Throughout history, there have been many ideas as to what a lie is and what, if anything, constitutes a lie to be okay or allowed. There are many significant figures that each have their own views on the concept of truth-telling and what they believe to be right. In some cases, these figures think that there are exceptions to lying, only when necessary, but there are also others who objectify against any type of lie or untruth. In this paper, the thoughts of individuals such as Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and Ayatollah Shirazi will be discussed with material from the writings of Janet Smith, Ayatollah Shirazi, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Salman Rushdie’s case and ideals will be examined in the context of truth-telling in Islam. From both Christian and Muslim traditions, there are ways that truth-telling should be told and exceptions. On one hand, there is the Christian side who have beliefs on lying, for example, Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and on the other hand, there is the Islamic/ Muslim view from Ayatollah Shirazi.
To begin with, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Christian that believed that the truth is owed to no man, but God himself. Everything about the truth is for God and only God. As discussed in his writing “What is Meant by “Telling the Truth”, there is an educational standpoint that reveals that truth-telling is something that is learned and can be taught. His view also states that there is a fine line between lying from a parent to their child, and from the child to the parent. In his writing, he makes it clear that it is okay for parents to withhold information or to not tell the whole truth and be honest to their children, but their children must tell everything to their parents, with everything being the truth. This writing also shares that telling the truth is dependent on the situation that one is in and the relationships that are present. From his point of view, Satan has truth and that is in essence, it denies everything that is right and real. He entails that God’s truth is the epitome of judging the good of reality, whereas Satan’s truth judges the opposite, out of resentment. Bonhoeffer believes that the reality of truth is complicated because the truth can be altered to suit any situation in which defies what a truth genuinely is. From these different situations, there is no way to tell what the truth is because the truth and what is not the truth becomes interchangeable. At the end of this piece of writing, Bonhoeffer states that it is almost impossible to correctly identify what constitutes a lie.
Moving on to Saint Thomas Aquinas’ view, discussed in Janet Smith’s writing “Lying: A Metaphysical Issue before a Moral Issue”, the foundation for his beliefs are based on Aristotle’s teleological view of nature and that lying is wrong because it goes against the ethics and nature of speech. Aquinas believes that lies are falsehoods and that falsehoods go against the idea of nature and the purpose of the speech. Aquinas defines a lie as an occurrence of three combined instances. These consist of the falsehood itself of what is said, the will to tell a falsehood, and the intention to deceive. Smith states that “Uttering a statement that is false and committing the sin of lying is not the same. Only some false statements are formal lies or sins” (Smith). From this stems the idea that Aquinas defines as not all falsehoods are true formal falsehoods. For example, when someone says what they hold to be as correct or true when it is in fact wrong, but they genuinely believe what they said to be as true, it is not a formal falsehood. This is because they believe that what they are saying is correct.