Can we lie by what we don't say? - Catholic Courier

Can we lie by what we don’t say?

Q. I am sponsor for one of our parish Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults candidates. During a session on the commandments, the speaker claimed we can often lie by what we don’t say as well as what we do say. Someone asked how that could be, but she gave a short answer and didn’t seem too sure.

Can we lie by what we don’t say? What would be an example? (Virginia)

A. There certainly are such lies. In fact, they can be some of the worst.

Deliberately lying, even by telling only half-truths to blacken or destroy another person’s reputation, for example, is called the sin of slander.

Let’s suppose there’s a person you don’t like, perhaps a wife and mother. To arouse others to dislike her, you spread stories about her, all true. She leaves the house, you say, once or twice a week to spend the day alone with another man; occasionally she even stays overnight, but her husband puts up with it. Her neglected children come home from school and are alone in the house for hours until she or the husband arrives home.

Each of those statements is true, painting a damning picture of this woman, which, of course, is just what you want.

What you leave out, however, is that the man she spends the day or night with is her sick father. And her children are in high school, well able to care for themselves for a few hours.

Obviously, you would have committed a seriously sinful falsehood by what you didn’t say.

Far from being outlandish, these kinds of deceit are tragically common today. They may not always be so blatant, but they are nevertheless destructive and morally wrong.

This happens notably in what passes for political discourse, particularly during election campaigns. Misleading accusations, only half true at most, are purposely spread through the media to deceitfully destroy opponents’ good names.

Of course, those whose prejudices are in the same direction eagerly believe these reports and pass them on as truth without the slightest hesitation that maybe the allegations are false, thereby becoming accomplices in the sin.

We tend to believe what we want to believe, with hardly a moment’s thought given to what harm is being committed.

It is often noted that this kind of lying is a major cause of the current near-total collapse of civil conversation and dialogue in the United States and even in the Catholic Church.

But it is a spiritual challenge in more personal associations as well.

Usually it is called gossip, which sounds trivial but arguably destroys more lives and relationships in our human family than any other sin.

I’m happy your speaker mentioned this as part of the commandments. Slander deserves a lot more attention than we usually give it.

A longtime columnist with Catholic News Service, Father Dietzen died March 27, 2011.

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