“Thou shalt not bear false witness … “

… is one of the Ten Commandments. The Southern Baptist Convention and the Catholic League seem not to have noticed that.

… is one of the Ten Commandments.

I mention that only because Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention and Bill Donohue of the Catholic League seem to need a reminder.  It may also be necessary to point out that those are Commandments, not helpful hints.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

14 thoughts on ““Thou shalt not bear false witness … “”

  1. Mr Donoghue seems so far from reality that he wouldn't recognize truth if he tripped over it (see the 'blind chipmunk' post last week…) – so commanding him not to lie will be meaningless to him. The first several comment on his rant are far from sympathetic. Does anyone take him seriously, and must those who can add two rational thoughts together need to do so?

  2. Pete Stark is not breaking the First Commandment. He has no other gods before Yahweh. He has no gods at all. The First Commandment does not command anyone to worship Yahweh. It forbids the worship of other gods before Him. Atheists do not break the First Commandment any more than gays break the Tenth by coveting their neighbors' wives.

    Even if you confronted Pete Stark about breaking the First Commandment, he would have no problem saying "You betcha!" But if you confronted Land and Donoghue about bearing false witness, they would vehemently deny that they were doing any such thing. Stark professes no allegiance to the Ten Commandments, and violates no covenants by being an atheist. Land and Donoghue have voluntarily entered into a covenantal relationship with God, and therefore are bound by the commandments in a way that Stark is not.

    Nevertheless, Horseball, I am sure that it sounded like a real zinger to you when you posted it.

  3. Ed-

    Nice try — I believe that all translations of the First Commandment begin with language such as: "I am the Lord thy God". That's part of the commandment.

    If its a matter of the relationships or religious affiliations that public figures "voluntarily entered into" no doubt you will denounce, say, Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden, for either a) failing to uphold the explicit moral teachings of the religion that they are voluntarily affiliated with, or b) being hypocrites.

  4. Just supposing Dr. Land really thinks there are valid comparisons to be drawn between the Nazis and the Democrats? I mean, from his point of view wouldn't it be his duty to warn us so that we won't repeat the terrible mistakes of the past? And it would be difficult for him, because our society considers it extremely rude to bring up the Nazis, but he probably sort of wants to be rude to the Democrats, but he probably also doesn't want to offend everybody.

    It just seems like something like this would sort of force him into flip-flopping. I mean, if you really thought the Republicans were doing something Nazi-like, you'd be in the same position. It would be very difficult to point it out without being offensive. Of course, if you're most of us you solve the dilemma by never mentioning the Nazis, ever.

    I'm just saying: He may have gone back on his word, but consider that he probably thinks he has an important point, and he's probably very scared of where he imagines Democrat policy will lead the country, and I think he becomes more sympathetic.

    I get called a 'troll' when I post things like this, so let me disclaim: I'm a Conservative, and I really do want to know both sides of the issues, and I really don't want to offend anybody, and I really would like to contribute to the conversation in a meaningful way.

  5. Matt, Land has a duty to make grave accusations against people not if he "really thinks" they’re true, but if he has good reason to. You may have noticed it's fairly common to want to think the worst about someone, & it can't be the case that we're obliged to say whatever pops into our brains if only we're able to make ourselves believe it. Either the Ninth (or Eighth) Commandment (or whichever one it is) entails an ethics of belief, or we've just discovered a loophole big enough to march 2.2 million Tea Party Marchers through.

    Remember, there are people who really convinced themselves that Dwight Eisenhower was a conscious agent of the communist conspiracy, or Hillary Clinton murdered Vince Foster on the South Portico, or Mexican immigrants make tortillas w/ the blood of Christian children, or whatever insane things people accuse the Barak Obama of. Sincerity isn't an excuse.

  6. Matt writes: Just supposing Dr. Land really thinks there are valid comparisons to be drawn between the Nazis and the Democrats?

    Matt, have you read any book or seen any video about Nazi Germany and the Holocaust? Even an old one, like William Shirer's "Rise and Fall of the Third Reich"? I find it hard to believe you could be unfamiliar enough with the Holocaust that you could seriously propose that "Person X thinks it's valid to compare the Democrats to the Nazis" is meaningful in any way beyond "Person X suffers from mental illness."

    The Democrats are trying to make small, incremental changes to how health care is financed in this country, in ways that would allow people who don't have coverage to obtain coverage at a moderate cost.

    The Nazis slaughtered millions of Slavs, Jews, Roma, and others in cold blood, invaded and conquered neighboring countries and enslaved their populaces, conducted gruesome medical experiments on live (and unwilling) human subjects, etc ad nauseam (literally).

    If Richard Land thinks it's reasonable to compare the former to the latter, the only sensible conclusion is that Richard Land is crazy, and should be removed from any position of authority he might hold, if the members of said organization are concerned about having a raving lunatic speaking for them.

  7. Horseball raises a couple of interesting points, one having to do with the scope of their obligation and one bearing on whether Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi are hypocrites.

