‘The only antidote to mental suffering is physical pain’ said Karl Marx. UNTRUE – there are many well-attested therapeutic antidotes to mental suffering. But it is possible to distract yourself from intense distress by experiencing physical pain – which is probably the reason why some depressed individuals, whether religious or not, choose to scourge and cut their own flesh.
‘This too will pass’ – yes, it is comforting to remind yourself that there will be a day after the one we dread (unless you are incredibly unlucky) and time obviously won’t dally. But will it pass like an elephant through a boa (and get stuck)? Or will it pass like a Eureka moment when you learn from your struggle?
‘Only God can tell the truth’ – yes, in the sense that humans can never hope to exercise godlike powers. But note it is a different statement from ‘God only tells the truth’. And there are circumstances when lying is a moral act. If a man with a gun says “Which way did your daughter go?” I think you should do your level best to bear false witness. When it comes to illicit love affairs, being a therapist has taught me that most people are prone to lying. Women deny their affairs full stop; men boast about adventures that haven’t even happened. Novelist Upton Sinclair once wrote: “The British diplomat’s definition of a lie is an untrue statement made to a person who has a right to know the truth. Needless to say, there aren’t many such persons”.
‘We’ve solved the problem of pre-marital sex.’Everyone does it, including the Queen’s children. The largest sex survey, the giant Welcome Report of 1994, concludes: “First sex in British marriage is now practically unknown”. What we haven’t managed to do is solve the problem of extra-marital sex. On the one hand we say in opinion polls that we loathe infidelity. On the other between 50 and 60 per cent of spouses have had at least one affair by the age of 40. So we are guilty of bad faith and self-confusion. Just as most people no longer have a job for life, most of us won’t have one lover for life.
‘Manners maketh the man or woman.’ The hallmark of civilisation is that we don’t eat like animals, whereby the dominant male gets the dominant share of the food and the elderly are lucky if they get to lick the bones.