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TO lie is to utter an untruth, with full knowledge that it is an
untruth. The untruth may be expressed by any conventional sign, by
word, deed, gesture, or even by silence. Its malice and disorder
consists in the opposition that exists between our idea and the
expression we give to it; our words convey a meaning contrary to what
is in our mind; we say one thing and mean another. If we unwittingly
utter what is contrary to fact, that is error; if we so clumsily
translate our thoughts as to give a false impression of what we mean,
and we do the best we can, that is a blunder; if in a moment of
listlessness and inattention we speak in a manner that conflicts with
our state of mind, that is temporary mental aberration. But if we
knowingly give out as truth what we know is not the truth, we lie
purely and simply.

In misrepresentations of this kind it is not required that there be a
plainly formulated purpose of deceiving another; an implicit intention,
a disposition to allow our words to run their natural course, is
sufficient to give such utterances a character of mendacity. For,
independently of our mental attitude, it is in the nature of a lie to
deceive; an intention, or rather a pretense to the contrary, does not
affect that nature. The fact of lying presupposes that we intend in
some manner to practise deception; if we did not have such a purpose we
would not resort to lying. If you stick a knife into a man, you may
pretend what you like, but you did certainly intend to hurt him and
make him feel badly.

Nor has any ulterior motive we may have in telling an untruth the power
to change its nature; a lie is a lie, no matter what prompted it.
Whether it serves the purpose of amusement, as a jocose lie; or helps
to gain us an advantage or get us out of trouble, as an officious lie;
or injures another in any way, as a pernicious lie: mendacity is the
character of our utterances, the guilt of willful falsehood is on our
soul. A restriction should, however, be made in favor of the jocose
lie; it ceases to be a lie when the mind of the speaker is open to all
who listen and his narration or statement may be likened to those
fables and myths and fairy tales in which is exemplified the charm of
figurative language. When a person says what is false and is convinced
that all who hear him know it is false, the contradiction between his
mind and its expression is said to be material, and not formal; and in
this the essence of a lie does not consist.

A lie is always a sin; it is what is called an intrinsic evil and is
therefore always wrong. And why is this? Because speech was given us to
express our thoughts; to use this faculty therefore for a contrary
purpose is against its nature, against a law of our being, and this is
evil. The obnoxious consequences of falsehood, as it is patent to all,
constitute an evil for which falsehood is responsible. But deception,
one of those consequences, is not in itself and essentially, a moral
fault. Deception, if not practised by lying and therefore not intended
but simply suffered to occur, and if there be grave reason for
resorting to this means of defense, cannot be put down as a thing
offensive to God or unjustly prejudicial to the neighbor. But when
deception is the effect of mendacity, it assumes a character of malice
that deserves the reprobation of man as it is condemned by God. And
this is another reason why lying is essentially an evil thing, and can
never, under any circumstances be allowed or justified.

This does not mean that lying is always a mortal sin. In fact, it is
oftener venial than mortal. It becomes a serious fault only in the
event of another malice being added to it. Thus, if I lie to one who
has a right to know the truth and for grave reasons; if the mendacious
information I impart is of a nature to mislead one into injury or loss,
and this thing I do maliciously; or if my lying is directly disparaging
to another; in these cases there is grave malice and serious guilt. But
if there is no injustice resulting from a lie, I prevaricate against
right in lying, but my sin is not a serious offense.

This is a vice that certainly deserves to be fought against and
punished always and in all places, especially in the young who are so
prone thereto, first because it is a sin; and again, because of the
social evils that it gives rise to. There is no gainsaying the fact
that in the code of purely human morals, lying is considered a very
heinous offense that ostracizes a man when robbery on a large scale,
adultery and other first-degree misdemeanors leave him perfectly
honorable. This recalls an instance of a recent courtroom. A young
miscreant thoroughly imbued with pharisaic morals met with a bold face,
without a blush or a flinch, accusations of misconduct, robbery and
murder; but when charged with being a liar, he sprang at his accuser in
open court and tried to throttle him. His fine indignation got the best
of him; he could not stand that.

Among pious-minded people two extreme errors are not infrequently met
with. The one is that a lie is not wrong unless the neighbor suffers
thereby; the falsity of this we have already shown. According to the
other, a lie is such an evil that it should not be tolerated, not one
lie, even if all the souls in hell were thereby to be liberated. To
this we answer that we would like to get such a chance once; we fear we
would tell a whopper. It would be wicked, of course; but we might
expect leniency from the just Judge under the circumstances.



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