Dr Laura and Her Rabbi on Not Bearing False Witness Against Your Neighbor

Dr Laura ran a popular daytime radio program some years ago, and still does on Sirius radio[1], where her listeners would call for personal advice on life’s daily problems.  She teamed up with her rabbi to write an excellent book on the Ten Commandments using both her advice to some of her listeners and rabbinical teachings, and her chapter on not bearing false witness is particularly interesting.  We encourage you to read her many observations in her book for yourself.

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.

Lies can kill.  Dr Laura recounts these haunting words, “the broad mass of a nation will more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a small one,” these haunting words spoken so many years ago by Adolph Hitler.  Hitler convinced the German people that the Jews helped them lose the first World War, that the Jews “were responsible for all the social and economic difficulties of their time.”  Today Trump tries to convince us that we need to build a wall that Mexico will pay for to keep out the hordes of M16 gang members who threaten to invade our nation.  “By constantly distinguishing between the ‘superior’ Aryan race” and the Jews and other undesirables, “Hitler convinced many Germans of their manifest destiny.”  We fall into this same trap when we talk of restricting immigration from shit-hole countries.

What Dr Laura does not point out is the close links between the Nazi legal system and the Jim Crow system of segregation in the deep South.  The science of eugenics, which had many proponents in California, justified both the persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany and the subjugation of the negroes in the Jim Crow Deep South.  When Nazi politicians drafted laws subjugating the Jews, they used the Jim Crow legal system as a guide.

Lies can sometimes save lives.  This sounds surprising, but we only need to think of Oscar Schindler who lied constantly to save as many of the lives of the Jews working in his factories as possible, factories he bought as a front with money provided by wealthy Jews.  Dr Laura and her rabbi cite several Old Testament stories where lying was condoned, indeed some where God himself bent the truth to avoid hurting His children unnecessarily.  Future blogs will examine the commentary on these stories depth, we will only summarize them here.

A famous Bible story when lying saved lives is the story of the Pharaoh in Egypt who ordered the midwives to murder all the sons born to the Israelite mothers.  As is told in Exodus 1:7, “the midwives, fearing God, did not do as the king of Egypt had told them, they let the boys live.”  This made Pharaoh angry, he had these midwives brought before them, and they lied to Pharaoh, saying “the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, they are vigorous.  Before the midwife can come them, they have already given birth.”

So liars are usually wrong, but liars are not always wrong, how can we make sense of this?  We need to think like Jesus, the Law and the Prophets can be summed up by the primary commandments, Love God with all of your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your strength and with all of your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.  Through our Love for God we should be respectful of God and His Name, like God we should “hate a lying tongue”, we should view “lying lips as an abomination to the Lord.”[2]  True, the commandment is not “You shall not lie,” but rather, “you shall not bear false witness,” but we should be reluctant to lie, as God is truth as much as he is Love.  But our primary responsibility is to protect the reputation of our neighbor, and to protect his health and well-being and his life.

As Dr Laura and her rabbi point out, there are several Old Testament stories where God declines to hurt people by a strict rendering of cold, hard facts.  When told she would have a son, Sarah asked God, “Now that I am withered, am I to have enjoyment with my husband so old?”  But when God tells Abraham he will have a son, God repeats Sarah as saying, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I in truth bear a child, old as I am?’”(Genesis 18:12)

When God tells Samuel to find anoint a king to replace Saul, Samuel asks what he should tell King Saul, since if he tells him the truth Samuel will die.  God tells Samuel to say instead that he should take a heifer with him so he can tell Saul that he is going to sacrifice to the Lord.(1 Samuel 16:2)

The Book of Proverbs reminds us how God hates those who maliciously slander their neighbor, we are reminded that the Lord hates a lying tongue, and that “lying lips are an abomination to the Lord.”  Many of the Psalms cry out to the Lord over the agony caused by gossip and slander.

In the last dozen pages of this chapter Dr Laura tells us the lessons she has drawn from her experiences and her many discussions with her listeners.  To many who call in wanting her permission to blow the whistle on suspected affairs or abuse or alcoholism she challenges, are you absolutely sure about being so eager to destroy someone’s life if you are wrong?  When is flattery okay?  Should you really tell your kids your mistakes when you were a kid?  Should we listen to the late-night comics, do they cross the line into slander and gossip to generate cheap humor?  Should we tell the truth even when it could cost us thousands of dollars?  Are white lies okay?

As Dr Laura and her rabbi reminds us, lying and gossiping are worse than stealing, a thief only steals our stuff, a liar and gossiper both “create injustice and misery.”  The liar and gossiper hurts his neighbor, and the liar and gossiper also stab themselves by behaving like a vicious talking beast.[3]

[1] https://www.drlaura.com/ has a link to her Sirius radio show.

[2] Proverbs 6:17 and Proverbs 12:22.

[3] Laura Schlessinger and Rabbi Stewart Vogel, “The Ten Commandments,” (New York: First Cliff Street/Harper Perennial, 1998), pp. 268-296.

About Bruce Strom 142 Articles
I was born and baptized and confirmed as a Lutheran. I made the mistake of reading works written by Luther, he has a bad habit of writing seemingly brilliant theology, but then every few pages he stops and calls the Pope often very vulgar names, what sort of Christian does that? Currently I am a seeker, studying church history and the writings of the Church Fathers. I am involved in the Catholic divorce ministries in our diocese, and have finished the diocese two-year Catholic Lay Ministry program. Also I took a year of Orthodox off-campus seminary courses. This blog explores the beauty of the Early Church and the writings and history of the Church through the centuries. I am a member of a faith community, for as St Augustine notes in his Confessions, you cannot truly be a Christian unless you worship God in the walls of the Church, unless persecution prevents this. This blog is non-polemical, so I really would rather not reveal my denomination here.

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