idea of what is now
called the capital vices by describing ways in which we tend to live
in a false world. In particular the capital vices were described
as logismoi, or false thoughts. There are thoughts
of: (1) gluttony in believing one needs more of food, drink, possessions,
knowledge etc., than one does; (2) fornication in reducing another to
an object and believing that pleasure will be the key to happiness;
(3) avarice in desiring more and more of the false security money and
power promise; (4) sadness in clinging onto an unreal happiness, based
upon the past, the future or an unattained good; (5) anger in focusing
on a real or imagined injury that blinds one to charity; (6) acadia
in refusing the joy of the spirit in favor of some more visible, but
less real joy; (7) vainglory in imagining oneself doing great things
and being applauded; and (8) pride in ignoring the need for grace
and the help of others.
III. The eighth commandment and the call to truthfulness uphold this ability to trust.
A. The eighth commandment
can be read in one of two ways: (1) prohibiting any bearing of false
witness against a neighbor in the sense of any lies that deceive the
neighbor; or (2) specifically prohibiting even more lies that damage
a neighbor's reputation. It means both, with the latter sort
of lying being particularly evil.
B. The prohibition on lying is based above all else upon the fact that lying draws us away from God, the source of all truth, and from each other by breaking down a community of trust.
1. All lies,
i.e. all assertions that something is true when it is not (or vice verse)
that are intended to deceive, are falsehood about God, whether the speaker
intends it or not. For all things that are exist either because
God directly intended them or (as with sins) God willed to permit them.
Thus, all lies are a claim that God intended or allowed something when
He did not.
2. Lies also
break down the ability to trust one another and thus damage all communications.
See Catechism 2483, 2486. For St. Paul, the willingness to be
truthful was a crucial way of building up the new church and showing
conversion. See, e.g., Eph. 4:25; Col. 3:9; see also 1 Pet. 2:1;
Rev. 21:8, 26, 22:15.
3. Thus, Jesus
described the devil as "a liar and the father of lies." John 8:44.
Lies are more serious if: (1) they damage someone's reputation; (2)
they allow one to gain something of greater value (e.g., lying on a
resume); (3) they violate an oath or involve a particularly important
occasion, as in a civil or ecclesial court; or (4) otherwise lead another
person into grave harm. See Catechism 2476, 2484-2485.
4. One should
also be careful about the sin of rash judgment, i.e. believing a negative
statement about another person without just cause. See Catechism
2477. Exaggerating one's own talents or accomplishments or maliciously
caricaturing another person's views or behaviors is also an offense
against truth. See Catechism 2481. Boasting is different
from making the case for oneself or another when it is fitting to do
so, such as a job interview or an application to a school.
5. Some statements, while not literally true, are not lies. Such things include: (1) fiction literature or entertainment; (2) social conventions, such as responses to questions such as "How are you?" or "Was the meal good?"; or (3) ambiguous statements that are not meant to deceive, but rather to avoid revealing harmful truths. In such cases, there is not the intent to deceive.
C. Violating the obligation of secrets is also against the policy of the eighth commandment because it breaks down trust as well. See Catechism 2489-91.
1. Secrets can be natural or legal.
- A natural
secret is information that should be kept secret because of the situation
one is in; there need be no overt promise or request to keep is a secret.
Thus, most people understand that personal requests for advice or comfort,
internal business or security matters, things said during counseling
meetings, and the like should be kept secret.
- Legal secrets are matters that should be kept secret because one has made an overt or implicit promise to keep it secret, or a law has required secrecy. Thus, if a person directly tells one that he wants one to keep a matter secret and one lets him continue, it is implied that one has agreed.
2. Except for the seal of confessional (a priest's obligation never to reveal the sins a person has told him in the confessional), there can be some extraordinary situations that justify revealing a secret. But the situation must be truly grave enough to break the trust.
- The conferral
of God's mercy is so important that any violation of the seal of confession
is not only unjustified but grounds for excommunication and expulsion
D. Detraction, i.e. revealing even true faults about another person without sufficient cause, is also detrimental to the truth. See Catechism 2477.
1. Usually, even
when there is real fault, the person usually has some excuse or mitigating
circumstances, which a person usually has no opportunity to present.
2. Even if a
negative statement is totally true, it limits the person to some flaw
or fault. The final truth about any person is the saint God calls
that person to become. Thus, to focus attention away from God's
will to a particular failing to the person to achieve that goal at the
present is still usually deceptive.
3. There can
be times when negative statements are necessary to correct a fault or
prevent a harm, but one must always ask whether in fact such is the
case, and whether such correction or prevention can be done privately.
See, e.g., Matt. 18:15-20.
to St. Thomas Aquinas, detraction is a mortal sin if is motivated by
a malicious intention (i.e. to harm the other person) or it recklessly
causes grave dishonor. He says the injury done by detraction is
no less, and may be more than that done by physical assaults or robbery.
See Summa Theologica II-II question 72 article 2.
E. Even arts, literature, and culture are meant to be at the service of truth, and can be judged as true or false.
1. For example,
even fiction literature can be considered true if it presents goodness
as good and attractive and evil as evil and ugly, and can be false if
it presents good as unattractive and evil as attractive.