The conversation started off innocently enough. Somewhere among the good-natured wrangling over political partisan issues and religion, I was asked an unexpected question.
“So where Pagans stand on that whole ‘Lying for the Lord’ thing the Mormons believe in?” my friend asked me.
I didn’t understand the question at first. It was probably the first time anyone had asked me where I as a Pagan stood on a Mormon concept. But then I realized that I had used the phrase before to explain why I thought presidential candidate Mitt Romney was apparently such an unrepentant liar. So I’d brought it up myself, albeit several weeks earlier. Still, I didn’t understand the Pagan reference. Why would Pagans feel any different about lying than anyone else? This seemed like more of a philosophical argument than a spiritual one.
“What do you mean where do we stand?” I asked, genuinely curious.
“Do Pagans lie?”
I shrugged. “I’m certain some do. Don’t adherents of any religion?”
“But is it codified, like with Mormonism?”
I stared at my friend. “Codified? Certainly not.”
Then I realized what my friend was getting at. For the record, and to clarify certain aspects of this article, I should perhaps say that my friend is an Evangelical Christian whom I went to school with when I was a pre-teen and with whom I only recently became reacquainted with. We easily rekindled our childhood friendship, despite the obvious and often startling differences in our spiritual beliefs. My friend is laughably misinformed about nearly everything I believe, but she has an open mind generally, and most of her questions come from a curious and sincere heart, albeit with a little needling.
“Well, you don’t have a moral code like Christians do. So how do you feel about lying?”
I quickly and carefully explained that Pagans most certainly do have a moral code, and that the Threefold Law that I apply to my faith is actually far more binding than the Ten Commandments, because its simple moral code binds all things. “And harm none, do what you will” does not invite the free-form parties, orgies and chocolate binges that most people think it does (even some Pagans). Well, okay. There are the chocolate binges. But the reality is that it’s possible to do harm to others during the most benignly selfish acts, and that it is, in fact, quite difficult to be self-centered and self-serving without hurting others, even in small ways. As such, it is impossible to lie without harming others, because you have betrayed the trust of the person you are lying to, and you’ve quite possibly led them to believe something that is entirely not true (which could get them into trouble of their own farther down the road). Therefore, if one adheres to the Threefold Law, lying is not an option.
The question was asked innocently enough, but it made me think long and hard about the subject my friend was referencing. There is a concept in Mormonism called “Lying for the Lord”, and I had explained it in some detailed during earlier conversations about politics and Republican candidate Mitt Romney. “Lying for the Lord” refers to the practice of lying to protect the image of and belief in the Mormon religion, a practice which Mormonism itself fosters in various ways.
For the Mormon, loyalty and the welfare of the church are more important than the principle of honesty, and plausible denials and deception by omission are warranted by an opportunity to have the Mormon organization seen in the best possible light. This is part of the larger package of things that lead many to describe Mormonism as a cult. “Lying for the lord” is part of Mormonism’s larger deceptive mainstreaming tactics, and conversion numbers would drastically lower if important Mormon beliefs were fully disclosed to investigators.
To my knowledge, there is nothing comparable in any of the various forms of Paganism. A lie is a lie. And a lie is hurtful. One cannot stand for matters of principle if your assertions and efforts are based upon falsehoods, untruths, misrepresentations, or whatever convenient word you wish to deploy to avoid using the word “lie” (I’m thinking of politicians here).
My friend was asking for clarification about something I’d said earlier about Romney, that his penchant for distorting the truth or telling outright lies was not, perhaps, an example of a sociopath or serial liar as some had suggested, but might instead be nothing more than the “Lying for the Lord” precept of his Mormon faith in action; ie, if the intent itself is believed to be good, it is perfectly acceptable to lie for the benefit of the Mormon faith. On this issue, one must consider that Mitt Romney is not just a rank and file Mormon, but was a bishop in the Mormon faith (roughly equivalent to a Catholic priest). He was also a Mormon missionary in France when he was younger. He’s most certainly familiar with the concept of “Lying for the Lord”.
On page 50 of the current Mormon missionary manual, Preach My Gospel, the section on The Fall reads:
“When first teaching this doctrine, do not teach everything you know about it. Explain very simply that God chose two of His children, Adam and Eve, to become the first parents on earth. After their transgression they were subject to both sin and death. By themselves they could not return to live with Heavenly Father. The Lord spoke to Adam and taught him the plan of salvation and redemption through the Lord Jesus Christ. By following that plan, Adam and his family could have joy in this life and return to live with God (See Alma 18:36; 22:12-14).”
