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What We Can Learn from Brian Williams, his Million Snarky Critics and the Catechism


Susan E. Wills - published on 02/11/15 - updated on 06/07/17

As Christians we know that Satan is the "father of lies" and that, in Jesus, "the whole of God’s truth has been made manifest. … He is the Truth" (Catechism, 2466).  All men and women are "obliged to honor and bear witness to" the truth. (Catechism, 2467)

One need not be religious, however, to recognize that truthfulness is essential in personal human relationships and in society. Thomas Aquinas put it plainly: ‘Men could not live with one another if there were not mutual confidence that they were being truthful to one another” (Catechism, 2469).

Why is that? Humans are equal in dignity. We make decisions and act in reliance both on what we perceive and what we learn from others. When we are lied to, we are likely to make decisions that may be harmful to ourselves and to others. Fraud and misrepresentation are crimes that acknowledge the importance of humans being truthful with one another. Lies violate both the justice and the charity that is due others. (Catechism, 2485). The Catechism explains it in these words:

Since it violates the virtue of truthfulness, a lie does real violence to another. It affects his ability to know, which is a condition of every judgment and decision. It contains the seed of discord and all consequent evils. Lying is destructive of society; it undermines trust among men and tears apart the fabric of social relationships (Catechism, 2486).

Sections 2493 – 2499 of the Catechism address truth in the context of social communications media. "The information provided by the media is at the service of the common good. Society has a right to information based on truth, freedom, justice, and solidarity" (Catechism, 2494). And it has this to say about the duty of journalists:

By the very nature of their profession, journalists have an obligation to serve the truth and not offend against charity in disseminating information.They should strive to respect, with equal care, the nature of the facts and the limits of critical judgment concerning individuals (Catechism, 2497).

The sorrows of Brian Williams have damaged his name, his family, his employer and NBC shareholders. Thanks to a culture with more wit than kindness, he has become a laughing-stock. That some good may come out of this situation, I offer a few suggestions:

Could we all try to think of him as a human being who made a mistake — like all the rest of us — and who now is paying a heavy price for his vanity? It wouldn’t kill us to pray for him.

Recall the times when you were not entirely truthful and thank God that you’re not the butt of a million jokes on account of your lapse.

If you are responsible for encouraging the growth of virtue in young people, as a parent, pastor or teacher, refer to his woes to stress the importance of telling the truth, the consequences of lying and, especially, the requirement of charity and humility with respect to others’ failures.

Lastly, take 20 minutes to read sections
2464 to 2503 of the Catechism, especially the parts about detraction, an almost universal sin against our neighbor and our God.

Susan Wills
 is a senior writer for Aleteia’s English language edition.

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