New approach to the Christian doctrine on lying

The traditional Christian doctrine on lying, sc. that all lies are evil and unjustified even if they are understandable or lesser evils, is thrown into bold relief when it is placed next to the Islamic account of lying, which reads exactly like the Christian attempts to justify lies, though with a greater vision of the consequences involved.

The Islamic teaching on the permissibility of lies has a spectrum of interpretation. The more permissible stance is easier to chase down since it gets quoted by critics of Islam, though it needs to be read with the sort of skepticism anyone would show to hearing about an interpretation from its enemies. Nevertheless, it’s hard to explain away the presence of a tradition in Islam that points to justifying speaking falsely with the intent to achieve a sufficiently large good or avoid a sufficiently large evil. It’s clear that not everything goes, but this might make the doctrine only more confusing.  Islam would probably balk at an all-out consequentialism, but this proves a difficult genie to keep in the bottle if you allow it for lies.

The less permissible stance toward lying goes about as far as one can go toward the traditional Christian idea, and attempts to argue that the proof texts for lying are talking about, say, thoughtless oaths and promises (which Christians also don’t hold people to) or that the various words for “deception” are poorly translated. But even this most restrictive stance breaks from the Christian tradition on the necessity of martyrdom (see. around 28:00 here). A Muslim is allowed to lie about his faith in order to avoid torture or death. While there is clearly a sense in which the Muslim is willing to die for the truth, this does not include dying for the truth one proclaims for himself in speech.  Truth as opposed to lie is not an absolute value in Islam, and the immediate consequence is that confession-martyrdom cannot have the value that it has in for Christians, where it is the definitive and foundational Christian witness. Sanguis martyrum, semen ecclesiae. 

 

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