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The Right to Lie?

In recent years, various federal officials have either stated or acted on their belief in the “right” of the federal government to lie to its citizens.

R. J. Rushdoony
  • R. J. Rushdoony,
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California Farmer 230:9 (May 3, 1969), p. 34A.

In recent years, various federal officials have either stated or acted on their belief in the “right” of the federal government to lie to its citizens.

Some people, shocked by these statements, have acted as though this were some strange new doctrine. We find it, however, at least as far back as Plato’s Republic, where it is strongly maintained by Socrates and Plato. Truth, said Socrates, is “only useful to men in the way of a medicine”; therefore, “it is plain that such an agent must be kept in the hands of physicians, and that unprofessional men must not meddle with it.” The rulers are the “doctors” and alone qualified to dispense the medicine, truth. “To the rulers of the state, then, if to any, it belongs the right to use falsehood, to deceive either enemies or their own citizens, for the good of the state: and no one else may meddle with this privilege.” Anyone else lying must be severely punished, Socrates held, because the right to lie is a privilege of the civil authorities.

Friedrich Nietzsche, in Beyond Good and Evil, declared that “The falseness of an opinion is not for us any objection to it.” In fact, he said that, without lies “man could not live—that the renunciation of false opinions would be a renunciation of life, a negation of life.” Therefore we must “recognize untruth as a condition of life.” In other words, since all life is a lie, and there is no such thing as truth, nor any such thing as good and evil, a lie was a very helpful and necessary tool for rulers to use.

The so-called “right” to lie thus rests on two basic doctrines. First, if we believe there is no God, then we also believe that there is no truth, and also no good or evil, only a world of meaningless things. Second, in a world without God or meaning, the state or civil government must then play god and keep men happy by lying to them.

The “right” to lie is thus a belief which rests on atheism, on a rejection of God. Moreover, it makes a new god of civil government by making it man’s new lord.

When the Bible commands that “Thou shalt not bear false witness” (Exod. 20:16; Deut. 5:20), it means that the God of truth requires all men to live by His law and in terms of His righteousness. The God of truth requires man, who is created in God’s image, to bear witness to the truth. To bear false witness is thus not only to disobey God but to deny Him: it is practical atheism. The “right” to lie is then practical atheism, atheism in the rulers and atheism in the people. Christian faith is in the right of truth, and in its inevitable triumph.

R. J. Rushdoony
  • R. J. Rushdoony

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965. His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.” He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

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