Saturday, December 11, 2010

A pack of prevarications

Augustine of Hippo (354 - 430), early Catholic scholar and Doctor of the Church, identifies and ranks eight kinds of dissemblages we tell, in descending order of magnitude.

Lies that harm no one and save someone's purity.

In a particularly memorable incident in Augustine's Confessions, the Church Doctor recounts the sacking of a neighbor's pear tree when he was a youth. Young Augustine and his friends stripped the tree, sampled some of the forbidden fruits and threw the rest of them to the pigs.
“Perhaps we ate some of them,” he says. “But our real pleasure consisted in doing something that was forbidden.”
He goes on to say that while he admits his own culpability for the theft, the entire wasteful event was the result of his corruption, a result of “bad company.”

Lies that harm no one and save someone's life.

“At the Transportation Security Administration, we recognize that air travel is becoming a part of everyday life. That's why our job is so important. We appreciate your cooperation with us in making all of our lives a little easier, and our flights a little safer.
“Members of our team thoroughly inspect every person and every luggage item flying. Our team of highly trained Security Officers are educated with the latest in security information. We utilize next-generation technology and equipment to ensure that every traveler who passes through more than 7,000 checkpoints nationwide will land safely at his next destination.
“We acknowledge that some screening techniques or prohibitions may seem inconvenient or unfamiliar at times. Rest assured that there are scientifically-proven reasons, some classified, behind every regulation. Our intent, as much as we can, is to preserve your privacy and to keep our process transparent. In certain circumstances, one or the other of these is sacrificed for the sake of national security.
“We are dedicated to ensuring that the unthinkable does not happen. You and the 600 million others like you are safe in our hands.”

Lies that harm no one and help someone.

Following a marathon love-making session with his secretary, a man realizes that he is late for dinner at home. He sends his young mistress outside with his shoes.
“Rub them in the grass and dirt,” he shouts. “Get 'em really dirty, I mean filthy.”
Mystified, and a little nervous, she complies.
“Where have you been?” says his wife, when he finally gets home.
She is washing a Dora the Explorer dish.
“Sit down, honey.”
Her face turns white. She takes a seat at the kitchen table, set for two.
“I can't lie to you any more,” her husband says. “I've been having an affair with my secretary and we've been making love all afternoon. I'm late because after the second time, she wanted to…”
The wife, horrified, loses tack of her husband's words. Staring down at the kitchen floor, she glances at his shoes.
“You lying bastard! You've been playing golf!”

Lies to please others in smooth discourse.

Main entry: fic-tion
Pronunciation: \fik-shen\
Function: noun
Etymology: from Latin fictio, the act of fashioning, to shape, fashion, feign
Date: Middle English ficcioun, 14th century
1a: something invented by the imagination or feigned; specifically: an invented story b: fictitious literature (as novels or short stories)
2a: an assumption of a possibility as a fact irrespective of the question of its truth b: a useful illusion or pretense
3a: the act of feigning or creating with the imagination

Lies told for the pleasure of lying.

Minnesota Senator Al Franken had a reputation long before his days in Washington. His book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, unabashedly tears into the conservative media. His frankness (no pun intended) has been hailed as unprecedented by supporters and opponents alike. When watching or reading Franken, one is constantly reminded of his very public life prior to his stint on Capitol Hill, as conservative pundits like Ann Coulter are quick to point out.
When Coulter accused Franken's friend Dan Radmacher, journalist, of fabricating or exaggerating evidence, the Senator was quick to his defense. Franken is to the point in his published phone call to Radmacher:
Al: Do you take sheer joy in telling lies?
Dan: Yes. Yes I do.
Al: Shoot. That proves [Coulter's] point then. Also she mentions insolent pleasure. Do you get insolent pleasure from lying?
Dan: Yeah, I guess so. But it's more the sheer joy.”

Lies that harm others and help someone, or lies that harm someone and help no one.

“No, really, just one can't hurt.”

Lies in religious teaching.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, 1881 - 1955, was a controversial French philosopher and scholar. A Jesuit priest, he was also a well-respected geologist and paleontologist.
Teilhard's main conflict with the Church rose from his loose interpretation of the Book of Genesis, a view that threatened St. Augustine's concept of original sin. Several of his books, including The Phenomenon of Man, were censured by contemporary authorities.
In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI praised his description of the earth as a “living host,” and many of Teilhard's theories, particularly concerning Teilhard's conception of evolution as a process leading to greater complexity and unified consciousness, have been praised as forward-thinking. Particularly in light of this age of communication and internet-based knowledge, Teilhard's book seems almost prescient.
Ecclesiastical warnings, however, have not been removed from any of his work. 

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