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Integrity is more than Not Lying Outright

People often think that legalism is about trying very hard to be right, and that the main problem with it is that people can’t succeed at it. I would suggest that there’s something more characteristic of legalism, and that it results from trying to paste on the narrow letter of some “right” things to oneself without really taking it in.

A legalist reads the commandment about “bearing false witness against one’s neighbor” and construes it very narrowly, either as lying under oath or as lying outright. Then he tries not to lie outright. If he can deceive people in some way other than lying directly, he doesn’t care. Similarly the legalist looks at a list of sexual commands and tries not to do those specific things, or perhaps not get caught doing them (note that he’s not lying outright, just deceiving).

The alternative, one taught by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is to take the right approach into one’s mind and heart and then live out that integrity. This person tries to live in a non-deceptive manner. If he finds he has deceived someone, that’s the time for confession and repentance. In sexual matters, he tries to live up to his promises and not to injure people through irresponsible activity. If he fails, he does his best to restore damaged relationships and to limit the hurt to others.

Please note here that I’m not comparing Christianity and Judaism. If that were not inappropriately done so often I wouldn’t have to mention it. There’s no basic reason why a Jew must be a legalist and a Christian not. I personally know many examples of Christian legalists, and Jewish examples of a deeply internal faith and ethic. In fact, in speaking the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was teaching within the range of Judaism of his time.

That’s how long it takes me to get to my point, which is this: Those who fuss over gluing moths to tree trunks (a place where they would naturally rest, but not when it was convenient to photograph them) in order to take their pictures, should perhaps not stage scenes themselves. I normally have no problem with staging scenes in order to take photographs, as long as the staging is either true to life or appropriate to the genre involved.

But integrity involves a consistent viewpoint. If you believe staging a scene is inappropriate, you shouldn’t do it. If you think it’s OK, it should be OK for your enemies as well.

This goes a step further if the scene was staged to suggest that an event occurred in which more Pepperdine students attended than actually did. (HT: The Panda’s Thumb) But the whole thing would be nitpicking if we were not dealing with a standard already set. I would suggest dropping both, but I eagerly await a clear repudiation of the claim of fraud in the peppered moth case.

I doubt that will happen, but it should.

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