Moral Theology, Chapter 18

Lies, slander, and gossip. Hypocrisy. Christian mercy and well-wishing. Physical and spiritual help. Personal and social philanthropy


One of the main deficiencies of our contemporary society is falsehood. It appears in different forms, especially in the common form of lying. In human conversations and as deceit in business life.

It is considered normal to confirm something without knowing whether it is true or not; to say “not at home” in order to get rid of guests or petitioners; to call oneself ill when you are healthy and so on (included here are also false “compliments”, flattery, praise, etc.). People forget that falsehood is from the devil, whom Christ the Savior called a liar and the father of lies. Thus, every liar is a collaborator and weapon of the devil. It has already been said in the Old Testament that, “lying lips are abominations to the Lord” (Proverbs 12:22).

Gossip and slander are especially dangerous forms of falsehood. It is well understood by everyone what gossip is. The devil concocts nets of temptation and lies entangling and darkening kind relations between people. This gossip is the child of lies and idle talk and has become the beloved property of almost every conversation. Even worse and more grievous is slander, that is, consciously lying about a person with the aim of hurting him. This lie is especially diabolic, for the very word “devil” means “slanderer”.

When the Lord Jesus Christ exposed the Sadducees and Pharisees, He usually called them hypocrites, indicating that grievous form of falsehood, hypocrisy, which so filled these “self-styled” leaders of the people. The Pharisees were externally holy but malicious, lying haters of truth and goodness in their hearts and in their souls. The Lord, because of this, compared them to whited sepulchers which are beautiful on the outside but filed with dead bones and every kind of impurity inside. In our days, individual religious hypocrisy has lessened; however, the vice of hypocrisy has now spread in the form of pretending and wanting, to seem and not to be. A Christian strives of course not to seem, but to be, good. This is not easy and most often goes unnoticed except by for All-seeing God. Many, especially among the youth, try to seem more intelligent, more beautiful, more talented, more mature and even kinder than they actually are. The habit and love for dressing up and “make up” so common in our days is based upon this deceitful foundation. This is how deadly deceit and insincerity occur so often, destroying people and their happiness, which turns out to be based upon deceit and not truth.

We have already mentioned that a Christian bases his relationship to others on love and therefore tries to be kind to them. Whoever does not do good is not a Christian. And this kindness, this love for your brother must be unfailingly expressed in deeds of mercy and well-wishing towards all. It is not in vain that the Savior commanded us to love not only those who love us, but also those who hate us. In His sermon about the Dread Last Judgment, He clearly indicated what would be asked from us first of all. Neither wealth nor glory nor education will have the main and sufficient significance there. The basis of the Last Judgment is that terrible and fateful question for egotists and narcissists, “how did we serve our brothers?” Christ enumerates six main kinds of physical help. Identifying Himself in his love, indulgence, and mercy with every pauper and person needing help, He said, For I was hungry, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me (Mathew 25:35–36). But Saint John Chrysostom did not say in vain that, “the forms of mercy are varied and broad is this commandment.” Yes, the commandment of mercy encompasses all of man’s life, and the Lord continually revealed the comforting truth to His Saints that man’s most grievous sins are covered by mercy and compassion.

Of course, Christian help is not exhausted by physical help. There is also spiritual help, in many instances immeasurably more important and precious. Often, a simple word of sincere sympathy, comfort, and understanding is dearer than any material support for a despairing person. And who will argue against the path of saving a man through a sympathetic heart and an intimate talk against drunkenness or the sin of suicide. This is a service which cannot be appraised by any amount of money. Apostle James wrote about such precious spiritual help, the salvation of a person’s soul, He which converted the sinner from error of his way shall save a soul from death and shall hide a multitude of sins (James 5:20).

Ending this discussion about the debt of charity to our brothers, let us clarify one more question about the difference between personal charity and social philanthropy. Examples of the former are giving alms to the blind, or to an encountered pauper, accepting an orphan from a poor family, and so forth. Examples of the latter are the establishment of philanthropic societies by responsive people, of clubs of sobriety, enlightenment, a refuge for children or the sick or the elderly, and so forth. Unquestionably, the basic advantage of philanthropy of the first form is that the Lord spoke about precisely this form everywhere in the Holy Gospel. And of course, this personal help can create a highly Christian relationship of concern, gratitude, and mutual love between people. However, a disadvantage of this kind of personal charity is that here a vast possibility for deceit, dishonesty, and constant begging is opened up. Often, the more tiresome beggars are those who essentially do not deserve any help; but people who really do need it do not resolve to ask for it. And who knows on what aim a nickel or dime will be spent…

This is far from what occurs in social philanthropy, which is not incidental but planned and organized, bringing many people substantial benefit. True, it has much fewer living ties of personal love and trust which exist in individual charity, but everyone who gives his alms or dues through social philanthropy knows that he takes a genuine Christian concern for something really serious and precious. He is insured to a significant degree against deceit and the dishonesty of undeserved begging, which so often accompanies individual charitable works.

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