Is insincerity tantamount to lying in a piece of writing?

Lying, obviously, is a sin that harms others and ourselves in the long run, not to mention a breach of God’s law; a mortal sin if it meets the three conditions (grave matter, full knowledge and full consent). However, I was wondering whether insincerity in writing is lying, or something equally sinful. I don’t get scrupulous that often.

Let me provide a fictional, hypothetical example (sorry for being lengthy) to illustrate the idea. I’ve bolded the most important parts to keep in mind:

James is a minor. He has an older brother who has had a vague history of spontaneous mental illness that makes him do illegal, dangerous things to others and himself.

James’ parents believe that he should get out of the facility that he lives in because he has been rehabilitated, but James does not share this view, nor is he outspoken about it.

James does not believe that his brother has been rehabilitated, and so he does not want him out unless if he changes (however that may be, if ever).

His parents want him to write a letter to the facility detailing why his brother should get out, how he would contribute to society, etc. James can only help but write this because his parents command him to do so, and he cannot object without looking “wrong” or “inhumane” for not supporting his brother.

**So James goes about with the letter anyhow, writing it. He is insincere with his conclusions, but he does it for his parents’ purpose, not for his own. **

Because James wrote it, is he lying (and thus, sinning)? He did not write with the intent to harm anyone, nor to get away with his own sinful actions. If you conclude that it is a mortal sin especially (though I kind of doubt it, it might not be grave matter) please explain why.

Thanks a lot and God bless. :slight_smile:

How can we judge a teenager when he is forced to comply? It would be like “become a terrorist or die” at the point of gun. I think the parents would be far more culpable than the son. Just my opinion. Peace

I would have to say yes, insincerity does cross the line of honesty.
My personal moral dilemma is whether it is a “lie” if we are contriving to technically tell the truth when in actual fact we are really trying to deceive.

Eg. Nazis knocking on the door asking if there is a Jewish person in my basement.

Now, I will mangle the English language and ‘interpret’ their question in such a way that enables me to truthfully answer - no, there’s not a person in “my” basement - because I rent the house and it’s not MY basement. Or, no…there is neither Jew nor Gentile because we are all one in Christ.

Is that insincerity?

Sorry if I have missed something but why cannot the parents write the letter themselves , or dictate it James and sign it themselves? I have done that for people who cannot write well. All I am then doing is acting as secretary. Still not ideal but better Or why cannot they get eg a health care professional to write?

I think the OPs idea is that the parents did write letters but they want James to write also.

I think it matters if James has told his parents about his concerns. If he feels that his brother has not been rehabilitated, assuming he has some reason (things he’s said, past behavior, whatever) for this belief, he needs to tell his parents about it. If they still insist on his writing the letter, on their heads be it, but wanting to avoid looking bad is not sufficient excuse for writing falsehoods that may have negative consequences for his brother (and possibly sciety?), and you can’t blame the parents for it if they haven’t been told that they’re falsehoods.

And no, “they ought to know how I feel by now” is not sufficient unless they’ve actually been told, in so many words, somewhat recently. Kids often overestimate how much actual knowledge their parents have about things they haven’t been told, especially if they are things the parents don’t want to know. “They’re not stupid, they have to know!” is not true. You have to tell them, in so many words, at a time when you have ensured that they are listening. Parents are only human.

My :twocents:


But this is all a hypothesis anyways; worries enough with real issues…

You would be trying to deceive someone regardless. The question, though, isn’t whether you lied or not; it is whether you were justified in your action. I believe the answer to be an unqualified “yes.”

Yes, precisely. Again, hypothetical, so any answers given will not actually affect anyone’s life.

Would you be kind enough to explain why you quoted my post with this response?

You probably didn’t mean to, but your post sounded to me like you were saying that my thought-out and reasoned response was valueless because the situation was hypothetical, and you have more important things to think about. (which begs the question about why waste time posting on the thread at all?)

I think that even though the situation as stated was hypothetical, a real situation might also turn on someone being coerced by his parents to do something with which he disagreed, and my analysis (that one could only blame the parents if they were explicitly informed that the child disagreed, and that not wanting to look bad is not enough of an excuse) might still be helpful.

I admit it may not be helpful, of course, but the reason wouldn’t be because I was responding to a hypothetical question, but because my analysis was poor. :slight_smile:


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit