General Question

dxs's avatar

Is a white lie a sin?

Asked by dxs (11267 points ) April 20th, 2011

If someone asks how their new hairdo looks, and you think it’s hideous and an abomination, is it a sin to lie and say that it’s gorgeous? It must be a sin to insult them…It’s almost like a dead end. I was just wondering and opinions are okay, is/would you consider a white lie a sin? I’m talking from Catholicism, if that has any factor in this

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67 Answers

jlelandg's avatar

Growing up in a Baptist family in the South, I know most people would say that you’re fine on that (but going to hell for being Catholic, I know, I know silly Baptists). I think your okay, however if you are feeling guilty talk to a priest you trust about it.

choreplay's avatar

No, compassion and humanity is the standard.

bkcunningham's avatar

@dxs can you point me to exact passages in the Bible about telling lies?

JilltheTooth's avatar

I’m with @Season_of_Fall on this, all the way.

dxs's avatar

@bkcunningham
I felt that this would take some sort of Fluthery-debate-related turn, as does most religious questions on this website.
I am not good at Bible quotes, but what about the basic—Moses’ giving of the 10 commandments to the Jews in the desert? “You shall not lie”. bam. that’s all I can think of/know :(
Either way, I feel that me quoting the Bible may not be too practical in the sense that I am looking for you to in some way I asked the question first! :)
@Season_of_Fall @JilltheTooth ok, but why??
it’s not like this is a serious issue, just kinda wondering…to clarify

marinelife's avatar

You are merely withholding the truth so as not to hurt someone’s feelings (which I think would be the bigger sin).

JilltheTooth's avatar

I’m sorry, @dxs , I really can’t speak to it Biblically, but I’m thinking that the meaning of the “lie as a sin” thing refers to a time and culture that has very little relevance to the cultures of today. There are so many shades of gray, now, as in the example you gave in the Q. Bludgeoning someone with an unnecessary truth seems to me (purely subjective, I grant you) to be a greater sin than being compassionate and helping to preserve a community bond.

bkcunningham's avatar

I wasn’t trying to start a Bible debate @dxs. I just wanted you to see something. If you look up the commandment, Exodus 20:2–17 (commandment number 9), it doesn’t say, “You shall not lie.” It says: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. Do you see the difference?

dxs's avatar

@JilltheTooth
I figured that, but that was an example…there are some circumstances that are true that you need to white-lie in, I just did that to define a white lie…sort of
@bkcunningham
No haha I don’t :); futher analysis, please?
If they are different, then why are they (seemingly) synonymous when interpereted for an easier understanding?

john65pennington's avatar

White lie, green lie, red lie,blue lie…...they all are lies, no matter the color.

Sometimes the truth hurts. This is why i use the phrase “no comment”.

It works two ways: you are not telling a lie and it saves a lot of hurt feelings.

Coloma's avatar

Not being 100% forthcoming so as not to hurt anothers feelings is not a ‘sin.’
Besides ‘sin’ means to ‘miss the mark’ like an archer that misses the target.

‘Sin’ does not mean burn in hell.

Other than tact, grace and diplomacy though, a lie is a lie.
Every lie, big or small, becomes part of a bigger web of lies.

Like stealing.

Stealing a car may be worse than stealing a candy bar, but, deception is deception.

I am all about truth, infact, right now I am having to be brutally honest in a relationship/friendship where I have discovered this persons manipulative side.

Nope…acknowledge it, and stop it, or….no more friendship. Simple.

yankeetooter's avatar

In the Ten Commandments, it says that you shouldn’t bear false witness against your neighbor. I’ve always found this wording interesting. I think if your intent is to refrain from hurting someone’s feelings, than you are not bearing false witness against your neighbor. By this reasoning, white lies would not be wrong. If you take the wording of the commandment more literally, the sin is in your telling a falsehood that would get someone in trouble. This however, would mean that other lies are not wrong, lies that only affect one’s self. In a way this makes sense to me, because ultimately, if you lie, you are only going to hurt yourself in that you are going to get tripped up in your own lies and lessen the trust that others place in you. It’s an interesting moral question…

dxs's avatar

@john65pennington
how does it save a lot of hurt feelings? It’d cause them.
“No Comment” seems pretty “hurtful”, too, as the Bible says in the Gospel of Saint Matthew 25:45 “Whatsoever you do to the least of my people, that you do unto me”.
[Addition]: @Coloma But I feel that doing that seems to be too much, in the sense that you would just shut yourself off from someone/somebody just from one thing. or was that an exaggeration?

bkcunningham's avatar

I don’t honestly know what you mean @dxs when you say “they are synonymous when interpreted for an easier understanding.” But, anyway, being nice to someone you love (or even a stranger for that matter) and telling them their hair looks nice so you don’t hurt their feelings or damage their ego, is vastly different than proclaiming you know the truth or you witnessed something and swearing to something that you know without a doubt is a lie and that lie will cause harm to someone else.

Saying your hair looks nice, or an outfit doesn’t make you look like a pig stuffed into a poke, is different than “bearing false witness.” It is different than being a liar and telling lies for the sake of lying or telling a lie that will cause harm to someone.

AdamF's avatar

I think the answer becomes far clearer if the issue of sin is left out, and the emphasis placed on thinking about the consequences of your actions to the people you care about.

From this perspective, white lies are sometimes the more ethical choice than telling the truth, but it’s very much context dependent.

dxs's avatar

@bkcunningham @Coloma, @etc…
I understand it more now. I still think that a “sin” is more than just “missing the mark”, if I understand your analogy correctly. I think that sin is anything that turns us away from God, and lying (not necessarily “bearing false witness”) does that. As @AdamF said, from the perspective of leaving out the “sin” part, white lying is the more logical thing to do because as he said, they are someone that you care about (in most cases, I assume). Even so, you should care about your neighbors to a certain extent.

Just for clarificational purposes, I was talking about how you would tell 1st graders, for example, that the ninth commandment is “you shall not lie” versus “thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” They’ll look at you like you have 98745928 heads. :)

john65pennington's avatar

dxs….which had you rather receive with your new haircut? the truth, a purple lie or no comment?

JilltheTooth's avatar

@john65pennington : Saying “No comment” in our culture in a situation like that is akin to saying “no comment because I don’t want to say outright that you look awful”. I don’t live in the Black and White universe where “all lies are bad, all truth is good.” I live in the universe where boosting someone’s confidence is a compassionate thing to do, and where the boosted confidence might indeed make them look good. The example cited (which you have specifically expounded on) is a matter of subjective taste anyway and causes to harm to others. If you are (for example) the producer of a visual medium (photography, film, television) where it is important for the person to be represented in a very specific way for the edification of masses, then, perhaps, it would be appropriate to be “truthful”.

JilltheTooth's avatar

@dxs : “Bearing false witness…” has more of a feel to me of “false accusation” than simple lying.

Coloma's avatar

@dxs
It has not been just one thing. As always it’s a gradual awakening to others patterns.
I finally recognized a pattern with this persons manipulative behaviors and decided to confront them.

Their reaction told me all I need to know, and while I have compassion, I don’t buy into denial.

I suppose it also depends on your definition of ‘God.’

I do not beleive ‘God’ is a separate being outside of oursleves. I belive we ARE God, and God is us….so, to ‘sin’ against ‘God’ really means to simply sin against ones own integrity, their own godliness.

Also to ‘miss the mark’ IS the very definition of sin, the origin of the word.

dxs's avatar

@JilltheTooth I had already stated that
@Coloma In the description, I said that I was talking from Catholicism.If sin means to “miss the mark”, then that maeks sense, and it does not mean burning in hell. I read your response a little too quick—I thought you were saying something else.

Coloma's avatar

@dxs

I see. Well, while I am not a student of fundamentalism and organized religion, it was a Catholic hypnotherapist that told me this once upon a time.

dxs's avatar

@Coloma
we are the “kingdom of God”..I suppose that may be the same thing in a figurative sense.

Nullo's avatar

The operative word here is “lie.” Better to find something that you can honestly compliment. Or practice the art of conversation to the point where the blow can be softened or redirected. Or you could avoid the judgment entirely – “I think I saw that haircut in a movie once! It was that one with the guy, you know? And the thing, and everbody was doing stuff.”

dxs's avatar

@Nullo Good idea.
I am known for being good at stretching the truth, too.

gailcalled's avatar

You can answer in a kind way by tempering your remarks. “I preferred your hair when it was long, gelled, in braids, green, in a beehive, etc. I find this style less becoming.”

It is hard to image a hairdo that is hideous or an abomination, as least for me. Hair is hair.

And this is your opinion only…not “a truth universally acknowledged.”

SpatzieLover's avatar

Yes, it’s a venial sin

From a Catholic standpoint:
You are committing a voluntary sinful act if when your friend asks “How do you like my new hairstyle?” you say “Wow, that’s gorgeous!”.

Instead, I’d mention the actual cut if it was done well or I’d be me honest and say something to the effect of “I think on you, it will look optimal in a week or two once it grows out a bit”...or as @Nullo or @gailcalled said either defer or temper.

It’s not a sin if you do this:
“Isn’t our baby girl the cutest thing you’ve ever seen?”
maybe the baby is bright pink, and doesn’t quite look human yet
You say—in your best talking to the baby voice “You are a wittle bitty baby, aren’t you?”

My husband was raised by parents that both white lie & lie by omission. He knows my feelings on both, and has learned my tips. Recently a co-worker showed him a photo of his rather ugly in my husband’s opinion baby…My husband said he smiled huge thinking of what I’d say and said “Oh a little baby girl. You must be delighted!”

;) It works @dxs, you just have to practice being tactful and truthful.

bkcunningham's avatar

@SpatzieLover well now, lies by omission are true lies. It reminds me of the “Ugly Baby” episode of Seinfeld.

SpatzieLover's avatar

@bkcunningham I agree. I love that episode ;)

My in-laws omit constantly. It’s often to the detriment of the family, too. Since I was raised very differently I just don’t understand it at all. Why omit? Why not just be open and honest?

adventuretime's avatar

i think of it as tact

bkcunningham's avatar

My neighbor was the first one I heard say “lie by omission.” I loved it. I was raised that a lie is a lie. Of course, it made me question and push it to every corner of the definition. LOL Didn’t work too good with my Mom though.

Coloma's avatar

I think lying by omission is every bit as much of a lie as a more bald face lie.

I am stickler for the ‘whole truth and nothing but the truth’...but many are not.

I don’t make excuses and I don’t accept them.

Works for me! ;-)

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

@Coloma—You’re the cat’s pj’s. :)

bkcunningham's avatar

My nephew is visiting me in Florida. He is 14 and he is a fisherman. He has Aspergers or whatever you call it. He’s a riot. He is actually a twin to a sister. She is so a wonderful “normal” kid. He reminds me of Rainman.

He only wants to fish. He knows the name of every lake on the east coast of the US. He knows what records have come out of St. John’s River and every other spot with water in it in our part of Florida.

His mom was telling him he had to read for his homework while he’s away from school. He threw an awful fit. Backtalking, pushing, pacing…anyway, I found a book I’ve had for years. It is a book of tall tales written by an old mountain man friend of mine. Andrew and I read so many hilarious stories chocked full of half-truths, tall tales, lies by omission and umm…stories.

He would laugh and shake his head and say, “Aunt B, that isn’t true is it?” He started telling me stories and explaining to me that they weren’t true. He knew the difference between the truth and a story.

SpatzieLover's avatar

@bkcunningham My son & husband have Asperger’s. My son is a stickler for the actual truth. He’s now learned how to “kid/joke”, but then, he follows that by saying…_“I’m just joking with you. That’s not really true” ;)

Family members don’t get why he constantly asks them, “Are you being for real? Or are you lying to me?” when they’re just playing with him.

bkcunningham's avatar

How old is your son? I’m just curious. My nephew it the first actual Asperger’s genius I’ve had the privilege of encountering. What an absolute trip. He’s priceless. He used to be stuck on calling me Burger King. It could be a year before I saw him and he’d smile and rub against me and say, “That’s right isn’t it… Burger King.”

bkcunningham's avatar

And you know what @SpatzieLover, I just thought about this. I wouldn’t hurt his feelings for anything in the world. I’ve stretched the truth many times during the past week for the sake of his feelings. Man, being a 14-year-old teenager is hard enough without someone telling you your skin looks gross.

SpatzieLover's avatar

he’s 5. My husband is not 5 ;) Both are more open/receptive to being less rigid. i.e. both are known as high-functioning autistics. My son hasn’t had an IQ test yet, but he functions in most aspects at the 12–14yr old boy level.

I agree again @bkcunningham. My men are sensitive individuals. I do have to tell my husband the truth. He functions in the business world. If his hair needs a cut or a shirt looks too worn, I tell him. I try to be as tactful as possible to not hurt their feelings.

leopardgecko123's avatar

Jesus said that to get into Heaven we have to have child-like faith. Something along the lines of not questioning and putting as it is. Like if you have a booger in your nose, a child will say, no matter who’s there. I read this in a book and don’t know how much it will help, but I think white lie is a sin. (And I admit I do it, too.)
Or you could ask a pastor/priest (or whatever Catholics have (I’m Baptist)) about the matter.
Hope this helped a little bit. :/

bkcunningham's avatar

Are all sins equal @leopardgecko123? I mean a booger sin is the same as a murder sin type thing?

leopardgecko123's avatar

I don’t really know, but the booger thing wasn’t a sin, it was simply telling the truth, at least I think. You could ask a pastor or look it up?????

