Hillary, Bonhoeffer, and the Meaning of Truth

In his seminal work on Ethics the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that "it is worse for a liar to tell the truth than for a lover of truth to tell a lie."

At first glance, coming from a brilliant mind such as Bonhoeffer's, this conclusion would seem a worrisome contradiction. Generally, the act of speaking the truth, from a person whose natural inclination is to lie, should be viewed as a positive and a hopeful trend in that person's character development; a turn in the right direction; whereas a lie coming from the mouth of a person whom we have come to rely on by virtue of their fairly unblemished record of honesty, is rightfully viewed as a form of treason.

Bonhoeffer goes on to unfold his thesis by stating that a "falling away is worse than a falling down". In other words, when a person who regularly speaks the truth utters a lie, he is merely suffering from a temporary lapse of judgment. In all likelihood he will be tempted and have recurrent lapses like these throughout his life; but the general direction in which he conducts his life will be one disposed towards honesty; he has merely "fallen down".

On the other hand, when someone who is a chronic liar speaks the truth, it is not necessarily a sign of improvement, but a calculated attempt -- by one who has mastered the art deceit -- to manipulate the truth for his or her own purposes,.  This act, which on its face may look like a valiant attempt at reformation, denotes instead a singularly pernicious kind of wickedness.

Needless to say that in this sensitive age of ours it may seem highly presumptuous to claim that one has sufficient moral authority to pronounce this kind of judgment upon another human being, unless the verdict came from the Supreme Judge Himself whose holiness eminently qualifies him for the task.  

Yet even those who have been afforded a close up look of Hillary Clinton's modus operandi maintain that this is the type of moral malaise she is afflicted with; and it is also the reason why she was once referred to as a "congenital liar".

It is instructive to study the word choice of William Safire, the man who coined the phrase.  In his moral indictment of the former first lady, he did not just pick a word out of thin air. Mr. Safire obviously felt that the adjective "congenital" would aptly describe Hillary Clinton's evident moral deficiency and general contempt for the truth.

For Mrs. Clinton, telling the truth has historically signaled anything but a return from a temporary lapse in judgment. Generally it has indicated a methodical rearrangement of her priorities to achieve a particular milestone in her career. This is a pattern that has been conveniently swept under the rug by an adoring media which, for all intents and purposes, have already cast their ballot. It is telling that the most virulent petitioners of transparency from the current administration have yet to find the courage to openly denounce Mrs. Clinton's well known history of unethical behavior.

For those who are aware of Mrs. Clinton's notoriety, a careful analysis of how she has typically conducted her affairs in the past and in more recent times may only yield two possible scenarios; either Hillary R. Clinton is an extremely fortunate and fecklessly naïve individual who has been serendipitously favored by the indifferent hand of luck in most of her financial and political endeavors, or she is a very smart and calculating woman, with a commendable sense of ambition, who -- much like her husband --  suffers from an alarming deficiency of scruples; the kind of scruples that would prompt an ordinary person to abstain from crossing certain boundaries of civility and decor, not to mention the law, lest higher principles like integrity, dignity and self-respect are compromised in the process. Intellectual honesty would yield to the latter assessment.

But the word congenital is not a wholly accurate description of Hillary Clinton in so far as it defines a person whose essential character traits are bestowed upon her by nature. The implication that Hilary's behavior is something that is innate from birth may excuse her from being deceitful, since one could argue that her disingenuousness is enacted in partial ignorance -- which under some circumstances is pardonable.

Since Mrs. Clinton's habitual pattern of an utter disregard for the truth is practiced in full awareness of the facts, it would be more accurate to say that whatever character traits she may have possessed in her youth, she has progressively devolved into a person whose natural inclination is to deceive.

Ironically, the deceitful person usually ends up deceiving herself in the process, to the point that she is unable to discover her own state of ignorance, precisely because her state of being deceived necessarily precludes her from recognizing her predicament, much like insanity precludes the madman from becoming cognizant of his delirium.

A person who is deceived does not know it because, well, he is deceived. How tragic when this condition is the fruit of what he himself has sown. At this point the liar comes full circle to the point where he can speak the truth effortlessly, but only with what is now a native intent to perpetuate deceit; in Bonhoeffer's words, this is a person who has "fallen away".  

In a deeper sense, the ascendancy of Hillary Clinton makes Bonhoeffer's exposition not only poignantly salient, but also rather prophetic.

