Acton Institute Powerblog

Truth and Consequences

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Tonight FOX’s new hit gameshow “Moment of Truth” will air its latest installment. For those not familiar with the show’s premise, the contestant submits to a lie detector test before the show is taped. A series of questions are asked which form the basis for the pool of questions that will be asked again during the taping. If the answers given during the taping match the results of the previous interview, the contestant stands to win a great deal of money (up to $500,000).

The appeal of the show has to do with the content of the questions. They deal with intimate personal details regarding romantic relationships, professional behavior at work, familial rivalries and strife, and so on. As has been observed by many, the consequences that go along with telling the truth under these circumstances have the potential to be extremely damaging, both professionally and personally.

Here, for instance, is a woman who “lost it all,” the money and her marriage:

What should we think about the show’s popularity? Part of it has to do with the “car-wreck” phenomenon. People can’t help but watch in macabre fascination when disaster strikes someone else. So-called “reality TV” illustrates the voyeuristic impulses of American pop culture. There’s plenty to rail against in such base impulse: salaciousness, impropriety, disrespect of marriage and family, materialism, and so on.

But I want to pay special attention to the contestants’ motivations. They are essentially willing to air any and all secrets (what used to be called “dirty laundry”) to the public in exchange for money (or merely the chance to win money, depending on their success). That people are actually eager to get on the show as a contestant speaks to how little they truly value and are willing to “monetize” their personal relationships.

The Bible’s warnings about the swearing of oaths, and the commandment against telling falsehood, don’t give positive sanction to a show like this. The commandment against false witness, for instance, is really about the proper use of communication and speech in human relationships. We are to build others up with our speech, reigning in our tongues, and forsaking the urge to engage in gossip and slander others. This show financially rewards what the commandment prohibits.

Moreover, we cannot simply hide behind the claim that it’s the “truth” for a modicum of moral permissibility. There’s a proper time and a proper place to speak the truth, and the truth about personal relationships isn’t willy-nilly owed or due to anyone who happens to own a TV. The truth can actually be subverted and undermined depending on the manner and the context within which it is told. That’s why the Christian practice of confession, whether understood as a sacrament or as an option for personal sanctification and accountability, has always been understood to necessarily be “private.”

“Moment of Truth” is about the commodification of “truth” in pursuit purely of material gain. And as such, not only has the “truth” been corrupted, but so have the “truth” tellers and those who patronize such horrid displays.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Dan VandeBunte

    I saw the episode in the video.

    Absolutely horrifying.

    At one point the woman’s husband tells her that she’s pretty much ruined their marriage so she should continue to go for as much money as possible (how messed up is that?).

    The host even taped some bits to be aired when the show returned from commercial breaks where he states that he thought the show went too far and didn’t think it should be aired. He still hosts the show and the show still boasts similar scandals in their promos. I guess he didn’t have that big a problem with it after all.

    I also do not think you were harsh enough when you described it as “disrespect for marriage and family”. I think it goes way beyond disrespect. It’s contempt for marriage and family. The woman resented her husband. She wished she hadn’t married him. She wanted a way out. She wanted to continue to live the life she lived before she met him. Even if I disrespect someone, I’m not going on national TV to embarrass them. This goes *WAY* beyond disrespect, in my opinion.

  • “I also do not think you were harsh enough…. This goes WAY beyond disrespect, in my opinion.”

    Agreed and agreed.

  • I also agree you weren’t harsh enough; in fact not even close. However, that is becoming less relevant as the tone of your critique implies this is a worsening (dynamic) problem. In truth, for a majority of our citizens, the God of the Bible (and His directions) has been irrelevant long before this show.

    Voyeurism, miscegenation, incest, pedophilia, homosexuality, etc., have long enjoyed a celebrated status in the pornography industry. With shows like this, we can enjoy primetime voyeuristic sadomasochism (as much as the censors will allow, currently). It is rewarded well, more popular than Christian programming, and utterly shameless.

    In other words, it is a mark of an untethered society, long past the time of even pretending to show a restrained effort.

    Anyone who is truly surprised by this or the worse that is to come, is either a simpleton or unobservant. Feigning outrage is a poor coping mechanism and a needless distraction from the inevitable. Those that don’t plan accordingly are doing a disservice to God, their families, and themselves.

  • By Scott Williams In my previous post on the television show, The Moment of Truth, I told about Lauren Cleri, who answered a series of questions that may have damaged her marriage beyond repair. Not all contestants are that shameless,

  • The old sayin’ that comes to mind for this latest incarnation of REALITY TV SHOW: “Moment of Truth”?

    Discretion is the better part of valor.

    The show seemed they had alot of sensationalism, more than substance.