The Role of Honesty, Transparency and The Golden Rule in Orthodox Christianity

* Overview – Most people live their lives thinking that honesty, transparency and the golden rule are some kind of nice but exotic ethical ideas not really important in the real world. Religious people often think of the lack of honesty as some sort of sin but not the top priority in any theology. In fact much of this website is the exposition of lies, half truths, guesses and wishful thinking in society. In this paper, I hope to get you to think differently about these things, especially about trust and your faith built upon a rock and not upon sand. In short, I hope to get you to understand how a core or small subset of these “nice ethical ideas” are not from ethics at all but actually form the basis of all knowledge. In fact, this core actually trumps all science and all religious doctrine even the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. We will take a whirlwind tour of the empty common grave of John Henry Cardinal Newman and his beloved partner. Then through the dusty pages of Clement of Alexandria and right on to the Vienna Circle of the 20th Century with Ayer, Russell, Whitehead influencing scientists and then seminary students everywhere and degenerating into the relativity, political correctness and postmodern nightmare of the latter part of the century and presently devolving for the better into the conventional understanding and pragmatism of Quine. What does this have to do with Orthodox Christianity and serving gay people in the Church? Science? Philosophy? Knowledge at all?… Everything!

The Role of Honesty and Transparency in the Meaning of Knowledge

… here will follow a lot more about how concern for honesty and transparency are not some peripheral, hence less important, subject of ethics. Honesty and transparency actually trump all science and religion. I am not repeating a Kantian view of universality that requires us to always tell the truth to a terrorist who is murdering our children. I am claiming that a subset of ethics involving role expectations actually belong to the concept of meaning itself and truth-value of public knowledge. By public knowledge, I am not referring to secret or confidential knowledge but academic knowledge that might be taught in a scientific university or theological college by teachers of science or clergy in [public] catechumen classes.

The Notion of Role Expectation in Teaching Public Knowledge

The notion of public knowledge is intimately bound to the notion of teaching. It makes little sense to assert that someone “knows” something in this context if he is the only person who knows it. Also, public knowledge assumes peer review of the ideas therefore public knowledge must be teachable.

An Example of Honesty and Transparency Trumping Scientific Truths

Think of a chemistry professor who prefixes his remarks by saying this:

  1. “Before I begin, I want you to know that I feel free to tell you a lie whenever I feel it is for your own good.”
  2. “Now, the boiling point of water at sea level is 212 degrees fahrenheit plus or minus one degree.”

Now what is the student to make of this? What of the trust that the students have for the teacher and his truths? Does he just assume the teacher is telling the truth? Does he question everything that the teacher says? What does it mean to be a teacher anyway? Or for that matter what does it mean to be a textbook? We can not go out and verify everything in our lives. We must learn to trust some sources. The educational process is not really about acquiring mere facts but about learning how to verify facts and sources that one comes across in a lifetime. I have learned that no one is completely trustworthy on all subjects even in her own field.

Examples of Religious Truths Trumping Honesty and Transparency

Clement of Alexandria claimed that Christians were so honest that they should not be required to take public oaths. However, in his principle he called “economy”, it was a good and holy thing to lie to students as long as the motive was for their own good. John Henry Cardinal Newman took this a step further and wrote a whole paper on the worthy art of lying which he called “Reservation.” I hasten to add that he meant reservation of the truth and not reservation of the Sacrament in this context. He quoted Clement of Alexandria as well as the pseudo-philosophers called sophists in justifying his case. Even Anglicans today respect him for the great spiritual work he did in helping to transfigure a pretty low ebb spirituality into the revitalization of the English Church. Through this Oxford Movement were built magnificent churches in the heart of worker and lower middle class communities. The communicants felt that these Churches belonged to them. But the trusted people, the scholars Newman had worked with for years were aghast when he suddenly converted to Rome and realized that, for years, he had been preaching like a Protestant while introducing the very Catholic practices that he was publicly condemning.

As a man of God, I admire Cardinal Newman. However I am very troubled about the way religious people have often played loose with the truth. This is only one example of many in Church Tradition we shall examine. I hope you are troubled about this too. The European Universities were all built by the Church. Today in America, theological studies are usually banned from them and ushered off to theological colleges partly for that reason I fear.

“Lies and conspiracies are hatched in the dark. Truth shines in the light.”

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