The Truth

Growing up as a Seventh-Day Adventist, telling the truth was ridiculously important. If you got a reputation for lying, you were finished. You were lost. You were dead.

The Christian commitment to truth went to extreme lengths. For instance, if you were hiding Jews in your basement from the Nazis and the Nazis stopped by and asked you if you were hiding Jews, you weren’t supposed to lie about it and no, you weren’t supposed to tell the Nazis where the Jews were hiding either, but oh Lord have mercy on us sinners and pray for us in our hour of need.

In the Christian view, lying destroys the soul, even when in the opinion of some theologians, it is morally necessary.

When I discovered Judaism, and found out that lying was positively encouraged in some instances, such as when the goyim were seeking to kill you, I regarded it as a more sophisticated and superior ethical system to the polyester Adventism I knew. I loved that Judaism seemed more based in reality. It was a code to live by rather than die by.

Then, over time, I began to see certain advantages to the extreme Christian commitment to truth. If the Adventist I knew bought a car, he reported the exact price he paid to the DMV or he would have to look at himself in the mirror every day and see a lying cheat staring back. Certain Jews I met (such as Germans and Litvaks) had similar standards, but other Jewish groups did not exhibit the same scruples.

As an Adventist, you reported honestly to your insurance company where you lived while if you were ethnic, it seemed, you were more flexible. If you could save money by giving a false address for your car insurance, you did it.

As a Seventh-Day Adventist and you sold something, you felt a moral obligation to be truthful about its defects. I noticed that ethnic groups didn’t feel this same compulsion quite as often as the people I grew up around.

I went to Seventh-Day Adventist schools and there were classmates who cheated, but they were rarely proud of it. It was not considered cool to game the system. It was not considered to cheat on taxes or customs or in business. It was the mark of low character, you were a moral leper. Unclean! Unclean!

I often take my Seventh-Day Adventist customs into my life in Los Angeles and I’m mocked for being archaic. “That might fly in Seventh-Day Adventist land,” my friends will say, “but that’s not how we do things in Hollywood.”

I notice with some of my new friends, if you need to get something done, you get it done by any means necessary. If you need to make up names and email addresses for a petition, you make them up if necessary. That would be regarded as just not cricket in my Anglo upbringing.

I’d go to events with Jewish friends and be appalled when they’d suggest that just one of us buy a ticket (for, say, a Dennis Prager lecture on morality, yes, we did this once at Valley Beth Shalom, I bought the ticket but then, oy, I’m so ashamed) and then open the back door so the rest could get in for free. As a Seventh-Day Adventist, you don’t tell the conductor that you are 12 when you are 13 to get a cheaper ticket. What’s the big deal? Lying is thought to be corrupting. When you get in the habit of lying over small things, you’ll be more likely to do it over big things, and the more you do it, the more it rots your soul.

From a Christian perspective, there is one universal morality. There is one standard for how you treat people. For other groups, there is a dual morality. There is one standard for how you treat your in-group and a lower standard for how you treat outsiders.

When I came to UCLA in 1988 and met Jews for the first time, I was fascinated. They seem to have such animal spirits and intense community and strong family lives. I was very impressed. Anglo life, by comparison, seemed dull and tame.

I got some Asian girlfriends. I loved the way Asians studied hard, worked hard, and respected authority. I love their strong family structure. I was, however, disappointed in their ethics. If they could get away with cheating, they did. If they could get away with stealing, they did. They didn’t have the same universal morality as the Adventists. Asians viewed Americans as naive.

My Chinese girlfriend told me about how she stole money from her family and I was appalled, even though she used it to fly to see me and to pay for our long-distance phone calls.

Asian morality, Jewish morality, ethnic morality, Mediterranean morality, tribal morality, seemed pretty similar. Anglo morality (belief in one universal standard for how you treat people and great importance given to doing the moral thing) was the outlier.

I’ve noticed that in Judaism, truth has an instrumental value. If you can achieve a Torah end by telling untruth, in many instances that is allowed and even encouraged. See Marc Shapiro’s book, Changing the Immutable: How Orthodox Judaism Rewrites Its History.

Different groups of Jews have different standards. Jews are a high IQ group and they get arrested at a lower rate than the non-Jews around them. By and large, Jews are good neighbors. When Jews become doctors, lawyers and dentists, they are not known for inferior work and inferior ethics.

I was watching this Seinfeld episode tonight from season five:

Jerry’s girlfriend, Meryl (Courteney Cox), poses as his wife so she can share his 25% dry cleaning discount. In fact, Jerry is having fun with the idea of having a wife, even if it’s just to start a sentence. George urinates in the shower while at the health club and fears he may be reported to management. Elaine gets mixed signals from Greg, a prospective boyfriend in whom she is interested. As it turns out, the man Elaine has her eye on is the same person who caught George urinating in the shower.

Jerry eventually cheats on his “wife” with another woman in order to give her the discount. Meanwhile, Kramer is losing sleep because Jerry took his quilt to the cleaner, taking advantage of the discount. Kramer goes to get a tan to impress his girlfriend’s family, and ends up falling asleep on the tanning bed.

