Luther starts his Large Catechism commentary on this commandment memorably, “Besides our own body, our wife or husband, and our temporal property, we have one more treasure which is indispensable to us, namely, our honor and good name, for it is intolerable to live among men in public disgrace and contempt.” Our reputation is our most precious possession, more important than baubles and gold, every man wants “to maintain his self-respect before his wife, children, servants, and neighbors.” […]
A common misconception is that this Commandment only forbids us to lie. However, this Mitzvah goes deeper. Not only should we not destroy the reputation of our neighbor, we should also guard the reputation of our neighbor like we should build a parapet on our roof. Not only does this Mitzvah forbid us to lie, it also forbids us from telling the truth in a mean and heartless and cruel manner. […]
Dr Laura bemoans how the tangled web of the lies we weave is dragging us down, how “people expect politicians, lawyers, lobbyists, advocates, journalists, talk-show hosts, and anyone else in the public view will lie if it serves their purpose.” Even when the often-malicious gossip that they spread to millions of viewers has an element of truth, these celebrities can totally destroy someone’s reputation and even life. Indeed, our acceptance of this twisting of the truth leads to the “disappearance of common social courtesies to the prevalence of vulgar and vicious radio and television programming, from disrespect for traditional sexual and marital mores to the ever-growing cynicism about the potential of goodness to survive anywhere.”
Dr Laura bemoans how commonly people give false testimony to win their case in court. We think that if we suffer no immediate consequences, like lightning bolts, that nobody notices our lying, that it is quite okay. “Americans tend to assume that whatever deficiencies our system has, they largely are not a result of corruption, but rather due to judges and juries who are too soft, or racial prejudice, or insufficient concerns for the rights of victims.” “It is remarkable that we can be proud of our judicial system in spite” of how often we lie under oath.
Dr Laura tells us how horribly the lives of her listeners and others have been ruined by lies and slander. These damaging slanderers include the husband who lies about working late but is really out drinking and carousing with his buddies and maybe flirting with the women at the bar. They include the incredibly cruel lies told in custody battles, false reports of child abuse that harm both spouse and child. She tells how digging up possibly non-existent stories of childhood abuse decades in the past can destroy families. She also has stories of less destructive lies that enable to steal time and money from our employers or our neighbors. […]
The Nazis were not simply demons who erupted out of some dark underworld to shatter what was good and just within the Western tradition, until they were put down by force of arms and the authentic humane and progressive values of Europe were restored. There were traditions of Western governments within which they worked. There were continuities between Nazism and what came before and after. There were examples and inspirations on which the Nazis drew, and American race law prominent among them. […]
Once Hillel’s wife had finished preparing a meal for Hillel and a guest, when a “poor man came by, stood at Hillel’s doorway, and said, ‘I am scheduled to marry today and have no provisions whatsoever.’ Hearing that, Hillel’s wife took the entire mean and gave it to the poor man. Then she kneaded fresh dough, cooked another pot of stew, and when it was ready, placed it before Hillel and his guest. Hillel asked, ‘My dear, why did you not bring it out sooner?’ She told him what happened. He said, ‘My dear, in asking about the delay, I meant to judge you not on the scale of guilt but on the scale of merit, because I was certain that everything you did, you did for the sake of Heaven.’” […]
The Church Fathers focus on our love for our neighbor when contemplating this commandment. St Gregory Palamas in our English translation renders the commandment as, “You shall not accuse anyone falsely.” We are warned that if we accuse anyone falsely, we may “become like the devil, who falsely accused God to Eve and was cursed by God. Rather, we should conceal our neighbor’s offense, unless by so doing others may be injured; and in this way we will imitate not Ham, but Shem and Japeth, and so like them receive the blessing.” […]