The following is a takeout from our recent essay on Heaven and Hell. In that essay was discussed three principles to live by instead of (or in addition to) following a religion. Knowing that the sheer length of the essay will deter many typical online readers, I figured it would be a good idea to break some of the key parts into smaller posts. Below is the first and most important of those three principles: live the truth. You can find the original article at this link.
The first principle is to live truthfully. Since truth is rarely pleasant—and often, incredibly painful—living truthfully is the hardest thing in the world to do. We get by everyday by either hiding from or ignoring the truth—not necessarily because we choose to, but because we are able to get by without it.
Humans are one of the only creatures with the knowhow to lie, and the only creature to do it brilliantly. Innovation births as many problems as it does solve them; hence, whilst the prefrontal cortex has enabled our species to do utterly magnificent things, it also injected steroids into the deplorable side of human biology. In fact, some argue evil was the driving force behind the development of the prefrontal cortex; that not only did evil embrace this new mode of expression, but created it.
To live truthfully you must first expose yourself to it. You do this by resolving not to lie. For a serial liar or extremely dishonest person, this philosophy is a non-starter; such people should start by decreasing the amount of lies they tell on a daily basis, and then move to telling only lies that are ’necessary’ (such as white lies). Eventually they will come to see the harm and futility in all lies—that no lies are ’necessary’; then they will be living truthfully. They will be living truthfully, but only at the local level, however.
Living truthfully in the external sense—acting out truth, seeking out truth, exposing the falsehoods of others—is another ball game altogether. It is not necessarily harder, just much more complicated; and the reason is simply that most people don’t live truthfully—because again, the truth hurts. Once you resolve to live truthfully you will see with clearer eyes how many falsehoods exist in the world; and you will feel compelled to call them out; and you will do so with good intentions; and you will be right to do so. But: many of those whom you expose will not appreciate it, and some may turn it against you; others will call you a liar, a cheat, dangerous, wrong, crazy, and all such names under the sun. But let not this be discouraging; let it be the most conspicuous indication of the dying need for truth to be lived.
Resolving not to lie is analogous to holding a mirror up to your own life.12 Once you make the resolution, every potential lie turns into a question: ‘Why do I need to lie, here—what is it about me or my beliefs that I am not okay with, so much so that I must lie?’ This question will constantly birth itself—and your answer to it means everything. I will discuss why in the next principle.
Truth is the hardest pill to swallow, so it is understandable why many people cower in terror—or at least, are resistant to it. Hard pills do sometimes cause choking. When people choke on truth, however, it is not their body that suffocates (although sometimes it is), but their virtue, their spirit, their character. How do they choke? Conscious lying. The choking is hazardous when it involves an individual who is not just conscious of their lies, but has previously resolved not to lie. Goals, like knowledge, can be dangerous affairs indeed.
Are you hiding from the stone-cold truth about the sinking relationship with your spouse? Are you in denial about the bad influence you are having on your children? Are you fooling yourself about how much you love your job? Are you letting your dreams die a sorry death, just like all your friends? Are you constantly putting of the diet until next week? Are you putting on the blinders when it comes to the state of your health? Are you lying to yourself about anything? Are you lying to other about anything? These are hard questions because they force you to stare truth right in the face. They are also the most important questions in life.