I almost got away with it. I had the makings of a lie that would have benefited me and hurt no one.
Here are the basics. First, I somehow managed to injure myself this past week and the price to have everything taken care of is sure to be astronomical. Second, I found a defect in a product that could have caused my injury (it did not — but it could have). And third, contacting the company and asking them to pay for my medical attention would not hurt anyone.
So the wheels in my head started turning and I was pretty sure I was just that clever. And, wanting to show just how clever I am, I told a close friend and several acquaintances about my plan.
It turns out that my plan may have the capability of hurting someone: myself.
Several days after disclosing my plan, my close friend questioned my integrity and began to doubt the truth of all of our previous conversations. Ouch. This revelation was especially painful because,
in all honesty, I have never lied to this person — but my little plan threw everything into question. Ouch. The simple truth is that a mistruth is a mistruth. The integrity one owns is only as strong as her/his moment of least integrity.
And as much as we would like to label certain things “sin,” a better label is “transgression”. The term “transgression” (while not used frequently) is not specifically religious while “sin” clearly has a
religious connotation. While both mean (in some way, shape, or form) a misstep or a missing of the ideal, “transgression” is not tied to a faith tradition.
I think, then, that it must be established that there are some pretty universal truths. It is wrong to lie — even if no one will get hurt — because someone can always get hurt (this does not necessarily
apply when a woman asks if a certain pair of pants makes a certain bodily region look a hint large). I think that my favorite universal truth is that we all must have a personal moral compass. Clearly, we learn as we go and we usually can determine what is right or wrong on our own. But, as demonstrated by my elaborate plan, it sometimes takes the words of a friend or acquaintance to make us realize that we are not going the right way.
You may have noticed that much discussion has taken place over the past several weeks regarding the pro-atheism billboards around Spokane. A local news station posted a story about them on Facebook and asked for comments from the public about their feelings. The initial response was from a woman who simply stated, “I don’t know who I would lean on in times of trial or tribulation if I did not have God…” The following response simply stated, “We would lean on friends and family!” The simple truth is that we all have a moral compass — some of us find it in our religion or faith tradition while others of us have friends and family to keep us in check.
Clearly, there are attributes that trump religious traditions and apply to all of humanity, but it seems difficult to harness them outside of religious language. Integrity is universal. Truth is universal. There is no religious tradition that owns either of these attributes.
So, to the one who called me out on my potential lie, thank you and I apologize. And for all the rest, please remember that your words do damage someone (even if it is yourself). “Sins” can be forgiven but “transgressions” take time to heal.
Kyle A. Franklin is a recent graduate of Gonzaga University, where he earned his Master’s in Religious Studies. He completed his bachelor’s degree in history and religion at Pacific Lutheran University in 2007 and has worked in both the ELCA Lutheran Church and the United Methodist Church.
Hey Kyle, great post!
I agree, sort of, with your concept. I am definitely aware of the religious tradition that says that all morality flows from God and without submission and obedience to God, the world would exist in a moral vacuum. I agree with you that this viewpoint is not satisfactory in that it does not match with my experience of how the world really works. But there’s a few things that I might want to point out.
1. There are some universals in life, but not many. Lying probably isn’t one that’s inherently wrong, such as murder for pleasure would be. We lie every single day (science has proven that our brains lie to our conscious selves when it comes to estimating the degree to which we have been wronged by another, and the degree to which we wrong other people). You might not want to tell your boss EXACTLY why you were late to work, for fear of damaging a mutually valued and productive relationship with your employer. These are, basically, a couple examples of morally acceptable, and widely practiced, forms of lying.
2. You said, “Integrity is universal. Truth is universal. There is no religious tradition that owns either of these attributes.”
You’re right, in a way, but only because it’s 2012 and you live in a world where Western culture nearly dominates the planet for a variety of reasons. The West has been steeped in a Judeo-Christian values system for hundreds of years. Values like hard work, honesty, respect for human rights, respect for personal liberty, and so on are relatively recent advancements in human life. They were forged by people who were firmly planted in a Christian value system, and saw the worth of these values even as they sought to distance the church (which, ironically, they saw as failing to live into these values of honesty, respect for liberty, and so on) from secular rule.
The fact is that integrity is a concept that varies hugely throughout time and place, as is truth. There is really very little about our modern way of life, with its relatively fair judicial process and emphasis on personal integrity and freedom, that applies in, say, ancient China, a venerable rain forrest tribe, or Judea in the time the Bible was being written(!)
3. I don’t think non-religious people have difficulty in finding words to describe the darker aspect of humanity. I don’t see atheists struggle to find a word to replace “sin” or “transgression” with an explicitly non-religious term. “Jerk” “liar” “cruel” and “mean” are all words that come readily to mind to describe a few of the things for which “sin” may be used as a blanket term.
Sam–thanks for your response! I especially like your third point–I had never thought of descriptors like “jerk” or “cruel” as non-religious terms that we can use in place of “sin.” It seems that these terms would be difficult to harness or simply define, but I can see how linking the actions associated with the terms (an example of someone lying or being cruel) would help to show how the terms could be used in place of “sin.”