Robert Kirby is on vacation. This is a reprint of an earlier column.
When is it appropriate to tell a lie? I only ask because if lying really is a sin, it's certainly a useful one.
Some believe the Ten Commandments proscribe the telling of any falsehoods. Actually, the Ninth Commandment says, "Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor.''
So, bearing false witness is saying something about someone else that you know is not true. I can deal with that. But I have a long history of lying about myself.
There are different kinds of lies, some better than others. One form of lying is actually a non-sin and probably even counts as a good deed.
Once, after we wrecked his father's car, Bammer and I claimed that a UFO chased us into a ditch. It was technically true in that a police helicopter is an Unfriendly Flying Object.
Didn't matter. Bammer's old man said he knew immediately that we were lying. When we asked how, he said, "Because you two would lie even if the truth sounded better.''
Unlike stealing, adultery, murder and some of the other known "do nots,'' lying can actually keep another person from sinning by beating you up.
Plainly, certain occasions call for lying. When it comes to this, I believe that God would much rather have us be sinners than idiots.
For example, suppose your spouse asks, "Honey, do I look fat in this?''
The answer, if you value the quality of your life for the next month, is "No, dear.'' Under no circumstances should you ever reply with something like, "In what? In this room?''
Married people who want to stay married know how and when to lie. Not big lies, of course. If you lie about having an affair, you're a weasel. If you lie to spare the feelings of your spouse, it's not as bad.
The former is a felony lie, the latter a misdemeanor lie. Felony lying involves anything that deliberately hurts someone else, or a lie that keeps you from owning up to hurting someone.
Misdemeanor lies are handled on a case-by-case basis, generally when it comes to making a conscious choice between the whole truth and a whole skull.
It's not just the fear of physical punishment. Whenever I get pulled over for speeding, the officer always asks, "Do you know how fast you were going?''
I could be honest and say, "Yes, but I'm not telling you.'' That would only make him mad. So I say, "Five miles an hour.'' Doesn't matter. I always get a ticket anyway.
A lot depends on whom you're lying to and why you're lying. It's probably worse to lie to loved ones to escape their wrath than it is to lie to Pharaoh for the same reason.
There is one form of lying more destructive than all the rest, and we're all guilty of it. It prevents us from taking responsibility for our actions and blinds us to the healing aspects of truth.
The worst lies are the ones we tell ourselves. It's a form of rationalization that we treat as truth because it protects our all-important egos. It's the worst form of lying because we believe it.
Or so they say. Personally, I never do it. Honest.
Robert Kirby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.