As it happens, Greg wants to date a female gym instructor and not Elaine. Then he discovers Elaine is friends with George. The episode ends with Kramer meeting his girlfriend’s family, who are black, and Kramer being horribly tanned to the extent that he appears to be in blackface. The girlfriend’s father then angrily says, “I thought you said you was bringing a white boy home! I don’t see a white boy! I see a damn fool!”

I am unaware of the lead characters explicitly identifying as Jewish but they are all obviously Jewish except Kramer. The things they do just wouldn’t fly in an Anglo community. You wouldn’t tell the dry cleaner, for instance, that you were married, just to get a 25% discount.

I don’t think I have seen one Seinfeld episode where the main characters could conceivably be Seventh-Day Adventist. They are way too unethical, duplicitous, selfish and hedonistic. You try to pull that stuff in a Seventh-Day Adventist community and you’d be pulled aside and told to shape up or ship out. Your interlocutor would get a very serious face, stare into your eyes, and with an expression of great pain say, “You need a closer walk with the Lord, my friend.”

To Jewish eyes, Adventists seem like regimented children, all fake, naive, ignorant, and overly nice. To Adventist eyes, Jews seem rude, crude, unethical, lustful, beastly, haggling, and duplicitous. Adventists seem like simple folks to outsiders, Jews seem like anything but.

The matter of fact ways that the Seinfeld characters pursue what they want without regard to ethics is hilarious, but if I were the ruler of a country, I would not want such people. If I had a high-trust society, these people would be parasites. They would take advantage of the naive. They would corrupt the less intelligent with cheap alcohol, cheap loans, cheap porn, cheap TV, cheap goods, cheap standards and as a result, society would go to hell.

I can’t think of anything less Seventh-Day Adventist than recreational sex while for many of my new friends, that’s the greatest thing ever. As a Seventh-Day Adventist, pre-marital sex was a very big sin. Most Orthodox Jews are virgins when they marry, but overall, even Orthodox Jews seem more at ease than Protestants with the natural passions such as lust, envy, and honor-seeking. Protestants keep a tight check on animal spirits.

Pre-marital sex is a huge sin in conservative Christianity. In Orthodox Judaism, it is not necessarily any more serious than breaking the Sabbath or eating non-kosher food.

Why don’t WASPs go to orgies? Too many thank-you notes.

Orthodox Judaism is a more difficult and demanding way of life than Seventh-Day Adventism. There is no comparison. Adventism is easy street when compared observance of Torah law, but there are ways I realize now that Adventism is more demanding, such as with the truth.

The big sins in conservative Christianity are sexual. The biggest sin in Jewish life is making the tribe look bad.

White guilt means being too ethnocentric, notes Steve Sailer. Jewish guilt means not being ethnocentric enough.

Overall, Orthodox Judaism has more stringent rules for behavior than Seventh-Day Adventism (the average IQ of Ashkenazi Orthodox Jews is around 110 and for white Adventists about 100), but in the way the religion is practiced by fallible people, things are more complicated. There is plenty we can each learn from the other and there are generalizable patterns for how Adventists and Jews behave. We don’t put identical stress on the same sins.

In Jewish life, “sin” is not the obsession it is in Christianity. I don’t recall many Jews I’ve known who were racked by guilt over their sins while that was common among the Adventists I knew.

When I was an Adventist, if the boss asked you if you had plenty to keep you busy, you were expected to answer honestly. In much of the Jewish life I’ve known, you are not expected to answer honestly. If you are surfing the net and the boss asks you what you are doing and you say, “Filing!”, and you have some paper in your hand to be filed, it is cool as long as you can get away with it, and if occasionally you told the truth, then there was shock and congratulations. In large swatches of Jewish life, from the secular to the Orthodox, if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.

Leading a Jewish life is very expensive and if you have to cut a few ethical corners to make ends meet and to pay for yeshiva tuition for your kids, it’s not so bad (though certain sects of Judaism are strict about ethics, such as the Modern Orthodox, and Jews of Western European origins, particularly those from England and Germany tend to be particularly ethical, upstanding and polite).

On the other hand, if you couldn’t achieve without cutting corners in Adventism, then you made peace with your lack of achievement and you stored up treasure in heaven (though plenty of Jews have the same attitude, just not the Sammy Glicks).

Jews tend to be more blunt and intense than gentiles. They tend to be more direct and challenging. Being a nice person is an important value in Protestantism. In Judaism, it is just one value in a constellation of values. Part of the reason that goyim may think of Jews as immoral is that Jews are simply more open, direct and honest about their motivations and what they want and what they have done. As a Seventh-Day Adventist, I learned to hide anything unseemly.

I’ve always been a lazy sort looking to take the easy way out. When school got too hard, such as in Chemistry class, I cheated. I’ve rarely put much effort into my work unless I was getting the attention I craved. I thought converting to Judaism would cure my moral shortcomings. With a few exceptions, it did nothing of the sort.

When I was a Seventh-Day Adventist, I usually took the path of least resistance and tried to get away with everything I could without risking too much tension. I carried that pattern into my Judaism.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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