Applications for mobile phones, iPads and tablets are all the rage these days. Which developer wouldn’t love his or her app to get 200,000 downloads in the first month of release — and have Apple pick it to be included on the Apple Watch demonstration model. This is what happened to Belle Gibson, who also had a book deal attached to her ‘health, wellness and lifestyle’ app called The Whole Pantry.
However, her meteoric rise was built on a lie. She claimed to have had brain cancer that was cured by holistic ‘clean’ living —
but neither claim was true. An anonymous email to Elle magazine claimed she was a compulsive liar and master manipulator, followed by an article in the Sydney Morning Herald that her company had failed to donate $300,000 in funds promised to various charities.
In April 2015 Gibson admitted “None of it’s true…I am still jumping between what I think I know and what is reality…If I don’t have an answer, then I sort of theorise it myself and come up with one.” Her book deal stopped, her app was dropped, and social media exploded furiously against her.
And then her mother, in a desperate attempt at reconciliation after having earlier expressed her disappointment with Belle’s behaviour, declared that “Belle told a white lie…Belle is allowed to tell little porky pies…Nobody complained about Belle when she was helping people…” Well, now Belle is answerable to Consumer Affairs Victoria.
I’m not sure what angers me more: the deception or the whitewash (and talking about white, there is no such thing as a white, black or grey lie — it either is a lie or is not).
In 2015 I attended the funeral of the young son of Christian friends. He passed away just before his sixth birthday. He had had a brain tumour since he was one year old. Repeated surgery and chemotherapy were unable to completely clear the tumour, and, despite the valiant efforts of his parents and carers, he eventually succumbed. I have only an inkling of how desperate his parents must have been. I also know that many people with cancer bought Gibson’s app with the vain hope that they would get better through the holistic approach that she advocated. How can anyone be ‘allowed’ to tell lies that can hurt, hinder or harm others who are grasping at straws — and how can this possibly be ‘helping’ them?
A friend of mine once stated smugly how he used to ‘elaborate’ on what would otherwise have been a dull story by stretching and embellishing the truth, so that the tale became much more interesting. But he had turned fact to ‘faction’. I’m sure he’s not alone. Baron von Münchhausen told exaggerated accounts of his exploits during the Austro-Russian–Turkish war of the 1730s. Whether he meant to deceive or was just a creative deadpan storyteller, his reputation led to the creation of the fictionalised Munchausen, who had even more over-the-top adventures. These tales were clearly fictitious, as they included travelling to the moon, surviving inside a whale (Jonah’s similar experience in a fish notwithstanding), and riding a cannonball and half a horse. Years later, Munchausen syndrome was the name given to a factitious disorder with predominantly physical symptoms. (Factitious disorder is a psychological illness whereby the sufferer will feign or exaggerate symptoms to mimic a physical illness, while he is actually well.)
So, how should Christians respond to the telling of lies? Make no mistake, as a drop of black dye or poison in a vat of milk is enough to contaminate it, there are no such things as half-truths or ‘white lies’ — a lie is a lie is a lie. What does Scripture command?
The Old Testament clearly states “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour” (Ex 20:16) and “Do not lie” (Lev 19:11). “He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue,…who keeps his oath even when it hurts,…He who does these things will never be shaken” (Ps 15:2-5).
The New Testament says “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbour, for we are all members of one body” (Eph 4:25), and “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self” (Col 3:9,10).
I have great respect for the Spirit-fuelled courage of those who are given the choice to renounce their Christian faith or die, and refuse to do the former, even if it may save their earthly lives. May we never be afraid to stand up for what we know and believe is right and true and pleasing to God.