Honesty: A Principle of Salvation

This is part of the General Conference Odyssey.

I kept thinking of the above research as I was reading through Mark E. Peterson’s October 1971 talk on honesty. What is so troubling about Dan Ariely’s research is the fact that most people are dishonest in small, incremental ways, yet still think of themselves as good, honest people. As Peterson states, “Honesty is a principle of salvation in the kingdom of God. Without it there can be no salvation. Just as no man or woman can be saved without baptism, so no one can be saved without honesty. As we cannot advance in the kingdom of heaven without a resurrection, so we cannot move into celestial realms without honesty. As God condemns immorality, so he denounces hypocrisy, which is one of the worst forms of dishonesty.” The list he provides next is thought-provoking:

  • The lie of the drug peddler that tempts a child to indulge.
  • The lie of the seducer that persuades a girl to surrender her virtue
  • The lie of the shyster that traps his victim in the fraudulent deal.
  • The lie of the tax evader that puts him behind bars.
  • The lie of the student that turns him into a cheat at school.
  • The lie of the child—and too often also of the parent—that creates the generation gap.
  • The lie of the shoddy workman that hides a faulty repair.
  • The lie of a husband or wife that leads to infidelity.
  • The lie of the embezzler that makes him falsify his books.
  • The desire to lie and cheat that turns a mother into a shoplifter.
  • The child who assists her into a potential criminal.
  • The lie on the lips of the neighborhood gossip that brings character assassination to many innocent victims.
  • The dishonest one who seeks to take advantage of or to humiliate or to deliberately injure a fellow human being.
  • It is dishonesty in a householder that persuades him to cheat a little newsboy out of his collections for delivering his newspapers.
  • The lie of a clergyman teaching premarital sex as a type of trial marriage that persuades a girl to lose her virtue.
  • The lie of the hypocrite who berates his wife and belittles his children and is a beast in the home that persuades him to assume a pious role on Sunday and sing in the choir and partake of the sacred emblems of the Lord’s supper.
  • The lie of the infatuated girl who deceives her parents as she enters a life of sin with a boy who would only drag her down.

Honesty is an act of vulnerability, humility, and love. According to Peterson, “Dishonesty is directly related to selfishness, which is its origin and source. Selfishness is at the root of nearly all the disorders that afflict us, and man’s inhumanity to man continues to make countless thousands mourn. If all mankind were honest, we could have heaven here on earth. We would have no need for armies or navies, nor even a policeman in the smallest community, for there would be no crime, no invasion of other people’s rights, no violence of one person against another. There would be no grounds for divorce, nor would we have errant husbands or unfaithful wives. Conflict between children and parents would disappear, and juvenile delinquency would come to an end.” Think about the list above. While there is greed and enmity involved, there is also shame and disconnection. How many cheat in school or work out of fear of not being enough? How many gossip with others in an attempt to create connection, no matter how counterfeit? How many crimes are committed in hopes of gaining acceptance, through status and the like? The sad thing is that dishonesty erodes trust and trust is vital to deep, lasting relationships. This is why no one is saved without honesty because no one is saved in isolation. Dishonesty is a form of betrayal. Psychologist John Gottman, one of the foremost experts on relationships and marriage, has emphasized the importance of trust in relationships. He uses the acronym ATTUNE:

  • Awareness of your partner’s emotion;
  • Turning toward the emotion;
  • Tolerance of two different viewpoints;
  • trying to Understand your partner;
  • Non-defensive responses to your partner;
  • and responding with Empathy.

He shares a personal story to demonstrate what he means:

John Gottman

But how do you build trust? What I’ve found through research is that trust is built in very small moments, which I call “sliding door” moments, after the movie Sliding Doors. In any interaction, there is a possibility of connecting with your partner or turning away from your partner. Let me give you an example of that from my own relationship. One night, I really wanted to finish a mystery novel. I thought I knew who the killer was, but I was anxious to find out. At one point in the night, I put the novel on my bedside and walked into the bathroom.As I passed the mirror, I saw my wife’s face in the reflection, and she looked sad, brushing her hair. There was a sliding door moment. I had a choice. I could sneak out of the bathroom and think, “I don’t want to deal with her sadness tonight, I want to read my novel.” But instead, because I’m a sensitive researcher of relationships, I decided to go into the bathroom. I took the brush from her hair and asked, “What’s the matter, baby?” And she told me why she was sad. Now, at that moment, I was building trust; I was there for her. I was connecting with her rather than choosing to think only about what I wanted. These are the moments, we’ve discovered, that build trust. One such moment is not that important, but if you’re always choosing to turn away, then trust erodes in a relationship—very gradually, very slowly…By contrast, the atom of betrayal is not just turning away—not just turning away from my wife’s sadness in that moment—but doing what Caryl Rusbult called a “CL-ALT,” which stands for “comparison level for alternatives.” What that means is I not only turn away from her sadness, but I think to myself, “I can do better. Who needs this crap? I’m always dealing with her negativity. I can do better.” Once you start thinking that you can do better, then you begin a cascade of not committing to the relationship; of trashing your partner instead of cherishing your partner; of building resentment rather than gratitude; of lowering your investment in the relationship; of not sacrificing for the relationship; and of escalating conflicts.

To ignore his wife’s sadness and avert his eyes would not have been a lack of awareness, but an act of dishonesty. It is within these small moments that we lie the most and thus miss out on the chance for connection. To love and reach out is one of the most vulnerable and honest things you can do. “In the most emphatic and urgent meaning of the word,” write Terryl and Fiona Givens, “love reveals truth. It does not create the impression of truth; love does not merely endow something with a subjective truth–love is the only position or emotional disposition from which we become fully aware of the already present reality of the other person as more than a mere object among other objects in a crowded universe. Love alone reveals the full reality and value of the other person.”1 Peterson notes that Christ “knows that the sinful life is the costly and miserable life, and that wickedness never was happiness. He invites us to bear a lighter burden, one of joy, relief, and deep satisfaction[.]”

And this joy, relief, and satisfaction comes through honest, vulnerable, loving relationships.

Here are the rest of the blog posts for the General Conference Odyssey this week.

7 thoughts on “Honesty: A Principle of Salvation”

  1. Gottman’s work looks really good. Trust is an important issue, and I’d esp. anxious to link up the thinking/reading/studying about trust I’ve done in philosophy, economics, sociology, and psychology with a focus esp. on couples. (I’m also a huge fan of Terry Warner’s work, which I think your at least somewhat familiar with, right?)

  2. I’ve recentky been following the posts for the General Conference project, and look forward to the insight from different people. I had never thought of honesty being so closely linked to love. But, at least in marriage, trust is an essential part of love. However, it seems that in some cases, love , particularly unconditional or godly love, overrides our trust in another person. Surely God’s capacity to love us in spite of our mortal untrustworthiness is evidence of that fact. It’s also true that the more sincere my efforts to be honest with God, and with others, the more spiritual guidance I am able to receive.

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