When I was first exploring Christianity, one of the things I never understood was why Satan is referred to as the “Father of Lies”. Why lies? It seemed like kind of an arbitrary thing for him to be defined by — I mean, lying is bad, but there are certainly worse things, right? Why wasn’t he the Father of Hatred, or the Father of Anger, or the Father of Cruelty? Frankly, the Father of Lies didn’t sound all that ominous to me.
And then I began to notice something.
Thanks to the writings of great apologists like C.S. Lewis, I suddenly saw that all humans throughout history have had the idea that we’re supposed to be doing what’s “right” and “good”. Almost nobody ever says “I’m going to do something totally bad and evil today!” Even Hitler claimed to be doing a “good” thing for his country.
We all have a strong, mysterious need to insist that we’re “good people”…yet we all have an equally strong, equally mysterious tendency to do things that are not at all good. It was when I took a step back to see what happens when those two forces combine that I realized where Satan gets his nickname. Our innate repulsion at the thought of doing something evil means that there’s only one way that actual evil can flourish: through lies.
Rapists tell themselves that the women wanted or deserved it; shoplifters tell themselves that they need the stolen merchandise, or that the big company won’t miss it anyway; when a wanted child is born very prematurely it’s a precious “baby”, when an unwanted child is killed at the same gestational age it’s “just a fetus”; in an example I just came across today, the animal cloning process creates “a whole new genetically identical embryo”, whereas the human cloning process creates the less personal-sounding “stem cells”.
Once I came to this realization I saw examples everywhere — most of all in myself. I didn’t let the house get trashed because I was being slothful and selfish, it was because I “didn’t have time” to clean up. When talking about a person with whom I was irritated I wasn’t gossiping and being uncharitable and hypocritical, I simply wanted to alert my husband to the situation and this person’s character defects so that he could keep her in his prayers. When I slept in on Sundays instead of going to church I wasn’t being lazy or disrespecting God, I was just choosing to keep the Sabbath holy in a different way — and, besides, I wasn’t officially a Christian yet anyway so it probably wasn’t even required of me.
It didn’t take much reflection to realize that it was entirely through lies that I did bad things. I’ve never once said, “This action that I’m about to take is seriously bad and wrong, but I don’t care.” No way. I was a good person. I always had a good story to tell about why what I was doing was really just fine.
The above examples of my behavior are recent ones — this is the kind of stuff I’ve done since I knew better! When I think about the kinds of things I used to do back when I told myself that what’s good and evil is a matter of opinion, that there’s no one “truth”, I realize how extremely dangerous moral relativism is. I understand why it’s Pope Benedict’s big cause. I see now that “good” is inextricably entwined with “telling the truth, ” and “evil” is inextricably entwined with “telling lies”. And you can’t seek the truth if you don’t believe it exists. Based on personal experience and what I’ve observed of the world, I’ve come to think that one of the most soul-damaging things a person can do is to tell themselves that there’s no such thing as objective truth. Because Evil is always lurking around to provide a nice neat story for you to tell yourself about why bad things are not bad at all. And when your definition of good and bad is not moored to an objective Truth, above human opinion, it makes it all too easy to slide down a dangerous path, and for Satan to earn his reputation as the Father of Lies.