Stick to One Excuse

G.K. Chesterton gives some advice to a German apologist in the affair of the Lusistania:

“First, stick to one excuse. Thus if a tradesman, with whom your social relations are slight, should chance to find you toying with the coppers in his till, you may possibly explain that you are interested in Numismatics and are a Collector of Coins; and he may possibly believe you. But if you tell him afterwards that you pitied him for being overloaded with unwieldy copper discs, and were in the act of replacing them by a silver sixpence of your own, this further explanation, so far from increasing his confidence in your motives, will (strangely enough) actually decrease it. And if you are so unwise as to be struck by yet another brilliant idea, and tell him that the pennies were all bad pennies, which you were concealing to save him from a police prosecution for coining, the tradesman may even be so wayward as to institute a police prosecution himself.

Now this is not in any way an exaggeration of the way in which you have knocked the bottom out of any case you may ever conceivably have had in such matters as the sinking of the Lusitania. With my own eyes I have seen the following explanations, apparently proceeding from your pen, (i) that the ship was a troop-ship carrying soldiers from Canada; (ii) that if it wasn’t, it was a merchant-ship unlawfully carrying munitions for the soldiers in France; (iii) that, as the passengers on the ship had been warned in an advertisement, Germany was justified in blowing them to the moon; (iv) that there were guns, and the ship had to be torpedoed because the English captain was just going to fire them off; (v) that the English or American authorities, by throwing the Lusitania at the heads of the German commanders, subjected them to an insupportable temptation; which was apparently somehow demonstrated or intensified by the fact that the ship came up to schedule time, there being some mysterious principle by which having tea at tea-time justifies poisoning the tea; (vi) that the ship was not sunk by the Germans at all but by the English, the English captain having deliberately tried to drown himself and some thousand of his own countrymen in order to cause an exchange of stiff notes between Mr. Wilson and the Kaiser. If this interesting story be true, I can only say that such frantic and suicidal devotion to the most remote interests of his country almost earns the captain pardon for the crime.

But do you not see, my dear Professor, that the very richness and variety of your inventive genius throws a doubt upon each explanation when considered in itself? We who read you in England reach a condition of mind in which it no longer very much matters what explanation you offer, or whether you offer any at all. We are prepared to hear that you sank the Lusitania because the sea-born sons of England would live more happily as deep-sea fishes, or that every person on board was coming home to be hanged. You have explained yourself so completely, in this clear way, to the Italians that they have declared war on you, and if you go on explaining yourself so clearly to the Americans they may quite possibly do the same.”

From the Crimes of England

The specifics of the historical events are interesting to the historian and to fans of political shenanigans and military history. But I was most intrigued by that first paragraph.

A few weeks before reading this I stood confronting and angry, defensive man over yet another broken promise, perhaps minor compared to the others, but still significant.

He stood and faced me, insisting he was right to break his promise. It was almost as thought he had read this passage in Chesterton and mistaken it for a script to use to convince somebody you aren’t stealing what you are in fact stealing.  Using Chesterton’s words, he indeed knocked the bottom out of his case with his own words, each additional excuse making nonsense of the previous excuse (and half the excuses blamed people besides himself for his own actions), and the first excuse of all being a quite bald-faced lie (he broke his promise on Monday because he had thought until then he was going to get to stay in the house- except that on the previous Friday he told others he wasn’t and had made arrangements to live elsewhere).

Right prevailed in the end and he grudgingly apologized and followed through on that promise, but was still trying to insist to the end that he really had believed he was going to get to stay in the house, impermeable to the reality that he hadn’t, or he wouldn’t have made arrangements to move wit

There have been a lot of things in my marriage that perplexed and baffled me and often made me feel somehow guilty about, but once I shifted my default mode from trust to being certain I am being lied to, all those things were no longer perplexing or baffling.

I do feel very, very, shockingly, shamefully, unbelievably stupid. But trusting one’s spouse is not a sin, as friends and counselors keep reminding me.

The trust bank is now depleted to the point of bankruptcy, however.   The only thing I believe when he is talking is that he is lying.  It’s really quite amazing how much that filter simplifies things and makes clear his intentions.


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  1. Joy
    Posted January 19, 2020 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    People who lie count on those who are trusting to believe them. I, too, found it much easier to make sense of things once I assumed I was being manipulated. It’s a tragedy and my heart breaks for you, but I do think that knowing the truth is better than still being in the dark, no matter how painful it is, which is something that took me a very long time to be at peace with. Reading A Severe Mercy helped as did time, prayer, good counsel, and the Holy Spirit’s work in my heart and mind.

    I’m praying for you.

  2. Lisa Beth W.
    Posted January 21, 2020 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    I agree that knowing the truth is being better than not knowing you’re being lied to, but it does make it very , very hard to trust others after such a massive betrayal. We can be so, so thankful for our God who never lies and never changes! May God help your wounded heart.

    I continue to pray.

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