Saturday, March 02, 2019

Altruistic lies

This is a sort of sequel to my previous post:

In my observation, many apostates leave the faith because they feel God betrayed them. God broke his promises in the Bible. God "lied" to them.

Put another way, they think prayer promises are a lie. The Bible disappointed their expectations. So they conclude that God doesn't exist. 

When someone angrily says, "You lied to me!", that typically involves a sense of betrayal. Not just that you lied to me, but that your lie was a breach of trust. Where the act of lying is tantamount to stabbing me in the back (or equivalent metaphors).

Now, this post isn't based on the assumption that God actually lies to anyone, or that God ever lies to Christians in particular. However, let's consider that scenario for the sake of argument.

It's easy to dream up hypothetical situations in which one person lies to another person for the sake of the other person. That's sometimes called an altruistic lie. 

I'm not discussing the morality of lying. I'm not discussing whether altruistic lies are ever justified. Rather, I'm just discussing whether a lie is ipso facto tantamount to an act of betrayal. As a matter of principle, is that the case? 

And as I say, it's easy to imagine hypothetical situations in which you might lie to someone to protect them. Suppose you have a teenage son who's high on drugs. And he's holding a loaded pistol, which he gestures at his head. Suppose you lie to him to get the pistol away from him. 

Or suppose Muslims convince a 10-year-old boy to wear a suicide jacket. And you talk him out of pulling the string by making him a promise you have no intention of keeping. But you do that to prevent him from killing himself.

Or suppose you have a friend in high school who's vying for a sports scholarship. His heart is set on getting that sports scholarship. There's one other student who's competing for the scholarship. Unbeknownst to your friend, you find out that his rival is the son of a Mafia don. They intend to break your friend's kneecaps the day of the competition. For some reason you can't share that information with your friend. Therefore, you lie to him, so that he shows up too late for the competition. His rival gets the scholarship by default.

Or suppose you know the referee was bribed to throw the game. Your friend doesn't know that. If your friend wins, that will expose him to reprisal, so you tell a lie that messes with his head, causing him to lose concentration and play badly. 

Now suppose, in each case, they find out that you lied to them, but they don't know the reason. They will be furious. At that stage they will feel that you double-crossed them. That will destroy the friendship (or parental bond).

And suppose this is aggravated by the fact that you wish you could explain it to them, but the true explanation would put them at risk. So you have to accept the fact that they will misjudge you. They will think the worst of you. They will hate you. It poses a dilemma: you must lose the friendship to save the friend. 

But suppose at a later date, they discover on their own the true reason you lied to them. That changes everything. Now they realize that you didn't betray them. Just the opposite. You lied to spare them. To save them from terrible harm. You were such a good friend that you were prepared to sacrifice the friendship for their benefit.

At that point they seek you out and reconcile with you. Indeed, the friendship is stronger now than it was before you lied to them. Ironically, they trust you much more than they did before you lied to them, because the friendship was put to a test in a way that proves what a steadfast friend you are. 

Point being: even if, for discussion purposes, we grant that God might lie to his people or lie to one of his people, that, in itself, isn't equivalent to divine betrayal. In a roundabout way, God might be acting in their best interests. It was for their own good, even though it didn't seem that way at the time.

Of course, God doesn't have the same limitations we have. The fact that we might find ourselves in situations where we're tempted to tell an altruistic lie doesn't generally have parallels in divine providence. However, it's a complicated world with a multitude of agents who have competing interests. Not all possibilities are compossible. So there are some restrictions on God's field of action even if everything is planned in advance. 

1 comment: