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Is honesty the best policy? Of course it is. Or at least that’s the conventional wisdom. But the philosopher Immanuel Kant disagreed. Honesty, he argued, isn’t the best policy, it’s the only policy. Kant was concerned that if we only focus on what “works,” it will be tempting to abandon honesty if it served a goal we had. In other words, he was concerned that if we make the ends (what’s “best”) our sole priority, we will be tempted to lie.
When I was a growing up, I was told that the commandments were given us because they were “good” for us (i.e. “they work”). An example is the prohibition in Leviticus against eating pork. Because you can get trichinosis eating pork that was raw or partially cooked, I was told that God had protected the Israelites against getting sick. But this didn’t make sense to me. Why, didn’t God just tell them to cook it longer.
Years later I was thinking about the commandments God gave Moses and it occurred to me that perhaps they don’t all need to make sense. Maybe God just wants us to obey. That goes against the grain of everything our culture believes. But sometime I think God wants us to obey him not because it works, but because it’s right. In other words, obedience is a discipline. It is a willingness to submit to God despite what might seem right to us in the moment.
Don’t get me wrong, I do think honesty is the best policy, but I also think it’s the only policy. We don’t see the big picture like God does. He’s a good God who wants what’s best for us. Sometimes we have to simply obey “just because.”