Friday, June 4, 2010

Choices: Plausible Deniability Or the Side of Truth

Today, I learned the definition of a often-used term, one I had heard many times before, but which I never paused to consider in any depth.  It is one of those catchy phrases that is used by people who are attempting to throw off those seeking a specific truth.

This term, “plausible deniability,” is a clever ploy, at least in the mind of the one using it.  Rather than replying to a probing question with a precise and clear “yes” or “no” answer, it is used to dodge a direct question and side-track the one seeking honesty.  In short, “plausible deniability” is nothing more than a bald-faced lie.

Webster defines “plausible” as “seemingly true, acceptable, honest, trustworthy” and, at the same time, the word implies “disbelief” and “distrust”.  The dictionary goes on to add, “plausible applies to that which at first glance appears to be true, reasonable, valid, etc, but which may or may not be so, although there is no connotation of deliberate deception.”  It sounds “credible” because of “evidence” and “sound logic”, but can also be considered “specious,” which is defined as “superficially reasonable…but is actually not so, and it connotes intention to deceive.”  The antonym, or exact opposite, of this term is defined as “genuine, actual.”

“Deniable” is another adjective defined as something “that can be denied.”  It can be applied to situations such as allegations of misconduct made by others against a defendant who refutes or denies the claims made against him.  But by tying the two adjectives, “plausible” and “deniable,” together, it provides the defendant with an unclear, muddled response that neither acquits or condemns him.  By employing the phrase, he is able to skirt the issue by only appearing to answer it.  It is neither an admission or denial of the accusation being leveled.

The most often-used situation for usage of “plausible deniability” is performed by our politicians and others when faced with probing questions by Congress of misconduct or impropriety.  “I don’t recall” is perhaps the most common.  The most recent crisis, the BP oil leak in the Gulf, brought this practice to the forefront as the CEO of BP maintained for weeks an ignorance of the specifics.   We were then forced to listen to the excuses and blame game our current administration fostered using the same technique.  The suggestion that one’s memory is fuzzy about the details, or excusing away a slow response, provides an effective strategy of dodging the truth.  The problem is that it has become all too acceptable and commonplace to employ this method instead of simply providing us with the truth.

When I consider how many times I have watched on television men and women under oath who are being drilled about illegalities they may have been involved in, and hearing their incessant, “I don’t recall” what was said, heard, or done, I become disgustedly nauseated.  They have been coached by a battalion of attorneys that it will be better for them to simply deny any culpability by using a bad-memory defensive maneuver.  In other words, deny what seems plausible or credible, and cover up the truth with a cleverly devised deception.  Doing so provides them with the ability to assuage their burning consciences and delaying, perhaps avoiding, any consequences that arise from their actions.  As long as the players in this chess game remain united in their deceptiveness, the end result will be a stalemate of unanswered questions.
“What is truth?” was asked of Jesus by Pilate as our Lord stood trial before him.  Pilate believed that whatever the majority were united in their belief, that was truth.  Truth was relative in that whatever was being stated as common belief, must be truth.  Regardless of the lies brought before him by the Jews, he must deliver on that evidence alone.  Although Pilate would have preferred He do so because he saw no guilt that deserved the punishment the Jews were demanding, Jesus refused to deny the “plausible” charges brought against Him.  Instead, He answered Pilate’s final statement, “You are a King, then!” this way:

“You are right in saying I am a King.  In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone on the side of truth listens to Me.” (John 18:37)

Jesus answered clearly and precisely the question that was posed to Him.  He could have chosen to protect Himself and avoid what was coming.  He could have employed “plausible deniability” by stating, “Well, some say I am a King and others say I am not.  Maybe yes, maybe no.  I have not decided yet.”   But because Jesus is Truth, the only possible response for Him was the one He gave.

We have all been guilty of using “plausible deniability.”  If you find yourself questioning this statement, look back to your earliest memories.  Children are experts in the response, “I don’t know.”  But as we became adults, the childish method of attempting to cover up a wrong-doing by attempting to give half-truths, or no answer at all, should have been replaced with admittance of our failures and acceptance of the consequences they bear.

God searches the heart for honesty and truth in every man.  He sees those who bear false witness and knows those who testify to deceive or divert from the truth.  Nothing can be hidden from His searching eyes.  Each “plausible denial” will be rooted out and exposed for what it is - a craftily concocted lie that is intended to keep others from knowing the truth.  We should remember when we are tempted to use this defense that we would be better served by staying on the “side of truth,” rather than suffering the condemnation that will eventually come by choosing to lie - which is what it truly is, regardless of what we would prefer to call it.

Additional reading:

  • 1 Samuel 16:7
  • Exodus 20:16
  • Matthew 5:33-37
  • James 5:12

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