Sunday, October 22, 2006

Truth, Honesty, Belief!

Today two bloggers who I respect very much published posts about ‘Truth’. Orthoprax discusses a midrash which describes God’s need to “throw truth to the ground” in order to create man. While he does not give a conclusive theory about the meaning of this midrash, he suggests a number of themes, the gist of which is that Truth is of lesser value than other attributes – kindness and justice.

GH discusses the uneasy relationship between Truth and belief, where the more one adheres to Truth, the less likely it is that they can maintain belief. He too does not present a conclusion, but asks whether the emphasis on Truth is worth risking the benefits of Orthodoxy.

To many people, truth – or honesty – are not absolute standards. Many situations present themselves where saying an untruth seems far better than being honest. There are an endless number of highly worthy reasons to lie. People often lie to shelter others from hurt. They sometimes lie for the greater good. They sometimes see lying as a legitimate tactic in an adversarial situation. And, of course, they lie because of the great expediency which it provides.

What is a lie? It is, in one way or another, the imposition of a false reality. Reality says X, but we will say Y. In doing so, we have placed that person in an un-real situation. We have distorted their world.

Chazal refer to deception as “g’naivat daat” theft of knowledge. But in my opinion, what is being robbed is not merely knowledge, but free will. Our right to self-determination provides each of us with the right to develop our own priorities, values and goals. And we can make decisions which are in keeping with those ideals. But when our reality is intentionally warped, we are now making our choices based on a false premise. Lying is, as such, the most devastating form of manipulation, and is at the very cornerstone of immorality.

Many people fear the truth. In his post, GH poses the argument of lying for the greater good.

"The masses can't be expected to be told the cold hard truth, and yet still be passionate about Torah & Mitzvos. Once people realize what's true and what's not, they will lose their faith, and descend into the nihilistic hedonism common in popular culture (quite possibly)."

But, as I think this quote demonstrates, lying is the most disrespectful of human behaviors. We are presuming that we know better than the other person. We claim the prerogative to offer an untruth because we are more competent at making a decision for the other. We are guiding their choices because we know best.

As GH and Orthoprax convey, within Orthodoxy truth is sometimes not the highest standard. We are sometimes willing to ignore or distort truth in order to conform to the dogmatic belief. We are sometimes willing to tell our children fantastic myths to steer their beliefs in the direction we desire. We are willing to omit the teaching of science if it may interfere with those beliefs. In short, we are willing to construct a carefully tailored reality within which our children may live.

In relationships, a similar dynamic is played out endlessly. We say “Yes, I do love you!” although we do not feel love. We are protecting the other person – or buying time to sort out where we stand. But we are also depriving the other of making a sound decision based on truthful information.

We could have said “I have loved you for a long time, but right now, with all of the friction between us, I do not feel that love. I hope that it will return.”

That statement would likely have caused pain, but what would you have preferred if you were asking the question? A cozy lie, or the uncomfortable truth? With truth, you would know what reality is, and you could base your choice on the real facts of the situation, rather than an idealized fantasy. Don’t your loved ones deserve that same respect?

And what is the effect on ourselves? If we feel that we should tailor the truthfulness of our statements to fit the situation, we have opened the door to an endless amount of stress and complication. Now, answering even the simplest questions become an exercise in advanced mathematics. What should we say? What will happen if we tell the truth? Is there a more optimal lie? If there is, how should we construct it? Etc..

Telling the truth does not cleanse a bad deed. If you hurt someone, just being honest about does not make it okay. And, just because we are telling the truth does not absolve us from being sensitive and empathic. But without honesty, there is no basis for a true relationship, there is just the myth of what is real.

The truth has no agenda. It does not feel. It does not favor. It can be good, it can be bad. The truth does not like you or dislike you, it simply is.

If there has been one overarching theme for the vast changes in my life over the past years, it has been this:

“Enough lies! Enough myths! Enough fairy tails! I am entitled to reality! I am entitled to honesty!

I will tell no lies to others, and I will accept lies from no one. Enough!”


Blogger jewish philosopher said...

Don't I rate respect too?

October 23, 2006 12:53 PM  
Blogger Chana said...

Beautiful article, DBS, as always. You are passionate about what you believe in, and desire to live the examined, truthful life, following in what you have found to be that truth. I think that is an admirable thing, something which many strive for and few have the courage to follow.

A slight bit of humor that you will enjoy... fairy "tails"? Surely you don't mean to suggest that fairies sprout tails? *mock horror*

October 23, 2006 10:29 PM  
Blogger dbs said...

Sorry... all that pixi-dust and all...looked like a tail to me.

October 24, 2006 12:19 AM  
Blogger jewish philosopher said...

I'll be frank with you, DBS. My feeling about you is that you have been exposed a lot to general American society where the primary religion is agnostic humanism. And then you have reached the conclusion "Someone is crazy - us or them. Who is it? Well, compare maybe a million Orthodox Jews to 300 million Americans, it must be the Jews are wrong."

This is the impression I get from your blog. You don't don't have any real proof Judaism is false, but you just have this kind of strong feeling it is. Where does that feeling come from? Because Judaism doesn't make sense? Well, believe me, it makes a lot more sense than atheism.

Couldn't it be, had you lived 400 years ago, you would be telling people "You know, Christianity makes so much sense compared to Judaism. I just know Jesus is our Messiah."

October 24, 2006 9:53 AM  
Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

Fantastic post !!

I think a significant portion of the right wing has already sacrificed honesty in return for utilitarian social controls.

October 31, 2006 2:07 PM  
Blogger Izgad said...

To respond to Jewish philosopher, Christianity is necessarily so insane. If I had to choose between Judaism as many Haredim understand it and Christianity as someone like C.S Lewis understood it I would choose Christianity in a heart beat. What is so crazy about assuming that the physical element of mitzvot would pass away? Many Jewish thinkers argued that the world would have to eventually end as God’s purpose must eventually be achieved. The world therefore would cease to have a purpose and it is impossible that God would allow something to exist that did not have a purpose. This logic should work for mitzvoth. As for Trinitarian doctrine, why is it worse then Kabbalah?

December 30, 2006 11:01 PM  

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