“A poor man is better than a liar” (Proverbs 19:22b).

Even the most hideous person from the lowest social class is despised less than a known liar. One of the best characteristics of most Americans (at least the ones I have known), besides their generosity and volunteerism, is that they tend to be sincere and honest. They do not take lying lightly and avoid it regularly. If they do lie, they often feel badly and even eventually confess what they did to clear their conscience. Americans I have known do not applaud those who cheat on tests, and cheaters are not eager to boast about their efforts (unlike Chilean students). Honesty is important for most Americans I have met. The same thing could be said of people I have known in Britain and the northern part of Europe. I have been blessed with dozens of friends from America and around the world. Some of the great virtues which I have noted in all of them is a commitment to be honest, to do what they say, and not to bear false witness. Unfortunately, not all Americans are like them, even if most are so.
Americans’ tendency toward being honest is what made Bill Clinton’s crass lie under oath so shocking. It was perhaps more egregious than his sexual sins. Unfortunately, many Americans suffer on account of the lies of others. My personal experience (and present reality), for instance, has been shaped in part by the lies and perjuries of my ex-wife, her mother, her aunts and uncles, and her brother and sister-in-law. (One of those blood-thicker-than-water deals.) They lied in family court and in sworn affidavits; my ex-wife lied to the police and to friends too. And they “got away with it.” My friends and family who looked on over my divorce case were shocked at the crass and brazen willingness of those ex-family members to lie and damage someone else with the utter falsehoods they perpetrated. While my losses were great on account of their viciousness, I also gained many lifelong and strong friendships from those who were appalled by seeing an honest (even if imperfect) man besmeared and damaged by liars. Equally shocking was watching the liars gloat over my destruction and the ripping apart of my family and destroying most family assets. Perhaps more egregious than all of this sin is the fact that most of these people are professing Christians, members of the Palmetto Hills Presbyterian Church in America (Fountain Inn, South Carolina). How sad is it when churches eager for tithe money or other reasons are willing to aid, abet, and cover the evil acts of their sinful members! What a shame it is when Evangelicals are blatant liars!
Yet every day of their lives my ex-family members and their church leaders will have to live with what they have done. Perhaps someday their conscience will bother them, knowing  that they were able to manipulate the state court by lying and thus cause irreparable harm to another human being. Liars, after all, do not really get away with anything. God, of course, saw what they did and said and will have the ultimate say on Judgment Day.

In every way liars are the most pathetic sort of people. They are truly worthy of being despised as the Proverb says. And in America, where such crass lying is still relatively scarce, they are often despised. But in other places in the world, including Chile, liars fare far better.

Latinos were not shocked by Bill Clinton’s sin. It was par for the course insofar as their reality is concerned. Nor would any of them surprised to hear that my ex-family members lied and got away with it. What surprises them is that so many people from America are not liars like most of their neighbors in Latin America, and that Americans are so willing to trust others and take them at their word. The personal information I have related above is not a bitter diatribe but rather a depiction of facts that will be helpful in making comparisons between lying in the USA and Chile. The key point here is that I have personal experience with the bad effects caused by liars in both the USA and Chile, and thus I am able to make some educated comparisons. Indeed, I think I am well-qualified to write on this theme.
I have written on the topic of lying in Chile before, and here I can add some refinement based on subsequent experiences over two more years in Chile. Here is the bottom line: Most Chileans are liars, cheaters and unreliable. One cannot take a typical Chilean at his word. In my experience, the only exceptions to this general rule are most of the academics I have worked with (except for a few leftist, socialist, ecologist ones that lie just like most other Chileans). The same is true of Chilean medical doctors I have seen and even an occasional honest lawyer. I have met an honest realtor too, although she spent much of her childhood in South Korea. I know a few honest businessman whose word is their bond.

Nearly all the honest Chileans I know have spent considerable time in the United States, often as graduate students, and have returned to Chile with fond memories about how they were received and treated by Americans. Perhaps as a gesture to such experience, these people have always dealt generously and honestly with me and I appreciate them very much for that fact. The great majority of Evangelical Baptists and Reformed Presbyterians that I come in contact with in Chile are honest as well. Yet even honest Chileans are willing to tell “white lies” in order not to offend or hurt someone’s feelings. They do not want anyone to worry after all. This sort of culturally-driven lie was highlighted in this earlier post. To that extent, nearly all Chileans are liars, even if they are not really “bad” ones.

Regrettably, Chileans who do not have the occasional or routine practice of telling big lies (i.e., those designed to harm someone) are the exception rather than the rule. In my experience, let me underscore, most Chileans are liars. For example, I have seen upper-middle class employers lie about contract terms promised verbally at the outset in order not to pay a person’s full salary. The employer did not provide a written contract immediately but chose to wait six months to do so, hiding behind a (largely) made-up problem of too much organizational “bureaucracy” as his excuse. He wanted to “keep his options open” for not keeping his word and offer of employment. (I have heard myriad similar stories; so make sure you have a contract in hand immediately after starting a job in Chile.) I have seen a car dealership owner sell a brand new Chinese pickup truck with known defects, promising to have them fixed after the sale is completed (since it was sold with a one-year warranty), only to never do some of the needed work on the vehicle. When the matter finally went to court, the owner (a member of Chile’s upper middle class) invented all sorts of creative lies in order to avoid fulfilling his obligation. I have seen an elderly man in Baptist church who reportedly embezzled money and goods destined for the poor that were sent down by American missionaries. The American used to be the man’s pastor (and he thus enjoyed a close, trusting relationship with the man). I have seen trusted builders, with otherwise impeccable reputations, take their client’s money and not complete the project they promised, or not make good on errors they generated and thus left their client holding the bag.

I have witnessed students lie to professors, children lie to parents, and employees lie to their employers. I have seen bureaucrats lie to citizens and immigrants. While I could go on with many more examples, suffice it to say that anyone coming to Chile should not trust what most people say. That fact may be sad but it is true. Sure, there are notable exceptions, such as the academic colleagues, doctors, and others who have spent considerable time in the USA or Europe (mentioned above). But they are not the norm in Chile.

I have academic friends and colleagues who vehemently defend their countrymen by saying that very few lie to harm others. They note that it is the cultural “white lie” that afflicts them and that gringos do not understand how things work in Chile. However, with all due respect, I can only report what I have experienced. Most Chileans tend to lie, cheat and act dishonestly whenever they can gain from doing so or avoid a significant cost. They will lie in order not to be held responsible or liable. They do more than just tell “white lies.” Like my ex-wife and her family members, they are pragmatic and selfish liars who will say whatever is most convenient for their personal gain at the expense of another person. Unfortunately, this characteristic is found among some professing Evangelicals and Orthodox Roman Catholics in Chile as well, even if lying is much less common among their ranks. Accordingly, wherever you land in Chile, and under whatever walk of life, be prepared to deal with liars everywhere. As it was with Crete in the days of the Apostle Paul (Titus 1:2), lying is the national sin of Chile.

In spite of all this trouble in Chile, I have chosen to make it my permanent home. I am happily married to a chilena and I am very content in my professional role as a university academic. I love Chile, even if it has serious social problems like lying. Americans will also hate trámites and some other unsavory features of life here, as I noted in this previous blog entry. But on balance life is better in Chile than it is in the United States or Western Europe. After all, those destinations have many social problems too, not the least of which are rampant abortion, feminist public policy, ecological fanaticism, high-taxation for socialism, and anti-family policies.

Who knows? Perhaps some of the negative social aspects of Chile will be mitigated over time. We all know that “hope springs eternal.”