Saturday, December 17, 2011

Bearing false witness.

Alan Moore wrote in V For Vendetta, "artists use lies to tell the truth, while politicians use them to cover the truth up."  And I think that's true.  I think that is part of what is so important about film, and art in general:  it shows us something untrue to teach us something true.

Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola tell us a lie about criminals and violence, in order to show us truths about loyalty and corruption.  J. K. Rowling tells us a lie about wizards and witches, in order to show us truths about bravery and friendship.  George Lucas tells us a lie about space farmers and an army of Teddy Bears, in order to show us truths about the battle between good and evil.

Perhaps one of the best ways to tell truth is by lying:  fiction, storytelling, mythmaking.  In this context, we really don't call it "lying" in the ethically wrong sense.  But you're saying something untrue, aren't you, so what's the difference?

The difference is, you're not trying to deceive anyone about the nature of the world (though, to be fair, some films do lie even in this sense - and I don't excuse them for it.  More on that in a second).  Deceit is the real sin.  "Bearing false witness," in the scriptural sense, is about more than just "telling untruths."  Think of the word witness.  It seems to have legal connotations.  Think of the imagery of a witness standing before a jury in a trial.  "I testify that I saw this man murder," says the witness.  If it's untrue, he's being a false witness.  When we talk about bearing false witness, we're talking about misleading fabrication.  We're talking about covering up, omitting, or even changing your portrayal of the truth so that your audience believes something false and acts accordingly.

I believe people do this every day.  We live in a world of false witnesses, and it is inexcusable.  Let me offer a few examples.

Pretending to be romantically interested in someone when you're not is bearing false witness.  Often this is done on accident, but typically the intent is "I want to be nice."

It's nicer to be honest.

You may wonder what is so bad after all about this.  "Playing interested when you're not, it's just flirting," you say.  "Not lying."  Well, according to the Dictionary, flirting is lying:
1.  to court triflingly or act amorously without serious intentions; play at love.
2.  to trifle or toy, as with an idea: She flirted with the notion of buying a sports car.
3.  to move with a jerk or jerks; dart about: butterflies flirting from flower to flower.
Is this how we ought to treat other human beings?  Consider some of those words above.  Play.  Trifle.  Dart about.

If you're religious, I'd like you to consider God's example.  How does he deal with us?  In the King Follett Discourse of April 1844, Joseph Smith proclaimed:  "God is not trifling with you or me."  I believe that.  Why then, should we trifle with each other?

I want to make a side note here that I don't consider myself innocent of the condemnations I'm throwing on the rest of the human race:  I flirt, too.  I bear false witness.  I'm just as guilty of all this as the next guy, but you know what?  It is not a good thing to do and we should all just stop lying to each other.

On the opposite end of the spectrum:  it is also bearing false witness when you pretend to be uninterested and you really are interested.  We call this "playing hard to get," and it's bullcrap.  It you want to date someone, be forward.  Make it visible.  If they don't respond positively, they're not for you anyway.  Do you really want to be with someone who is turned off by how much you like them?  That sounds like a terrible relationship.

"But playing hard to get," you say, "is just part of the game.  They know I'm interested; I'm just making them work for it.  Aren't I worth the effort?"  Well, how do I put this delicately... no.  You're not.

Despite what the romantic comedies are teaching you (ah, there's an example of deceitful films as mentioned above), no relationship ought to be built on a foundation of lies.  When old people tell their dating stories and everyone laughs at the little lies and games and manipulations, I always feel all sorts of uncomfortable.  We're reacting as if it's cute.  Your husband was so persistent even in the face of all your rejections, how adorable!

No.  It's not adorable.

Bearing false witness isn't cute.  It isn't funny.  And it isn't okay.