Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor
One of the things I love about the 10 Commandments, the Laws of God, Mosaic Law, is the
emphasis it places on the importance of our responsibility to other people. Responsibility
to treat other people well, treat them with dignity and respect, respect their ethic or
fortune that allows them to have and be whatever and whoever they are, and to deal with
It doesn't get much simpler than that, knowing what God's primary concerns are for all of
Again, what seems simple has rippling effects. It's not just a matter of having a bad
exchange or incident with someone, it's the negative or positive effects one person's
actions have on other people, on cultures and religions. The examples that are set.
They say one bad apple can't spoil the whole bunch, but the fact is, it can through
influence. If a bad apple touches another bad apple, or the mold or bacteria grows, it can
spread very quickly and infect the other apples.
When Noah's sons covered His body and were embarassed to look at his nakedness, Noah
became very angry because th ewhole reason for the flood was to purge the world of the
knowledge of sin, the idea, for example, that there was anything wrong with seing the
naked body. It would only be wrong to people who had thoughts that were unpure, or that
they believed were wrong. And then, they had to make a choice between right and wrong.
Noah wasn't angry because his sons had the intent to do the right thing. He was upset
because he understood the implication that this same knowledge or perception of sin was
still in the cosmos, the cosnciousness of his children, and it would be passed along to
subsequent generations, leaving one more thing in human nature that would need to be
remedied, the idea that seeing the naked body, of the same or opposite sex, has sexual
You could say some of the same things regarding our world's pre-occupations with sexual
enhancements, cosmetics and cosmetic surgery and a whole host of things that would suggest
to us that our bodies are not whole and beautiful, that they mean something about who and
what we are like as human beings, as well as the quality of our relationships.
What does this have to do with bearing false witness against a neighbor?
First, if someone ever told you, on tv or in real life, that things like that were
necessary to be loved, someone is guilty of bearing a false witness, because somewhere
along the line, the part of whatever they say that makes sense to you causes you to think
of, or recall an image or impression of someone, that has you judge them and yourself
based on the person bearing the false witness.
It's kind of a twist to what you'd probably think this commandment means. But if you think
about it, the person lying, telling you something that isn't true, is causing you to think
something untrue or stereotypical or predjudiced about someone else. To get you to buy a
product, or cause you to change your behavior. And you don't even think this advertising
pitch person is talking about your next door neighbor, you think they're talking about
garden care products.
Alan Dershowitz wrote a book once about a problem in the courts called
"testilying", referring primarily to police who arrest a suspect with little or
no actual evidence of wrong doing, but testify as to plausible motives and methods of this
person toward committing a certain crime and making it sound like they're guilty. Of
course, you won't question the credibility of an authority, even when they're a witness
who makes a career of testifying for money.
Testilying goes on all the time in everyday life. People, having plausible deniability or
an alibi or explanation of some sort for something that happened, would rather allow
someone else to suffer or be victimized, or even be charged with a crime rather than be
seen as someone who instigated a crime or fabricated the commission of a crime for their
I know myself, when thinking about certain things, little things that happen around the
house, I'll about what I'd say if someone asked me about one thing or another, and I
always give a thought to a story that would be easier to tell and less upsetting to the
person I'd have to tell it to.
The thing is, though, when you consider the idea of bearing false witness against a
I talked about the images and perceptions created when discussing the 2nd Commandment,
about graven images.
We create graven images of other people all the time through rumors and gossip. You know
how it feels when you find out someone's been telling lies about you, causing people to
treat you like you're irresponsible or that you're a backstabber. In high school, one of
the meanest things people could do is tell everyone that a certain girl was easy to get to
One of the latest, common things is called mobbing, where employees decide to gently
harass someone into quitting their jobs, or creating situations that cause someone to be
fired or demoted.
In the world of politics, lies are spread all the time to cause people to lose elections.
We call it politics, it's actually lying. Bearing a false witness against a neighbor, or,
more broadly applied, anyone in the "family of man", God's children.
As a consultant, I'd usually keep my ears open for the person everyone would say was the
most difficult to work with, or a problem in some way. Then, I'd have a quick talk with
that person, and maybe find out that the person's image was caused because of a single
incident one day with a popular person who didn't get their way.
Often times, these difficult people turned out to be perfectionsists, or people who loved
excellence, with excellent suggestions and observations that other people didn't want to
have to deal with for one reason or another.
Rarely did I ever find that the worst employees were the people called "the
outcasts" or "mavericks" of an organization. In fact, these are the very
people who, when empowered, truly accomplish miracles.
Think about what it's like living in a neghborhood where people are telling lies,
exaggerations and rumours about each other. After a while, you don't know who to believe
about what, and pretty soon, you don't really trust anyone completely because you're never
sure if that person may be saying something about you behind their backs.
That's the problem with lying of any kind. It leads to more lies.
And, these days, despite taking oaths and despite penalties for perjury, you can't really
count on anyone to tell the truth, and relying on witnesses and people involved in
situations that affect other people's lives negatively when the truth isn't told when they
have interests of their own to protect.
You could say this is a breakdown in the justice system. Unfortunately, it has more to do
with the examples of what we call honesty in leadership, where leaders only admit things
they can't deny, and where truth commissions are used to pacify the citizens and to
fashion the truth into a story that lets criminals off the hook, and suppresses the truth.
This is the example we live with and by, where liars are rewarded and people realize they
must do whatever they must do to protect themselves.
After all, they say, you're on your on.
One lie leads to another until reality only exists in the ability of people to perpetuate
the lies and deceptions that build the foundations of the facades of the lives they want
people to imagine them as living, and the people they want others to imagine they are
Politicians like to claim the proof of their Christianity is their works in Congress,
faith with works. The real proof of their Christianity is the lies and deceptions they
foist upon the citizens, the rippling effects of their decisions and legislation, and the
people who suffer and die who are simply counted as numbers in the grand scheme of things,
the big picture.
There ar emany simple ways to apply this commandment, but it is a greater conversation
than one of a single lie told in a vacuum, as compared to the effects of the accumulation
of lies over a lifetime, during the course of a relationship, or even the interpretation
of God's word and will.
Little white lies... they don't seem to mean much when you tell them, but no matter what
the lie is, it alwys has a negative effect.
In terms of self respect and esteem, in terms of credibility to others, in terms of the
quality of life for everyone you come in contact with, for your ability to sustain
intimacy with other people, and the ability to reconcile differences and conflicts.
What would life be like without any lies? Think about that? The way it affects everything.
If no one was lying about anything, the world would pretty much be the way it should.
The world would be fair. There would be liberty and justice for all. There would be no
conflict between Muslims and Jews, between Gentiles and Jews or nations. Nor would there
be a need for missile defense programs.
Lying: its effects are holographic, always detrimental, self-perpetuating and
proliferating, and are never pleasant to discover when they've told to you.
It's no wonder that lying, bearing false witness, would be such a basic rule to God.