Miguel A. Guanipa is an occasional contributor to American Thinker.
In his seminal work on Ethics the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that "it is worse for a liar to tell the truth than for a lover of truth to tell a lie."

At first glance, coming from a brilliant mind such as Bonhoeffer's, this conclusion would seem a worrisome contradiction. Generally, the act of speaking the truth, from a person whose natural inclination is to lie, should be viewed as a positive and a hopeful trend in that person's character development; a turn in the right direction; whereas a lie coming from the mouth of a person whom we have come to rely on by virtue of their fairly unblemished record of honesty, is rightfully viewed as a form of treason.

Bonhoeffer goes on to unfold his thesis by stating that a "falling away is worse than a falling down". In other words, when a person who regularly speaks the truth utters a lie, he is merely suffering from a temporary lapse of judgment. In all likelihood he will be tempted and have recurrent lapses like these throughout his life; but the general direction in which he conducts his life will be one disposed towards honesty; he has merely "fallen down".

On the other hand, when someone who is a chronic liar speaks the truth, it is not necessarily a sign of improvement, but a calculated attempt -- by one who has mastered the art deceit -- to manipulate the truth for his or her own purposes,.  This act, which on its face may look like a valiant attempt at reformation, denotes instead a singularly pernicious kind of wickedness.

Needless to say that in this sensitive age of ours it may seem highly presumptuous to claim that one has sufficient moral authority to pronounce this kind of judgment upon another human being, unless the verdict came from the Supreme Judge Himself whose holiness eminently qualifies him for the task.  

Yet even those who have been afforded a close up look of Hillary Clinton's modus operandi maintain that this is the type of moral malaise she is afflicted with; and it is also the reason why she was once referred to as a "congenital liar".

It is instructive to study the word choice of William Safire, the man who coined the phrase.  In his moral indictment of the former first lady, he did not just pick a word out of thin air. Mr. Safire obviously felt that the adjective "congenital" would aptly describe Hillary Clinton's evident moral deficiency and general contempt for the truth.

For Mrs. Clinton, telling the truth has historically signaled anything but a return from a temporary lapse in judgment. Generally it has indicated a methodical rearrangement of her priorities to achieve a particular milestone in her career. This is a pattern that has been conveniently swept under the rug by an adoring media which, for all intents and purposes, have already cast their ballot. It is telling that the most virulent petitioners of transparency from the current administration have yet to find the courage to openly denounce Mrs. Clinton's well known history of unethical behavior.

For those who are aware of Mrs. Clinton's notoriety, a careful analysis of how she has typically conducted her affairs in the past and in more recent times may only yield two possible scenarios; either Hillary R. Clinton is an extremely fortunate and fecklessly naïve individual who has been serendipitously favored by the indifferent hand of luck in most of her financial and political endeavors, or she is a very smart and calculating woman, with a commendable sense of ambition, who -- much like her husband --  suffers from an alarming deficiency of scruples; the kind of scruples that would prompt an ordinary person to abstain from crossing certain boundaries of civility and decor, not to mention the law, lest higher principles like integrity, dignity and self-respect are compromised in the process. Intellectual honesty would yield to the latter assessment.

But the word congenital is not a wholly accurate description of Hillary Clinton in so far as it defines a person whose essential character traits are bestowed upon her by nature. The implication that Hilary's behavior is something that is innate from birth may excuse her from being deceitful, since one could argue that her disingenuousness is enacted in partial ignorance -- which under some circumstances is pardonable.

Since Mrs. Clinton's habitual pattern of an utter disregard for the truth is practiced in full awareness of the facts, it would be more accurate to say that whatever character traits she may have possessed in her youth, she has progressively devolved into a person whose natural inclination is to deceive.

Ironically, the deceitful person usually ends up deceiving herself in the process, to the point that she is unable to discover her own state of ignorance, precisely because her state of being deceived necessarily precludes her from recognizing her predicament, much like insanity precludes the madman from becoming cognizant of his delirium.

A person who is deceived does not know it because, well, he is deceived. How tragic when this condition is the fruit of what he himself has sown. At this point the liar comes full circle to the point where he can speak the truth effortlessly, but only with what is now a native intent to perpetuate deceit; in Bonhoeffer's words, this is a person who has "fallen away".  

In a deeper sense, the ascendancy of Hillary Clinton makes Bonhoeffer's exposition not only poignantly salient, but also rather prophetic.

Miguel A. Guanipa is an occasional contributor to American Thinker.