SpatzieLover's avatar

@leopardgecko123 I think BK was just asking, in your religion do you think all lies are the same.

Catholics do not. Some are venial sins and some (like murder) are mortal or deadly.

The booger isn’t a sin, when a kid says it…but if an adult sees one in your nose & doesn’t tell you it’s an omission.

dxs's avatar

@SpatzieLover
but is it omission? If they do, then you may be offending them.
Ughh, why did God hafta throw that sin-of-omission card out to us…I hate it :P

bkcunningham's avatar

Lol @dxs. I’m omitting comment.

dxs's avatar

@bkcunningham
I just hate it that we are required to “butt into other people’s business”. I just don’t see it as right, as it is not my business…

bkcunningham's avatar

What business is that, @dxs? I hate when other people butt into my business too, btw.

dxs's avatar

@bkcunningham
According to Jesus and his rules, if you see people in a fight, you have to butt in…it just seems wrong in my opinion. Keeping in mind that that was the first example that came to mind and ay not be the best

bkcunningham's avatar

Do you mean the Good Samaritan story?

dxs's avatar

@bkcunningham
Nonononononononononono that‘s different. If someone needs your help, then by all means you should help them. I’m not saying shut yourself off from society, I’m saying that if people are arguing, I don’t think that it is your place to have a say, as you would be ignorant in the situation.

Nullo's avatar

@jlelandg As I understand it, Baptists (and other flavors of Protestants) see that Catholicism is not conducive to salvation, not that Catholicism itself is particularly sinful. I tend to agree with them; non-Biblical practices aside, there is far too much emphasis on ceremony and not as much on the actual relationship with God.
Thus, a Catholic could be saved (the requirements are very simple), but probably not thanks to the priest.

bkcunningham's avatar

I just wondered what rules you were talking about in the above statement @dxs. Anyway, courts of law settle arguments all the time really. Don’t they? I mean a jury of your peers, rule of law and all that jazz.

dxs's avatar

@bkcunningham
aagh I can’t think of a good example!
I’m talking about a special type of sin of omission. One where yousee someone do sometihng illegal and not report it. I feel that it isn’t my business to report something illegal, depending on the severity obviously. I’m the nosy one who shouldn’t be in others’ business anyway…

bkcunningham's avatar

Oh, I see @dxs. So, to me, that would depend on the circumstances. I saw two men break out the plate-glass window to a local business. It was years ago. It was late, late at night. I tried to disappear behind my car with the key in the door lock until they walked away. They were carrying a vacuum cleaner, a boom box, and many other appliances.

I went to the police and told what I’d seen. I was told after the fact, the one man had burned his girlfriends’ privates with a clothes iron once. Anyway, they confessed when they knew there was a witness. I’m glad I told. The owner got his stuff back and the guys got three hots and a cot for a short period of time.

Coloma's avatar

Okay, here’s a great example of lying by ‘omission’ that I just recently experienced with a needy neighbor/friend.

This person constantly minimizes what her true agenda is, until…they have you roped in and caught off guard.

They are a master of the old ‘bait & switch’ routine.

This person asked me if I would take them to a doctors appt. and to the grocery store, they JUST needed dinner items.

Once we were out they convienantly ‘forgot’ they had to make another stop which involved an extra 30 minutes of driving and 30 something miles, added to an already 50 mile round trip!

THEN, when we got to the grocery store instead of JUST getting dinner items they did an entires WEEKS worth of shopping on my time and did a bang up job of screwing up my plans for the day!

This little white lie of omission caused me to do waaay more than I had agreed to and had me running the rest of MY errands that I intended to do that same day when said person very stealthily managed to manipulate my ‘favor’ into all about their agenda.

Needless to say I was mad enough to confront them and of course, they put on an academy award winning ‘who me’ victim performance! lol

Now that I have set a boundary as to what type of ‘favors’ I am willing to do for them, and insisted on clear, direct, HONEST communication which includes not altering an agreement without ASKING me first, well…they are no longer speaking to me. haha

Good for me! ;-)

SpatzieLover's avatar

<pats @Coloma on the back> Great example.

@dxs As you age, you’ll realize where your personal boundaries are. For now, if you feel bad about “snitching”, but also know you need to be honest, you can be anonymous. For example, you see a fellow student steal something at school, instead of going in to the principal’s office, you could drop a note into his/her mailbox.

