The Father of Lies

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.

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17 Responses to “The Father of Lies”
  1. Joshie says:

    Right on Jennifer…Fr. Corapi always likes to expound on the link between lies and death…”Father of lies AND murderer from the beginning.” Along with the danger of relativism- I believe Peter Kreeft (who wrote a tremendous book on it: Refuting Moral Relativism) layed it out simply. If someone doesn’t believe in objective absolute, they can’t break (sin) them, therefore they can’t be sinners, therefore they don’t need to repent, therefore they don’t need a savior, therefore they don’t need Jesus. Truly, Jesus is the Truth. The step of rejecting one is a rejection of the other. Great blog!

  2. Leticia says:

    Joshie and Jen have described succintly THE biggest problem with Western Civilization. The problem of no OBJECTIVE TRUTH. This may also be seen as a denial of Natural Law, the innate sense of right and wrong which God has built into us.
    Scientists have actually found a place in the brain where doing good triggers a positive reaction similar to love and chocolate (we knew those were both good!). They have located our natural law hardwiring!

  3. Abigail says:

    Wow, Jen. I hadn’t really put all this together before.

  4. La gallina says:

    WOW!!!!!!!! I don’t know how you come up with these amazing truths. But you are so right. Back when I didn’t believe in God I really lived a “good” life — in my own distorted mind. I didn’t believe in sin, so I wasn’t sinning.

  5. november says:

    Jen,

    This a wonderfully thought-provoking post. I’ve mulled this over for the last couple days and the idea of evil manifesting itself as lies is very profound. As an evangelical Christian for eight years prior to beginning my Catholic journey last year, I’d been very aware of Satan’s identity as the Father of Lies, but this post just expands that idea so much more and shows me how in the supposedly tiny little acts of deceits that I commit, I am cooperating with him. Whoa, did the Holy Spirit convict me!

    I must tell you that God consistently uses you to speak to me. Although our life circumstances are different in many ways and I’ve only commented once before, I am a faithful reader of your blog and your posts never fail to resonate with me and speak truth to me.

    Best to you!

  6. Jennifer F. says:

    Thank you all for your kind words!

  7. Rebekka says:

    Wow. Thank you for this post. I really needed to hear this.

    Now I’m going to set my alarm so I can get up and go to Mass tomorrow, even though I’m getting over a cold and need my rest. ;-)

  8. Amy Jane (Untangling Tales) says:

    Thanks for a thoughtful post (I linked this).

  9. Dedee says:

    Great post.

    Thanks for the things to think about today.

    (Coming to you by way of Amy Jane)

  10. Sassy Belle says:

    Absolutely… Wow. That’s so true, and I think that often, we are also incredibly slow to recognize the work of the enemy in our lives… I got into an actual argument (raised voices and everything) with my pastor a few days ago. I spent two days being outraged. How could HE do that?! He’s my PASTOR. And a friend gently asked me how could I yell at my pastor? He’s my brother in Christ, and I sinned against him as he sinned against me. But you’re right, we tell ourselves lies to justify our sinful behavior. Man. Spot on!

  11. The Ironic Catholic says:

    Jen, this is great stuff. God enlightened me on this one a year ago when I was thinking about a part of my life where for years I believed what was essentially a lie about myself, and that caused me to be self-destructive in all kinds of ways. I was thinking about how weird that was, how it wasn’t even logical, and suddenly in my mind: “Satan is the father of lies.” Wow.

  12. Joe says:

    Beautiful. So that you know, Plato has a very similar argument about evil actions (us deceiving ourselves into doing evil while thinking it is good). Which means your mind is in great company; like St. Augustine!

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