Missionaries are in essence encouraged not to disclose that Mormons believe that The Fall is a wonderful and fortunate event, that the curses that followed are considered blessings, and that the action that Adam and Even committed is considered righteous, intelligent, and worth imitating. This would be shocking to the average Christian, so it’s acceptable to lie about it a bit in order to soften the transition and earn the trust of the person you’re talking to.
To my knowledge, there is nothing remotely similar to this in any form of Paganism. I explained to my friend much of what I’ve said here, and went on to strongly suggest that if she was inferring that Pagans were receptive to the idea that the ends justified the means when it came to lies, all to better benefit whatever Pagan faith they might hold, she was greatly mistaken. While there are many different paths that fall under the large umbrella of Paganism, I’m not aware of any of them in which a concept such as “Lying for the Lord” was part of the basic theological constructs.
“So,” my friend said unexpectedly, “we’re in agreement, then.”
“Agreement?” I asked, as confused as ever by the sudden turns and lurches of her logic. “What are we in agreement on?”
“Lies are bad.”
I nodded, scratching my head. “Yes. Lies are bad.”
“Even for Pagans,” she said with a wicked grin.
“Especially for Pagans,” I insisted.
We spent the rest of our lunch together talking about generalities and inane subjects. Television shows. Movies. The over-priced coffee we were having with our lunch. But I found myself chewing on the idea of “Lying for the Lord”, and wondering if other Pagans feel as deeply about lies being wrong as I do. Often it’s easy to forget when one has the role of teacher to others that not everyone in the world believes the same things you do, and not everyone is waiting for you to explain the world and spirituality. For all I know, there are plenty of Pagans out there who lie as a matter of course in their daily lives and think nothing of it. But if that’s so, we are all so much the less because of it.
Lying is wrong, whether it is for the convenience of not having to explain why you’re getting home later than you’re supposed to, or if you’re cheating on your partner, or if it’s a concept in the written language and guidelines of your faith. Lies hurt others, indirectly or directly, and have an afterlife that goes far beyond the initial act of lying. It is a matter of putting out a certain energy into the world. For Pagans, that should be especially binding, because if you are knowingly putting out lies and mis-truths into the world, you are emanating negative energy that has a lasting impact on the reality around you. Lies create a dissonance that is at odds with the inherent harmony of the natural world, and is perhaps a uniquely human construct.
Be careful what you put out there. It does come back to you. And that applies to all of us, whether we’re an ex-lesbian who has become a devoted Christian housewife, a slightly self-delusional Pagan teacher in Asheville, North Carolina or a presidential candidate on the national stage. The energy we put out there comes back to us. We should all accept that responsibility and consider whether we are influencing the world for the better or for the worse.
Where do you stand on lying? Would you “Lie for the Lord”? Or the Goddess?
I know this is an older article, but I am just getting around to cleaning up my blog roll 🙂 It’s very true that even our “friends” have such a distorted view on what we practice. I explain the Threefold Law on a regular basis and tell some overzealous Christian friends how sacred it is, and that perhaps they should see how closely they follow their own Commandments. Great article and great perspective. THANK YOU
Contrary to the appearance they try to cultivate, MormonWiki.org is neither associated with nor representative of LDS belief.
They are actually run by a “counter-cult” operation (if memory serves- and it may not- the MormonResearchMinistry).
They are dedicated to evangelizing against the Mormon Church, have been caught taking numerous liberties with the historical record, and are NOT a credible source for information of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I’m not sure why it matters that MormonWiki.org is “against the Mormon Church” if what they post is supported by Mormon doctrine, such as, in the case, the referenced text on page 50 of the current Mormon missionary manual, “Preach My Gospel”, which essentially summarizes the approved act of “Lying for the Lord”. Unless, of course, another source for information which is not credible is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints itself. MormonWiki.org certainly has a bias, and their stated goal is to reveal hidden doctrine of the LDS. As such, anything they post MUST be absorbed within that context. However, having a bias does not negate everything they do, or absolve the LDS of some of its more cult-like activities. A biased source? Sure. But is what they said untrue? That’s the larger, and more important, question. Attempts to kill the messenger has never served anyone well, historically.