Conclusions About Truth & Deception

Article / Produced by TOW Project

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Though the majority of the discussion in this paper has been on the exceptions to the norm of truthtelling, this should not be interpreted to mean that truthtelling is not the moral norm. The basic biblical perspective on honesty and deception is to tell the truth and let the consequences fall where they may. The ambiguities enter in when it comes to the exceptions to the norm. The exceptions occur when there is no expectation of the truth (as in puffery and poker), when (in the rare cases) it is clear that everyone knows the rules (as in bluffing), when someone has no right to the information (as in protecting confidential information) and when truthtelling conflicts with other important moral values (as with Corrie Ten Boom and the Nazis). Exceptions to the norm are just that—exceptions that are unusual occurrences. They do not set the pattern for the application of truthtelling in the marketplace.

Best-selling author James Stewart, in his recently released book, Tangled Webs: How False Statements Are Undermining America,[1] has argued for the restoration of truthtelling as an important moral value in society. His point—that honesty is crucial for social cohesion—applies to the marketplace as much as to any element of society. He chronicles the damage done by deception, which, in the case of many of its victims, is ruined lives and financial disaster.

Truthtelling is a critical moral value for a Christian worldview as well, because Christian identity is in Jesus—the way, the truth and the life. Christians may practice clear exceptions to truthtelling in the ways we have outlined, and at times it may even be our duty to do so. But let us hope that our love of the truth leads us to reduce the territory of exceptions, rather than expand it. People motivated by self-gain will prefer to exploit the advantage they can gain by exaggerating, bluffing, or misleading when the other party expects the truth. People motivated by the coming of the kingdom of God on earth will prefer to serve others by speaking the truth, even when it is not expected. Our favorite question will not be “Is this justifiable,” but “Is this how things will be done when God’s kingdom comes?”

James B. Stewart, Tangled Webs: How False Statements are Undermining America: From Martha Stewart to Bernie Madoff (New York: Penguin Press, 2011).