Sabahat Ali Rajput, Missionary, Mexico
There’s a friend who comes knocking every time we tell a lie. He waits a while in hope that we might open the door and then leaves.
He’s persistent – and quite annoyingly so. He occasionally slips into our veins and begs our blood to bellow in revolt against the lie we’re about to tell. At times, he tugs at the strings of our hearts, making them run as though away from the scene of a crime. And sometimes, he even tries to choke us because he knows that between life and falsehood, “neither can live while the other survives.”
At first, it’s loud and clear. But each time, the knocking gets a little quieter, subdued, restrained; he comes back time and time again, until one fateful day, he doesn’t. The deaf ears that a person casts toward this sincere and warm friend ends up killing them both.
And that is the beginning of the end.
The spectacular biochemistry associated with truth and falsehood directly impacts not only our neurological functions, behaviours, habits and character, but permeates the deepest recesses of our soul.
Much like the measles virus, lies are self-replicating – they possess the cunning capacity to grow rapidly – and like Hansen’s disease (more popularly known as leprosy), are posthaste at purging away the light of truth.
Lies are not always quick to die, but they are very quick to kill.
The science of falsehood – An evil that trains itself
The brain scans conducted through fMRI’s (functional magnetic resonance imaging) of subjects telling lies reveal that the first victim of this bloodless moral murder is the liar himself.
Scientists at the University of London who partnered with Duke University found that when they scanned subjects telling lies after having just told a previous lie, their brain activity was reduced in certain regions of the cranium – particularly in the Amygdala – which is a pair of almond-shaped masses deeply connected to our emotions. (N Garrett et al. The brain adapts to dishonesty, Nature Neuroscience, Published online, 24 October 2016)
It is crucial to point out that while most other experiments ask its subjects to tell pre-planned lies, this experiment allowed for organic and creative lies, which, after all, reflects real-life catalysers and incentives to oppose the truth. Hence, the decision to subjectively lie requires us to disconnect from our emotional self which seeks to call us toward truth.
Even more remarkable was that when a person was about to lie, the sudden drop of activity in the emotional centres of the brain proved to be a “fib-forecast,” indicating that the subject was about to lie. Thus, not only is there a direct correlation between lying and a decrease in general brain activity, which demonstrates how lies are connected to baser levels of thought processes, but once a person lies, he unwittingly trains the brain to assume a neurophysiological temperament conditioned to lie with greater ease and less thinking the next time, and the time after that.
Falsehood and the slippery slope toward psychopathy
Each one of the most notorious and frozen-cold sociopaths ever recorded have one thing in common – they were all world-class puppeteers of the truth. They learned to manipulate the reality with such ease and evasive finesse that they could imperceptibly massacre dozens while living “amicably” in our midst as charming heroes.
Such swindling duplicity was born – science now tells us – from perfecting lies at a young age. As we now know, lying physically decays the centres of our brain which control and regulate emotions. By progressively numbing his own emotions, a liar inadvertently becomes the killer of his own conscience. It is out of this moral death that many more murders and moral massacres are born.
That’s not to say that all psychopaths are killers, rather the qualities which award one this unenviable title are each so inextricably ingrained with falsehood, lying and the manipulation of truth that one is compelled to admit that deception and fibs are hugely responsible for this uninhibited flame known as lying.
Professor Essi Viding, recipient of the much-coveted Royal Society Rosalind Franklin Award of 2017, explains that most psychopaths are defined by the following:
- A lack of remorse and guilt
- Superficial charm
- A bloviated or exaggerated perception of self-worth, which causes them to become aggressively defensive
- Pathological lying and manipulation of truth
- Extreme unreliability
What’s incredibly fascinating is that the Holy Prophetsa has also used the word “hypocrite”, which is generally coined for a spiritually or morally backward person with qualities which almost echo the above characteristics of a psychopath.
Thus, we read in the Sahih Muslim that the Holy Prophetsa said:
“Whoever has the following four characteristics is a real hypocrite, and whoever has one of these characteristics has an element of hypocrisy, until he leaves that habit:
• When he speaks, he tells a lie [His speech is mingled with falsehood, and he utters falsehood]
• When he makes a contract, he breaks it
• When he makes a promise, he does not follow through [This is also a form of falsehood]
• When he argues, he starts using foul language
Evidently, there exists an incontrovertible connection between the spiritual and neurophysiological consequences of lying. Islam places lying right next to the cardinal sin of Shirk – associating partners with Allah Almighty. (Surah al-Hajj, Ch.22: V.31)
Because a lie is not founded upon reality, it is not weighed down by anything and begins to race madly in every which direction its fancy flies. It is in the very nature of nifaq (the Arabic word for hypocrisy, duplicity and deceit) that it diminishes with time, becomes exhausted and creeps back into its hole. (Dictionary of the Holy Quran)
It’s no wonder then that those who allow their fabrications to massacre their emotional faculties also suffer from anti-social tendencies and behaviours. They become engrossed in a sticky and taxing web of lies. Slowly, this once insignificant spider’s web woven from the elusive silk of deceit becomes a raging black-hole, ravenously sucking dry all their energies, just to preserve a fictitious reality.
Of course, no one could have put it better than the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa, when he said:
“Lying leads a person toward (other) evils, and evils pave his way to the Fire; and a person keeps lying till, in the sight of Allah, he is named a liar.’ (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab-ul-Adab)
Another hadith relates that a man came asking the Messengersa of Allah, which actions lead one to the fire, to which the Holy Prophetsa replied:
“It is falsehood. When someone tells a lie, he becomes disobedient and disobedience is kufr[disbelief]. When the person eventually becomes established in this disbelief, he enters the Fire.” (Musnad Ahmad bin Hanbal, Vol. 2, p. 176 [Beirut])
It’s imperative to note that the fire which ensnares a liar begins in this world and like any fire, the more oxygen it gets, the more indignantly it roars, until finally its speaker hears nothing but the deafening lies and starts to make them his truth.
This is the purport of the Holy Prophetsa when he comments that “the person eventually becomes established” in uttering falsehoods. He is altogether stripped of His God-given ability to distinguish between truth and falsehood, just as he consistently chose to tear off the mantle of truth for so long a time.
And so, this 1 April, while many will opt for celebrating with a fib or two, let’s encourage our colleagues and friends who might think its alright to tell a white lie to check the door and see whose been knocking all this time, lest it’s the very last time he comes to visit.