    The commandment “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me.” This is the critical context of the commandments, that they are part of a covenant between God and the people He brought out of the house of bondage. If you are not party to a covenant, you cannot be faulted for violating it, any more than you can be faulted for breaching a contract you did not sign. The rest of us (i.e., Christians) who are grafted into the Jewish covenant are parties to a relationship that begins with deliverance from bondage, whatever form that bondage took. The setting of the commandments is in the context of deliverance. If we were never freed from bondage, we cannot even participate in the starting point of the covenant.

    Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi openly disagree with one of the teachings of the institution of the Catholic Church. There are organizations like Catholics for Choice, which also are in open dissent on questions like abortion; they say, “Catholic support for legal abortion is grounded in core principles of Catholic theology, which respect the moral agency of all women.” Biden, Pelosi, and other Catholics for Choice are not hypocrites for being dissenters.

    If Rev. Land wants to begin an organization like “Baptists for False Witness,” and if he wants to ground his dissent in some form of deeper principle that would negate one or more of the commandments, I will respect his dissent, and will read it with considerable fascination. After all, the commandment does not tell us that we must always tell the truth. (Remember that God rewarded the Egyptian midwives for lying to Pharaoh about the labor and delivery habits of the Hebrew women.) If Land disagrees with the teaching of the commandments, let him make his case openly and I will withdraw my agreement with Mark to fault him.

    Speaking of the Ten Commandments, I am one who does not particularly accept all of them, or wish to see them on tablets outside any American courthouse. Exodus 20:4 says “I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children of the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me.” Well, that is not how we do things in America; we do not punish great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren for the crimes in which they took no part.

    Didn’t mean to go and pontificate on you, Horseball, but I think that dissent and hypocrisy are deeply different kinds of thing. I respect one but not the other. Hope this clarifies what I wrote in haste.

  8. "Exodus 20:4 says “I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children of the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me.” Well, that is not how we do things in America; we do not punish great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren for the crimes in which they took no part."

    Well, we do, but only if their ancestors were the victims…

    I think the false witness prohibition may harder to get out of than Ed Whitney thinks. Unless some people are in the not-your-neighbor category, something orthodox christians are cautioned against, there are very few cases of bearing false witness that don't go against someone's interests. (You can argue that going against their mundane interests serves their souls, but good luck with that one.)

  9. Obviously, those two hold a similar view to the biblical character who said (at a pretty critical moment) "What is truth?" Wonder how often they wash THEIR hands.

  10. True enough, Greg; they also resemble the lawyer who tested Jesus by asking (Luke 10:29), "And who is my neighbor?" This led directly to the parable of the Good Samaritan; the lesson is that everyone is your neighbor.

    George MacDonald, the 19th century writer who was the main inspiration for C.S. Lewis, wrote a sermon in which he envisioned the great souls in Heaven seeing the lost souls in Hell as their neighbors (the lesson of the Good Samaritan being eternal, applying just as much in the next world as in this), and going down into Hell to help them. Quite a visionary he was.

  11. Ed-

    I appreciate your comments, but it doesn't appear to me that Joe Biden or Nancy Pelosi (or other pro-choice Catholic politicians generally) don't recognize themselves as being dissenters. Rather, they insist that they are "good Catholics". The larger point, it seems to me, is that one should refrain from criticizing others for failing to uphold religious precepts when one is not both a) a member of the same religion, and b) in an explicitly religious context.

    I am personally a Catholic who is in line with the Church on the abortion issue; however, I don't think that the best argument in the political realm is to criticize pro-choice Catholic politicians from a purely religious angle designed to highlight their lack of fidelity to their own professed religious background. On the other hand, I think its entirely appropriate for the church hierarchy to penalize Catholic politicians or institutions (such as the numerous colleges that have lost their Catholic affiliation) that publicly dissent from Church teaching.

    I also don't think that the examples in the original post are terribly persuasive examples of "bearing false witness", as they are largely argumentative.

  12. Well, Horseball, what counts as being a member of the same religion could be tough to decide with Baptists. Do you have to be a Southern Baptist to criticize Rev. Land, or can you be a United Baptist, a Reformed Baptist, a Free Will Baptist, or a Landmark Baptist?

    What counts as false witness can also be subject to debate. My Catholic buddies told me that when they went to confession, having “touched themselves in an unclean manner” as teenagers counted as adultery. A pretty broad definition, but the Sermon on the Mount may give some support to that position. False witness can be defined broadly or narrowly in a similar vein.

    The Catholic hierarchy can sanction any politician they choose. Curious, though, that they were willing to deny communion to legislators who were not prepared to make abortion a crime punishable by imprisonment, but they did not similarly sanction members of Sinn Fein when it was affiliated with and supportive of the IRA, which was committing terrorist acts during “the troubles” in Northern Ireland. It is for them to sort out, but it is for anyone to observe and take notice of.

  13. Having reviewed Mark's "play nice" rules, I must refrain from calling Richard Land a liar and an idiot. Even calling him a prevaricator and an imbecile would violate the spirit of the rule. So I will have to rest content with calling him a pestilential fart of Satan.

Comments are closed.