What does it mean to lie? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
This political season, as we watch debates, one term I want people to watch for is the term “lie.” We use this term regularly and it can be a powerful ad hominem, especially when we refer to someone as a liar. At that point, if that idea gets cemented, nothing they say can be used in their defense.
We often say a lie is to tell someone something that isn’t true. That can often be a part of it, but that is not sufficient to tell a lie. It’s telling a falsehood, but is that the same thing as lying? I’m not convinced it is.
A child is in school and fills out a test. He puts down an answer for a question. He is convinced that answer is correct. The teacher gets that one and marks it wrong and properly so. It is a wrong answer. The child told something that turned out to be false. Did he lie?
No. It would have been a lie if he had known that it was a wrong answer and had presented it was true or it would be a lie if he told something that was true and presented it as if it were false. By this standard, someone could actually tell a truth and be lying. I remain open to that. The lie is not only in the truth-content of the account. It lies mainly in the intention of the person.
Let’s use an example in the political discourse. In the interest of being impartial, I will present something the other side said opposite me that is often said to be a lie. This is in the VP debate when Kamala Harris told the story about honest Abe and how he wouldn’t appoint a Supreme Court justice in an election year.
There have been several historical sources that have pointed out that this account is false. That is good, but not necessary for our point. We can say the story then is a falsehood. Does that indicate that Kamala lied when she told it? Maybe, but we don’t know. We don’t know because we don’t know if she really believed it or not.
Now some have said she probably had an intern do some research and try to find a story she could use because even a lot of politicians who study history might not know the facts about Abraham Lincoln right off like that and can respond. It might be different if you were a specialist in something like Abraham Lincoln or the Civil War, but most won’t know that.
What is necessary for it to be a lie is if the story is false and Kamala Harris knows that it’s false and yet she presents it as true. If that is so, then she has lied to the American people. The problem is we don’t know that. If she honestly believes the story is true, then she did tell a falsehood and she can be called out for that, but she did not tell a lie. She just didn’t do enough research. You can fault her for that as a VP candidate also, but it’s not the same as lying.
Be on guard against this term this political season. When you see a claim being made, you can ask some simple questions. “What is the claim being made exactly?” “What is the evidence for it?” “What arguments are against it?” “How powerful are those arguments?” “Is there any counter-reply and how powerful are those?” Etc.
Liar when someone tells a falsehood is too easy to throw out. Now if a politician answers the same question two different ways, it does make it more likely that a lie is going on, but even then someone can always change their mind. Still, be careful with giving someone a reputation like that. None of us would like that every time we told something false after all.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)