“Distance yourself from a matter of falsehood.” (Exodus 23:7).
It is interesting that no biblical injunction bans lying. While the Bible values honesty and clarity and condemns duplicity, that spirit is never reduced to law. By the rabbinic epoch, there were times when it was considered appropriate to bend the truth. The clearest is the demand that when rejoicing a bridal couple one ought to compliment the bride on her beauty. The Sages were fully aware that not all brides are beautiful. I am sure that then as now, some brides were physically homely. Still the Talmud teaches that it is preferable to sometimes bend the truth. In the case of the bride, it was suggested that even if she were not gorgeous, there had to be some beauty in her, or the groom would not have married her.
Cases of white lies in the Bible are not rare. Sarah lies about chuckling when she overheard a conversation in which Abraham was told that she would bear a child by the same time next year, at 90 years of age. Samson speaks in riddles to rattle those around him, rather than in clear, bold statements of clarity. David is caught by Nathan the prophet when he uses his position as general of the army to send Bathsheba’s husband to his death; eliminating a competitor for her affections. Uriah the Hittite went to his death fulfilling commitments to his adopted king, not knowing his commander was hiding behind his office to make Bathsheba a widow.
Clarity is desirable at times. We are bothered when our government hides behind excuses to deny information citizens want, even when needs for national security might be manifest. Pentagon Papers grabbed attention in the Viet Nam era. In the last decade Wiki leaks were also controversial. Americans hate it whether it is President Obama or President Bush, or anyone who invokes national security as a reason for secrecy. Some are equally bothered when timetables are openly set for future actions, wondering how this might impinge on American security, and certainly on the safety of American troops. To be blunt, Americans like it both ways.
Last week, in a widely broadcast news conference before leaving on vacation, President Obama commended the controversial program that recently received more attention than it deserves as aspects of the program had been unfortunately leaked to the public. In addition there was forboding that some dangerous information may have been linked to American adversaries. The program dates from his predecessor, and yet it is acclaimed equally by both sides of the congressional aisle. As several pundits noted, President Obama called for no substantive change to the NSA program of data gathering. What he did ask for was greater transparency in how that "secret" mission is fulfilled. The NSA denies opening or reading data gathered through its automated process unless it receives warrants from the court. Perhaps it is to the allotting of warrants that President Obama referred, it is very unclear. Just what the NSA does with the huge stockpile also remains an enigma.
It is at best confusing how both ends, increasing transparency while maintaining secrecy, can be met simultaneously. Americans admire clarity, transparency and honesty. Yet just as Uriah, at times there might be things we really do not want to know.