Rigorous Honesty Meets ‘Do I look fat in this dress?’

Shortly before Valentine’s Day, I was both highly amused and somewhat dismayed by an opinion piece written by UMKC philosophy/business ethics professor Clancy Martin. Suffice to say that Dr. Martin and I have very different opinions about the nature of love and the value of truth, but I think what bothered me most is that his article was not presented as some throw-away gag published on the fourth page of the County Auto Trader or some other backwoods periodical desperate for something to print. No, Clancy Martin’s piece was showcased as “wisdom” by none other than The New York Times and is therefore accorded a great deal of cultural credibility.

In his Feb. 7th article – “Good Lovers Lie” – Martin asserts that being honest in love relationships is dangerous, and that a good dose of lying for the sake of a marriage is really the best way to go. I can only imagine how many people are leveraging Martin’s hypothesis to sow all kinds of relational discord in their lives, but it might be easiest to highlight some of the areas where I believe Martin “gets it wrong” by simply responding to some of the statements found in the article itself:

“We all tell lies, and we tell them shockingly often.” Martin begins his argument in favor of strategic lying by citing the fact that we all lie, far more often than we think we do; that we’ve been doing so since we were children; that we lie because we are afraid we will lose what we value (a parent’s love, for instance). And he’s right. It’s thoroughly-biblical thinking to point to the relentless tendency of the human heart to lean toward deception. It’s absolutely true that fear is a common motivator for hiding from the truth. We’ve been lying and hiding since the serpent found its way into the garden (Genesis 3) and – worst of all – we are all living in a fog of denial and self-deception (Jeremiah 17:9). Thus far, Martin and I are in total agreement.

Lying Leads to Isolation“If you want to have love in your life, you’d better be prepared to tell some lies and to believe some lies. If honesty is what matters most to you, you might as well embrace a life of silence and become a Trappist monk.” Leaping from the demonstrably-true foundation that we all lie, Martin affirms this sin as a perfectly-acceptable method for relationship management and preservation. It seems to me that Martin is saying that none of us can possibly be trusted to truly care about each other if we really know each other as we really are, so we all need to not only wear masks, but to accept that fact that everyone around us is doing the same thing. Constantly managing our image and putting up walls against being hurt or deceived by others is really nothing more than a recipe for isolation, loneliness and alienation.

“The people who find themselves most betrayed by the lies of lovers are those who have the most unrealistic expectations about truthfulness.” Sure, I think we would all agree with the idea that those most hurt by their lover’s lies are those who thought they had a relationship based on honesty. But isn’t this expectation good and right, evidence of what we all want anyway, indeed what we are all designed to want? We all have a God-given longing to be truly known and loved – whether we acknowledge God’s role or not. Our longing for perfect relationship is only met fully through Christ himself, but this side of heaven, we live out intimacy among ourselves within truthful marriages and honest relationships.

To be truly known within our marriages, then, we all need to have the highest of expectations that our love relationship will be based on truthfulness and transparency, as much as possible mirroring our relationship with God. When our deepest longings for intimacy are devastated by the sin of the very one we love, of course we are hurt. Martin seems to be saying that those who are hurt by their spouse’s lies and deception are actually themselves at fault for having such high standards, and changing our standards would minimize the hurt.

I would call this intimacy-killing thinking.

“What is true one hour can become a lie in the next, and vice versa. Some days saying ‘I love you’ doesn’t feel honest at all, but it expresses a deeper truth that is necessary for the love to be sustained.” Again, there is partial truth to what Martin is saying, which makes his deductions seem plausible. But while he concludes that our unpredictable emotions provide the basis for a need to be dishonest, I would simply say that a commitment to love your spouse – even (or maybe especially) when you don’t feel like it – is a thoroughly-biblical definition of love. Yes, our feelings do wax and wane. A commitment to love someone should outlive our capricious feelings, and is infinitely more valuable.

“There are many lies that my wife and I trust each other to tell (to each other).” While I can appreciate the humor Martin is surely striving for, his conclusion is an oxymoron. How can you trust someone you know is sometimes lying to you? Well, you can’t. Intimate relationships don’t exist without mutual respect and trust.

Proverbs 12:19“There are good lies and bad lies.” This is the clearest-possible example of relativistic thinking sneaking in to Martin’s defense of strategic lying. He cites as a “good” example the lies women tell their husbands when they won’t share what they are “really” thinking. Bad examples of lying, according to Martin, are the lies he told his wife and himself when he had an affair during his second marriage. But his distinction between these two lies as “good” or “bad” seems to have more to do with the consequence of uncovering truth than anything else. Who gets to decide which lies are “good” and which are “bad?” If the wife, withholding her true thoughts from her husband, has been fantasizing about their neighbor who was mowing his lawn without a shirt that day, is that still a “good” lie? Or has she moved into the area of “bad” yet? Is it only bad if the fantasy is pursued and lived out? Anyone can readily see the slippery slope created by thinking that any lie is “harmless” or even “good.”

“When it comes to love, both honesty and deception should be practiced in moderation. Only then can we celebrate the intoxicating illusion of love.” I don’t know about you, but I’m not at all interested in working hard to maintain anything I know to be an illusion.

“Love is a greater good than the truth.” This sort of statement makes me genuinely sad for anyone who believes it. It evidences the insane thinking that the god of this age (2 Corinthians 4:4) would have us embrace. The true God is Himself the very definition of Love, as well as Truth. Biblically speaking, love and truth cannot be separated or valued differently. In love, God tells us the truth about ourselves. In love, He asks us to embrace the Truth of who His Son is. And He requires that we bear witness to the truth in the lives of others, and to do so in love. To love someone is to work hard to be as truthful as you can be, always with grace, always with the most loving of motivations.

To say you love someone with whom you are not being truthful…well, that’s just a lie. (And not “a good one,” either.) The absence of a commitment to rigorous honesty makes authentic relationship impossible. “You love my mask and I’ll agree to love yours?”

They don’t hand out professorships on every street corner, so I am certain that Martin is a very learned young man. But I think it’s important as we read his relationship advice to take into account that he has already been divorced twice and is currently on his third marriage. Perhaps he thinks he has learned from his mistakes and is a much wiser husband for it. This is certainly possible; the end of my first marriage certainly taught me a thing or two that I will never forget. However, my prayer for his third marriage (and my second) is that it will be blessed with both truth and love and – not coincidentally – settled peace that comes from a freedom from masks.

John 8:42-45 (ESV)
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.”

Matthew 5:37
“Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”

Proverbs 19:9
A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will perish.

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