Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them

I’m going to follow up my post on Live Action and Lila Rose with a more general post on lying, because it sparked quite a heated debate. At the outset I want to say that I don’t condemn people outright who believe it is morally acceptable to use deception to expose evil, but I do believe that they are wrong. Moreover, I believe that the ferocity of some people in defense of this position is completely unwarranted and unreasonable; there have been notable Catholic saints and thinkers on both sides of this question throughout history, and so it hardly seems right or fair to violently denounce a fellow Catholic for taking up one position or the other.

Before I talk about lying, I want to talk about consequentialism. As I understand it, as the word is typically used, it is a point of view that looks only or primarily to the consequences of an act to determine whether or not it is morally right.

Because certain people, and I believe we all know who they are, have abused this term, others have upped the absurdity ante and will not take seriously any mention of consequentialism. However it is an actual problem, and it is actually wrong. Consequentialism is the opposite of total indifferentism to consequences, which I believe is just as disordered. Consequences do matter, and must be taken into consideration. But they are not the most important factor, and I believe most of us know this.

We must speak about consequentialism because many people wish to justify sting operations on the grounds that they do good, and in the case of Live Action, they may even save lives. I find this justification dubious since it isn’t clear that any particular lives are being saved form immanent death, but rather that the murderous operations of an abortion mill may at some point in the future be hindered. Certainly among the many factors we would consider is the immediacy of the harm that is supposedly prevented by the lie.

That being said, even in cases where the immediacy would be evident, it can be argued that it is still not permissible to lie, not even when a life is at stake. Many have already mentioned the absolute prohibition on lying favored by St. Augustine. To this I will add that of Pope Innocent III:

Holy Scripture forbids us to lie even to save a man’s life. If, then, we allow the lie of necessity, there seems to be no reason from the theological point of view for not allowing occasional murder and fornication when these crimes would procure great temporal advantage; the absolute character of the moral law will be undermined, it will be reduced to a matter of mere expediency.*

There are two things about this quote I want to expand on here.

The first thing worth noting is that Innocent III is completely right; if we can allow the “lie of convenience” to save lives, why not other intrinsic evils? Pro-lifers usually reject the argument that there should be allowances for abortion in order to “save the life of the mother”, though some who wear the label do make the exception, as do some who call themselves Catholics. Though I’m not sure it is ever actually necessary to kill an unborn child to save its mother, suppose it were? What if, in a more drastic scenario, a thousand lives could somehow be saved by consenting to one abortion?

We Catholic pro-lifers can easily understand why it is never acceptable to kill an innocent human being, but how does that argument fly with others when you are arguing that it is ok to lie when it is convenient or expedient? They can point to an inconsistency in your moral criteria, and you can only respond by saying that murder is worse than lying. You would even likely have to reduce deliberate, premeditated deceptions from mortal to venial sins. Not the lie told in a moment of panic and weakness, but the lie you planned out a month ago with 10 other people and meticulously executed.

And this brings me to the second point worth noting in Innocent III’s words: the phrase temporal advantage.

This is applied even to the saving of a person’s life. And it hearkens back to St. Augustine’s quip that, faced with a question by a dying man when the truth will likely kill him, it would be better for the dying man to lose his body than for the other to lose his soul. This way of thinking of course does not readily come to mind for many of us. Some of us have elevated the preservation of human life even above the preservation of the supernatural life of the soul, if not in true belief than in rhetoric. This will ultimately be to our detriment. We also believe that it is our job to save the world from evil, or again our rhetoric conveys this message. I have been guilty of this in the past.

But in truth, I don’t see saving lives as the highest possible good, through which all or almost all sins can be excused. I see saving souls as the highest good, and no sin at all can be excused in that endeavor. I would rather be struck dead in a state of grace tomorrow than live another 50 years with a troubled conscience. And truth be told, I would wish the same for anyone I loved.

Or maybe I am really just a naive child at heart, who still believes in the literal meaning of the phrase “we can never do evil, even if good will come of it”, or that we are supposed to emulate God “who can neither deceive nor be deceived.” Sometimes the truth hurts. And sometimes a lie can save a life. But we can never forget the warning of Christ:

And fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him that can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)

Of course I predict that some will try to use these arguments against me as it pertains to gun ownership, killing in self-defense, just wars, and the like, assuming I promote evil when it suits me. But the same Pope Innocent III who categorically condemned lying lived and reigned during the Crusades, and even ordered a few himself. My opposition to lying has nothing to do with the sort of Kantianism or something-elseism that is likely to accompany a whole range of modernist, liberal ideas about self-defense and warfare. And as I have made clear, I value the life of the soul more than the life of the body. So while we may disagree on when killing counts as self-defense, or when a war is just or unjust, that isn’t the same as disagreeing over whether or not it can be right to commit murder or invade another country without provocation.

