A Lie For Love

There is a well-known moral dilemma called the Murderer At The Door (MATD). It asks one to consider the following scenario: A friend bursts into your home screaming that someone is trying to kill them. You tell them to hide in the closet. Moments later an axe-wielding murderer knocks on the door and upon answering it the murderer asks you if your friend is inside. The question is whether it is permissible to lie to this murderer at the door?

The dilemma was presented as a critique of Kantian Ethics in the late 18th century when Immanuel Kant said justice dictates that you have a duty to tell the truth to the murderer. In response a vast amount of literature, reaction, and theories over the intervening centuries has cast doubt on whether the ethics that bear Kant’s name truly prescribes such an absolute truthfulness. Some have said that Kant was just wrong. Others have said he was speaking in terms of legal responsibilities rather than moral responsibilities. Regardless there appear to be few people today that ascribe to Kant’s moral absolutism.

There are many simple moral edicts such as “Thou shall not lie” that can be broadly applied but not, I believe, absolutely applied. The sphere of human morality defies most such prescriptions. Attempting to apply absolutes to an action such a lying that has many different motives and complexities is bound to produce outliers. We are left with only general rules that can be applied to the vast majority of situations but then there are a small subset of cases where we need to look elsewhere, away from the generalities in order to make progress. It is here where our rational selves must dance with our emotional selves. It is here where we must look to the love in our hearts for guidance and not just the rules prescribed by religious text, secular laws, or philosophical reasoning.

To provide a rationalization for why we cannot lie to a murderer at our door is reductio ad absurdum. To protect a friend, or say our spouse, or our child, from such a criminal what would you not do? Lie, assault, threaten, I dare say even kill for the sake of our loved ones. And would we be morally wrong to do so? No. So what is the difference? When is lying defensible and when is it not? Kant deferred to the absolutist position on this question, perhaps because the answer reveals an uncomfortable truth: that in moments of crisis it not only can be our emotions that guide our choices, but that it should be our emotions. The problem occurs when the emotion we are basing our decision on is not love and when all those impacted by our decision are not taken into account.

Consider the reverse example. The person hiding in our closet is our child but this time they are the murderer wielding the axe. The persons knocking at the door are the police asking the same question: Is your child inside? The differences are clear and now our love turns to the victims of their rampage, and the safety of society in general. We choose to lead the police to our child. We choose not to lie.

For most the response to the above two scenarios do not come from strict adherence to any law, scripture, or philosophy. It comes from our heart. Our emotions can dictate our actions. Those actions may conflict with written texts regardless of the source. When this happens The Greatest Love does not care that you are breaking secular laws, religious doctrine, or ethical reasoning. They care that the emotion you are focusing on when choosing to override such guidance is love. Love for all of the people impacted by your actions.

I believe our love must form the bedrock of our actions.

Yes there are secular laws of the land that will direct many of a citizen’s actions but when those laws contradict the love in one’s heart it is their heart that must win the day. For example voicing dissent against a government’s autocratic prohibitions towards free speech and public protests.

Yes there is religious doctrine that for the faithful will direct many of their actions but when that doctrine contradicts the love in one’s heart it is their heart that must reign supreme. For example finding acceptance of your same-sex marriage outside of a church which does not accept it.

Yes there is moral and legal philosophy that for adherents will direct many of their actions but when those rationalizations contradict the love in one’s heart it is the heart that must supersede the mind. For example disapproval of Kant’s absolutist stance on never lying to even a murderer at the door.

What happens when a heart is depraved? If, for example, your heart is telling you that the murder of an innocent child is right? You are in a dangerous place where you cannot trust your own moral compass. Somehow, someway your love has been twisted and malformed beyond recognition from which it was originally born into this World with. Fortunately I believe such cases are rare and it is in such cases that the people and society that surround such individuals must help heal or, if necessary, isolate this heart.

But my purpose here is not to focus on the depraved hearts. It is to focus on the loving ones and how they decide to lie or not lie. I believe lying in general cannot be so neatly classified as right or wrong. In nearly all cases lying is incompatible with love but in rare cases, I believe, love can direct us to lie. The murderer at the door is just one, albeit contrived, example. It is an example of lying to protect those we love.

In general, I believe, we can rightfully lie to bring about a necessary result in the name of love. And I believe this is done by parents, presidents, and a great many others.

Consider the parent who soothes their child’s nervous thoughts from tornadoes to tarantulas saying “nothing will happen” when in fact there are no such absolutes in life.

Or consider the American President Franklin D. Roosevelt who garnered favor with the isolationist American public by voicing his reluctance to enter the war in Europe all the while preparing his nation, as secretly as he could, for the eventual conflict.

But, I believe, lying in the name of love has a higher practitioner. The highest practitioner. I believe The Greatest Love lied to one of Their greatest prophets, Jesus Christ, in order to help Christianity flourish after his death.

That lie was the Second Coming of Christ.

Various denominations of the Christian and Islamic faiths have different dogma surrounding the Second Coming but I believe all are based on a lie. A divine lie told by God to Jesus. A lie Jesus believed to be true but a divine lie nonetheless done in the name of love. That lie was that Jesus would come again as the Son of Man during an end time to judge the living and the dead. Predicting such an event would help galvanize followers of Jesus around his message of love.

However the passage of time without a Second Coming despite Jesus’ assertions that it was imminent1 help to reveal its fallacy. But moreover such a Second Coming would require a binary separation of all people between the wicked into “eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matthew 25:46)“. This separation would be judged by Jesus, as The Son of Man during the Last Judgement. A segregation that, as discussed in previous posts, I believe is contrary to love.

I believe Jesus was certain of his spoken destiny for himself. Jesus was not lying. Such a great lie told by such a great prophet would be nonsensical. Nor do I believe Jesus was delusional. Instead I believe he had a profound connection to God and God, via direct revelation, lied to Jesus for a greater good. That greater good was the establishment of the Christian church and the instilment of hope in his Second Coming as a means to receive salvation during an end time. A greater good that would cause Christians to take Jesus’ message of love around the globe.

It was a lie for love. A just lie. A lie that The Greatest Love deemed necessary in the name of love.

However lying even when the motives are just brings risks. It can weaken trust which impacts relationships. Just as not lying sometimes brings with it even greater concerns. It can place loved ones in danger of emotional or physical harm. So how do you decide what to do?

I believe you need to perform a delicate dance between the emotional and the rational. You need to let your mind inform your heart but then let your heart decide. For I believe it is our heart, our love, that makes us uniquely human. It is our love that forms the bedrock of our humanity and upon which our decisions can stand with confidence.

When your heart guides you to lie the saving grace is that if and when the lie sees the light of day it is possible to be understood. That those impacted will understand that your lie was done out of love and that hopefully that will be enough to repair any lost trust.

Today, I believe, The Greatest Love has allowed the discovery of the lie that is The Second Coming. It is a lie which has served its purpose. It provided hope to the followers of Jesus’ time and afterwards, during an era dominated by apocalyptic visions of the future. But today a future involving binary judgements from a messianic prophet during an end times apocalypse seems more despondent than hopeful. Instead our understanding of the Universe along with the second vision provides a new hope for today. It is, I believe, a more hopeful message of our future. It is a message meant for our time rather than a previous message from an ancient past.

1 From Matthew: “While Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?” … Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened.” (Matthew 24:3,34)

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.