Recently, we have been hearing references in the news to the phrase “alternative facts” when folks are debating the veracity of the reporting on an event. The truth is, while there can be different perspectives and different interpretations of the same event, there is an objective element to the story that demands accuracy.
For catechists, this issue provides us with an opportunity to talk about the Eighth Commandment, which is ultimately about communicating truth. I’ve always loved how the Grade 8 student text of the Christ Our Life program talks to young people about this topic:
Truth in Media
We are continually exposed to an unending flow of information through magazines, TV, the Internet, and many other forms of communication. Even if we try to not pay attention, communication media, for better or worse, shape us and the society we live in.
The fact is that we have a right to information based on truth. All the communication media have the responsibility to communicate information honestly and fairly. Because of our commitment to honor the truth, we need to question the media we are exposed to, be it music, movies, or cable news. We then need to critically evaluate the messages we receive.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that lies affect our ability to know “which is a condition of every judgment and decision. It contains the seed of discord and all consequent evils. Lying is destructive of society; it undermines trust among men and tears apart the fabric of social relationships.” (2482–2486)
Here is a simple activity I have used with intermediate-age children to teach about the Eighth Commandment (part of my Ten Commandments Scripts, which are to be presented by the children):
THE EIGHTH COMMANDMENT: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
SAY: The Eighth Commandment is “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. Since this commandment is about honesty and truth, we’re going to play a little game that tests your ability to separate lies from the truth. My partner is going to read five statements to you about him/herself. Only one of the statements is true; the other four are false. You need to try to guess which is true and which are false. OK? Listen closely:
<Partner reads the list.>
a. I once visited Portugal.
c. When I was five years old, I met Peyton Manning.
d. I had my appendix removed when I was seven.
e. I’m allergic to popcorn.
<Repeat the statements.>
SAY: OK, how many of you think that statement a, “I once visited Portugal” is true? Raise your hand. Repeat for b, c, d, and e.>
SAY: Congratulations to those who picked b. <Read the statement.> That is true! The others are all false. The Eighth Commandment teaches us that we are to be people who honor the truth. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” which means that when we live in the truth, we live in Jesus. The Eighth Commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor,” teaches us to be careful about the words we speak so that no harm comes to ourselves or others as a result of what we say.
* * *
From there, catechists can address the many issues that the Catechism addresses under the topic of the Eighth Commandment, including, but not limited to:
- Living and witnessing truth (CCC 2468–2474).
- Sins to avoid: lying, perjury, rash judgment, detraction, calumny, boasting, making fun of others (CCC 2475–2487).
- Keeping secrets and confidences (CCC 2489).
- The responsibilities of the media (CCC 2493–2503).
Finally, here is a great activity that encourages young people to create “proverbs”—short sayings that help us to remember and/or live the Eighth Commandment: The Language of Truth.