Living a Lie)
Thus far I have shown an example of those who live in the full light of the truth and are more fulfilled as a result, I have also demonstrated how building our science and technology on physical truths resulted in far greater accomplishments than could be achieved in any other way, and I have also illustrated the chaos that arises by accepting untruth. I have presented each of these as demonstrations of how being founded upon truth brings about greater growth and fulfillment and knowledge than any other course.
There is another way that we can strengthen the argument for living a life founded on truth, and that is by refuting its alternative. Let us consider an opposite philosophy, such as “sometimes a person will flourish more if they believe a lie.” If we can provide evidence that this is false, then that leaves as the only other option that we should live in the truth.
And this philosophy we will seek to discredit is no mere imagined thing. There really is an idea in our society that people will be happier if they don’t have to deal with certain unpleasant realities. It isn’t only suggested that they are better of living in ignorance of a truth, but that they should actively believe something that is opposite to that truth. One example is that a husband shouldn’t tell his wife about an affair, and another is that a child should be led to believe that his parents are biological, when in reality he is adopted.
We will examine both of these, and point out the damage, not comfort, that is inherent in each. Today we will cover the first example, that of whether infidelity should be concealed from a spouse.
The reason typically given for hiding a betrayal of marriage is that it only causes the innocent spouse to feel pain and anguish that she doesn’t deserve, better to let her remain happy with her home and family life. It is the burden of the unfaithful spouse to carry his transgression himself, not hurting those that did nothing wrong themselves. This is his penance.
There is much that is initially appealing in this line of reasoning, but it is extremely condescending to the faithful spouse, and also it sets her upon a treacherous trajectory. By the husband doing one thing, and then allowing his wife to believe that he didn’t, he has rotated her alignment away from reality, and worse, done so without her consent. Falsely aligned, the wife is now put in the awkward position where she might now be the instrument of her own continuing harm. She might willingly take on debt with her husband for a large purchase, such as a new home, only to be hurt financially when he announces his intention to divorce, and the property must be divided. She might unknowingly abet her own betrayal by encouraging a friendly relationship with the very person her husband is sleeping with, or even just by staying at home and watching the children while he goes out for another liaison. She might burn bridges with people that cast aspersions against her husband, even though they are the ones genuinely acting in her favor. She will continue to invest care and warmth in a man who can only offer shallow counterfeits in return, which means wasting more and more of her time and energy. She will lose years that might have been spent with a more faithful partner.
There are numerous ways that a deceived wife is likely to dig the foundation out from under herself, totally oblivious until the ledge she is standing upon suddenly breaks and she falls and hurts herself. When one is first told a lie there is a separation between their reality and true reality. As time continues that gap can only expand. Breaking the ledge and falling from perspective to reality is a painful experience. The higher the drop, the more injury incurred.
Even in the case that the wife never does catch on to the truth, it is still morally wrong to leave someone in danger of that fall, especially when the distance of that potential fall is growing greater with every passing day. Yes, she would be hurt by the truth, but then the wound could heal and there would be no threat of continuing harm. To instead leave the spouse in a place of constant and increasing danger is an act of criminal negligence.
Of course, most of us know that a spouse who decides to shield the other from the truth is almost certainly doing it more out of self-preservation, no matter what noble motivations they might pretend to. Yet even if we were to find a case where the intent really and truly was only to spare the heart of the betrayed spouse, good intentions alone do not make an action moral. One of the key things that makes an action moral is whether it creates good, or at least the potential for good in the life of the other. One of the key things that makes an action immoral is whether it creates evil, or even just the potential for it in the life of the other. In the long term, deception can only foster evil, not good, and so it is immoral.