When I was but a wee laddy, the idea of lying was – to me – a bad thing. Lying was a bad thing to do; I shouldn’t do that; I should strive to tell the truth. As I grew older, I adopted the semi-joke, “I want to always tell the truth for the simple reason that I’m not smart enough to keep lies straight.” I recognized that “bearing false witness” was a breach of The Big Ten, but lying never really hit me as a particularly evil thing to do. Don’t get me wrong – lying is bad, wrong, and sinful. But it never struck me as a special evil.
That changed several years back after a particular class session in seminary. Professor Breshears was speaking on sin and evil. He had us read one chapter out of “People Of The Lie” by M. ScottPeck. While there are many interesting thoughts that Dr. Peck expresses in this work, I can’t endorse all of them. However, Dr. Peck’s thesis was that there existed a kind of human evil that was diagnosable. Evil wasn’t merely being a psychopath, or a sociopath, but in his experience he had encountered some other psychological configuration that manifested itself as recognizable evil. Yes, Dr. Peck asserted, we can psychologically diagnose human evil and it looks like this: “malignant narcissism.”
The phrase requires us to tease it out. Starting with “narcissism:” a profound self-centeredness that expects the rest of the world to shape around the narcissist. OK, sure, we are all pretty self-centered. But this is more; this is the expectation that no one else really matters unless they serve the narcissist’s purposes. This can go to the next level (which we discussed in class) where the narcissist is so self-absorbed that the rest of the world is expected to yield to whatever s/he says is right or wrong. That is, the narcissist’s morality itself becomes a function of it’s-ALL-about-ME.
Next, the word, “malignant.” Now I’ve known several narcissists during my life. I am one. Several are ‘infantile;’ that is, they are self-centered but harmless – kind of like a small child who is ‘cute’ in their emotional immaturity. It gets awkward when that happens in a 60 year-old, of course. But there are a few who’s self-centeredness actually reached out to deliberately harm others. There was an intent to harm, break, even destroy those who got in the way of the narcissists’ whims.
Just a word, here; this is not completely Dr. Peck’s description. I’ve taken his work, several discussions, and some real-world experience to construct this model.
This Malignant Narcissism gets tangled up with a couple of other ‘phenomena’ (I hate using such sterile words because the effects on innocent people is so horrible). One of those, as Dr. Peck described, is a strong tendency to lie … a lot. Remember that a narcissist is all about themselves. By extension of their self-centeredness, their reputations are very important. They want to look good. It would be very difficult for the malignant narcissist to express truly self-deprecating sentiments. In my world, a malignant narcissist will not truly ‘repent’ of bad behavior – they may regret the consequences (very emotionally!), but will strongly resist the notion that they were wrong and need to change. Why? Because they are IT. They are the standard. And to promote that view of themselves, they will say things that are not true to continue that façade. They lie. It becomes a continuous thing. And it certainly does not matter, much, if their lies might hurt others: ‘better them than me!’
It is not much of a step, then, for the narcissist to turn malignant and systematically lie to cover up or to turn people on each other, even former friends. I have seen this happen.
All that (and Dr. Peck’s book is worth picking up) being said, I have begun to see that lying itself has a corrosive effect on the soul. With each lie, there is a small death to truth, to reality itself.
OK, here’s where I get a little abstract. I remember reading a fascinating definition of “truth” in, of all places, a computer programming manual. The definition equated truth with something that exists, is real, substantial. To be false is to be empty, non-existent, nothing. When we lie, we embrace falseness: empty non-existence. When we lie, we go against real substantial existence. Lying, like most ethical issues, is much deeper than mere behavior. There is a ‘metaphysical’ phenomena that is very profound. When you lie, you turn your back on the True, the Real, and even the Good. When you lie, you walk towards empty nothingness. It’s an ‘existential’ thing.
And if we consider that God is the source of all life, reality, truth, and good; then to lie is to walk away from God himself. Which is probably the real issue behind the Ninth Commandment.
Lots of big words there. Summary: Lying is really Really bad for you. Don’t do it.