My husband & I were just talking about lies/liars tonight. One of our friends lies constantly.

Then we got to talking about a large family lie (my side) that involved nearly my mom’s entire family needing to lie by omission because family members decided to not be open & honest about one spouses bad marriage. She had kids with her first husband, and my uncle married her after her divorce.

They decided to keep their young children in the dark. He adopted them. They never told them. They had more kids and the lie grew & grew. It finally burst when their eldest daughter got to college. The admin questioned her as to why her dad’s name didn’t match the birth certificate they had on file (her parents sent it w/out her seeing it).

The story does not have a happy ending. Luckily, my grandparent (that felt they had to lie by omission to have contact with their grandchildren) were able to use this example for me, as I grew up. I was able to see what a lie could become from very little on.

dxs's avatar

@Coloma They don’t seems like your friends…
Good Answer; that’s another type of omission that I am not talking about.
The one @SpatzieLover is talking about is more on the lines of what I am saying. I saw someone steal a Spanish book the other day and I didn’t really say or do anything. What I tend to do is just kindof hold a personal grudge against that person. I say in my head “that person’s a stealer, I can’t trust him.” Is that bad?
@SpatzieLover what do you mean, “as I age”?

SpatzieLover's avatar

@dxs As you mature, and see more outside of school. For me, I had a living example. If you don’t, you will as you mature…I’ve seen a lot of this type of lie snowballing at this point in my life

Coloma's avatar

@dxs

They arn’t, I am waay too savvy these days and my bullshit o’ meter is at full amp. lol

jlelandg's avatar

@Nullo mostly a joke…

bkcunningham's avatar

@dxs no it isn’t bad. I may not call it holding a grudge though. Maybe just made me be very leary and not trust the person. My personality makes me analyze too much and give everyone the benefit of the doubt. I usually end up being used like @coloma. So, in my mind, I want to make sure what I was was stealing and not something else. I would have probably told a teacher what I saw and explained that I didn’t want to get involved and just asked them to check into it for me. Just in case they weren’t getting a book back someone had stolen from them or something like that.

dxs's avatar

@bkcunningham “My personality makes me analyze too much and give everyone the benefit of the doubt” I think that most people do. I remember reading this psychology article in a paper once about human brain traits. One is that we seem to try to find the worst in people. Another one that may relate to you is a fallacy for fairness, where we always try to make ourselves be the just one (especially) in sight of others’ (possible) things that (may) make us unjust. Oh, and if you know that it is specifically someone else’s posession, then obviously I would, but I wouldn’t go too far out of my way if it wasn’t. But I just saw him randomly take it, and I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t his. Must you be so curious, here’s the whole story:
It was lunch period and I got to the cafeteria early. I went to go sit down and there was a Spanish II book there. It was not anyone’s. Later, the person came to sit down (He and his group were sitting at the other end of the table and they were big enough to almost interfere with our group). He then asked if the Spanish II book was mine, and I said no. He then said, “Oh okay.” and took it and put it in his bag. He was a Senior; There was no way he could have been in Spanish II; at least Spanish IV
@SpatzieLover I was just wondering why you thought/knew? I was young….now you must but it just puzzled me…

SpatzieLover's avatar

@dxs you just posted your age on another Q I’d read prior to coming to this Q ;)

bkcunningham's avatar

OMGoodness, @dxs you analyzed me perfectly. I do think I’m the “just one” in so many aspects life. I had forgotten that until you told about the article. My mother use to remind me of that trait in myself and warned me not to get too big feeling about myself. It is true. BTW, I took Spanish II as a senior. Took Spanish I my freshman year. Then found out that two years of a foreign language was required to get into the at-the-time new vet school at Virginia Tech.

bkcunningham's avatar

Oh and @dxs using my profound feelings of justice, I say to the seniors in the lunch room…jerks. You did the right thing keeping quiet. Stupid jerky big feeling seniors. What until they are freshmen in college or working at Mickey D’s…see how big they feel then.

dxs's avatar

@bkcunningham
Yes but in my school, you have to take (at least) 3 years of one language, and you must take it freshmen and sophomore year. Only one of Junior and Senior years are required, but 4 all together is recommended.
Oh, and for the seniors, as you said, they may be giving me orders in schol now, but soon, I’ll be giving them orders at McDonalds. HAH! that made me feel overconfident!

bkcunningham's avatar

Haha on the order thing @dxs. Too funny. When I was in high school, we rode dinosaurs to school.

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