Monday, November 12, 2007

Telling the truth

As I see it, there is a serious logical conflict in the expectation that moral values which rightfully govern our normal thinking and actions ought to operate absolutely the same way in extreme cases, under duress, or when there are obvious and serious extenuating circumstances. Surely, when unethical means are exerted in the effort to force individual choice and acts, our basic obligations to simple honesty and truth will quite likely be tempered by other weightier
considerations. A willful and obstinate insistence that "telling the truth" is absolutely mandated in all instances may be more damaging than telling a "lie".

The classic example of this type of moral conflict in our theology is Nephi's dilemma. He is commanded to slay Laban, but protests that he has never taken a human life before. In the narrative we are instructed that it is better for one man to perish than for an entire
nation to dwindle and perish in unbelief.

In Nephi's case, the more immediate instruction modifies his ingrained ethical discipline that forbids killing. In this instance, the rationale for killing Laban is thus logically consistent with the higher intent and purpose of the moral law which proscribes killing.

I personally believe that this apparent conflict demonstrates a kind of flaw which originates in our simplistic approach to expressing absolutes. A perfect expression of the law which forbids killing would be fully informed by the understanding of circumstances under which that more simple framing of the law is superseded.

In some circumstances the absolute insistence on "total honesty" can even produce ludicrous restrictions. We might be prevented, for example, from telling illustrative stories or parables because they are not "true" in the strictest sense.

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