The Truth about Lies

The June 2017 edition of National Geographic magazine has an article titled, Why We Lie: The Science Behind Our Deceptive Ways. It is interesting what science has to say about the ninth commandment of the Decalogue that reads, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor,” Exodus 20:16.

Before I get into the article I think it is important that we distinguish an untruth from a lie. We have all said things at times that at the moment we thought were true and discovered later they weren’t, but they were said believing them to be true and with no intent to deceive the hearer. A lie on the other hand is something said that the speaker knows is not true with the intent to deceive others. One can inadvertently say something that is not true, but one cannot inadvertently lie.

The article was extensive. Information about lying was gathered from a number of different surveys and studies, a host of experts on the subject were interviewed, and some scattered anecdotes were included. The various reasons for lying were addressed in detail, and which age groups were more honest and which were more deceptive.

Lying can begin as early as the age of two and remains with us throughout life. People lie to avoid other people, cover up a mistake or misdeed, for financial gain, or to promote self-interest or image. No culture, profession, or ethnic group can claim mastery of the practice, nor to be free from it.

Lying is so pandemic that it is accepted as a part of the human condition. So much so that the byline for the report says, “Honesty may be the best policy, but scheming and dishonesty are part of what makes us human.”

Of the Ten Commandments it is the sin that is most commonly committed. Not everyone has murdered someone, stolen something, or been unfaithful to a spouse, but everyone will readily admit they have lied at times. It is not only part of what “makes us human,” it is a sure testament to our fallen nature.

Lying is so easy and something we usually get better at over time, that some observers were surprised that we do not lie more. The age group least likely to lie was 6-8 eight year olds, and it was theorized they were the least accomplished at it and thus unsure of themselves.

The next age group was a close second, 60-77 year olds (may age group), I suppose they think we have nothing to lose by being honest. But the most prolific liars by age group were no surprise, 13-17 year olds, our middle and high school kids.

Human empiricism may recognize the pragmatic reasons we lie, but cannot identify the underlying cause; that man is a fallen, sinful creature. I suppose the biggest lie is the one we tell ourselves, that lying is merely a sign we are just human, and not a witness to our sinful state and need for a Savior.


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