Internet Goosing the Antithesis

Monday, April 10, 2006

The virtue of honesty

Should one lie for a greater good ? Intelligent Design "scientists" sure do. Televangelists make it their job of lying. Christianity is founded on a Big Lie - the human existence of Jesus. Pious lying was widespread throughout the Dark Ages. In the Bible, Jesus outrageously lies by telling the fib that he would bring about the end of the world within a generation - a standard lie still told by cult leaders to make the fearful flock to them.

So obviously there is no strict adherence to the truth within Christianity. But everyone acknowledges that, while these examples are clear instances of immorality, there are instances of lying that are not immoral. It is generally accepted that lying to save a life from a criminal, for example, is good.

This is not a problem for the virtue of honesty. Contrary to common conception, honesty is not quite the same as "not lying". Honesty is a commitment to grasp the truth and act accordingly. This fits with our exception : to value the other person's life above telling the truth in that instance, and to refuse to act accordingly, would be dishonest. As David Kelley puts it, to be rational is to be aware, but to be honest is to reject falsehoods once we gain awareness :

Falsehood is not the absence of information, but the presence of misinformation. Human beings are especially capable of creating this peculiar kind of lack of knowledge. Because conceptual thought is volitional and creative, we can form propositions, claims, stories, and ideas that do not correspond to reality. It is this basic fact that lies behind our need for honesty.
Logical Structure of Objectivism, chapter 5

Telling a lie is not dishonest in itself (although it can be immoral for other reasons), but it exposes our dishonesty - our refusal to reject falsehoods. If I try to convince you that vaccination doesn't work, when I have plenty of contrary information available and should be aware of the falsehood, I am being dishonest. On the other hand, if I tell you that I have a degree when I do not in order to gain credibility, I am being deceitful but not dishonest (unless it was a bizarre delusion on my part).

Honesty, like rationality, is difficult to define in terms of consequences because it is such a fundamental issue. So unlike the first examination of a virtue I did, the virtue of non-coercion, I cannot give specific statements of the type "I need honesty for...", because we need honesty for everything. Honesty is an essential need. Without the desire to grasp truth, we can't even talk of the needs of the individual or living in society. As religion and politics beautifully illustrate, general dishonesty can only lead to the total substitution of human needs for subservience to beliefs and ideals.

Like all other theistic religions, Christianity is fundamentally based on dishonesty and Big Lies. It is adopted on the basis of pure hedonism, because it makes people feel better and comforts them in their own specialness, not because of any search for truth. Its moral consequences have been enumerated on this blog again and again, and don't need to be repeated. Christianity has all the tell-tale earmarks of fantasy : talking animals, people possessed by evil creatures, magical giants copulating with humans, a flying superhero, and so on. Like all dishonest, inhuman ideologies, Christianity must resort to FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) in order to be swallowed :

The Christian appeal to fear, to cowardice, is an admission that the evidence supporting Christian beliefs is far from compelling. If the evidence were such that Christianity’s truth was immediately apparent to anyone who considered it, Christians—including those who wrote the Gospels—would feel no need to resort to the cheap tactic of using fear-inducing threats to inspire "belief." ("Lip service" is a more accurate term.) That the Christian clergy have been more than willing to accept such lip service (plus the dollars and obedience that go with it) in place of genuine belief, is an additional indictment of the basic dishonesty of Christianity.

How deep dishonesty runs in Christianity can be gauged by one of the most popular Christian arguments for belief in God: Pascal’s wager. This "wager" holds that it’s safer to "believe" in God (as if belief were volitional!) than not to believe, because God might exist, and if it does, it will save "believers" and condemn nonbelievers to hell after death. This is an appeal to pure cowardice. It has absolutely nothing to do with the search for truth. Instead, it’s an appeal to abandon honesty and intellectual integrity, and to pretend that lip service is the same thing as actual belief.

From "20 Reasons to Abandon Christianity"

Honesty is not easy, especially when we are confronted with one of those simple truths (such as "God does not exist") that demand that we restructure our worldview. Nevertheless, the only alternative is delusion. History has plenty to tell us about the evils of mass delusion, and the news show us the results of delusion in one's personal life. Let it never be said that it pays to be dishonest !

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