So, go ahead, do your worst in the comment boxes. Per Matt. 10:28, it ain’t you I fear.

*I could not find the original source of this quote. It is mentioned in the Catholic Encyclopedia entry on lying, but quoted in a presentation on the morality of lying here. I trust it is authentic, but if anyone knows otherwise, let us know.

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31 Responses to Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them

  • Jasper says:

    Joe,

    I don’t doubt you’re correct, but I’m with Lila Rose on this. I would lie in a heart beat if it meant saving innocent lives….and I’ll take the judgement that comes with it.

  • Teresa says:

    Wouldn’t this be a lesser evil type of situation? Lying is a lesser evil than allowing murders to occur. Plus, this could be considered in defense of others. Wouldn’t this be the same sort of idea as those who lied in Nazi Germany to protect Jews? I think standing up for and stopping murder is good work in the Lord’s eyes, even with a couple white harmless lies along the way. I think God would judge us more harshly if we just sat back and did nothing when given the opportunity to make a difference in saving lives, as Lila Rose did. I do understand your concerns about consequentialism, though.

  • Teresa says:

    Joe,

    I referred to Lila Rose in giving an example, not necessarily the example or the only way in which one can save lives from being aborted. Lila Rose is using her talent to be able to go under cover while others use their talents in other ways. I agree with T. Shaw that one can make use of confession if one uses deceptive means in order to save lives. Lila Rose has been given the opportunity to save lives in a very special way, unlike most of the rest of us.

  • Would a father stand by and let his daughter be raped and murdered when knows full well that her protection is with virtual certitude within his power of telling a falsehood?

    How would he be judged by his kin when it comes to light that he could have prevented her from being raped and murdered?

    Would he be judged honorable? Or worthy of being thrown down a well?

    I suspect he would be judged worthy of the latter because people by nature tend to see the spirit of the law when they use their common sense.

    The same common sense which would guide a father to say that falsehood to save his daughter. Now common sense is not an argument according to principle, but it is an argument according to that which is first better known to us. Which is how we should proceed.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    LTG,

    The problem I have with scenarios such as yours is that they conflate what are in my mind two different issues.

    If we’re talking about a lie in immediate self-defense or defense of another, it may at that point be a venial sin. Full consent may not be present.

    But the important issue here is that it doesn’t matter how men judge our actions. Who cares? If they want to throw me down a well for acting in accordance with the will of God, then so be it. There are any number of scenarios in which doing what is right will make you unpopular with people. Nothing could be less relevant to the morality of an act.

    We can look for the “spirit” of human laws, and we should. Not every law is good or just, not every law is rational in every situation. But sometimes we are held to what appears to be, from human eyes, an irrational standard as a test of our faith and obedience.

    “For he that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it.” (Matthew 16:25)

  • One of the problems of discussing issues such as this is lack of knowledge of those with whom we are discussing which forces us to backtrack to common ground while also making known what is the common ground.

    So let me put it this way. I already know full well the arguments you just gave, as well as the principles underlying them. What I want to do is look at the argument from a different perspective because I think it does give insight.

    Joe Hargrave writes : “But the important issue here is that it doesn’t matter how men judge our actions. Who cares?”

    I care. Because it’s one of the means we use to judge right action. Prudence is not solely applying right principles to the particular, it is also experience in knowing how to apply those principles to this or that particular action. Thus while principle are necessary, they are not of themselves sufficient. It is that sufficiency which concerns me, because it is there that the error of scrupulosity, (or some relative to it which I like to call “the vice of being overly cautious”), appears to hide.

    And there is no better guide for ferreting out that error than common sense.

    Or let me put it this way :

    A Catholic understanding would be to agree with Scarlett when she appreciably said “What a cool liar you are, Melly.” Whereas those who are afflicted with this unfortunate vice mistake their modern sensibilities for understanding of Church teaching.

    Those afflicted by the the vice of being overly cautious scrupulously condemn Melanie, where as a Catholic recognizes that God gave us common sense which Melanie rightly applied.

    This is a subject that I typically find myself in when discussing torture, or capital punishment or some such where those I’m discussing with think they have the letter of the law down cold, and I’m just some variant of a virtual war criminal.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    LTG,

    So Pope Innocent III and St. Augustine weren’t Catholics?

    To say that this is what “a Catholic” understands/believes/does is simply false. “A Catholic” is certainly not bound to your understanding of lies, and “a Catholic” might be better off erring on the side of caution.

  • “So Pope Innocent III and St. Augustine weren’t Catholics”
    Nope. Damnable heretics. And everything they said was heresy.

    Joe Hargrave writes : “a Catholic” might be better off erring on the side of caution”

    On which side does caution rest when asked “how do I look in this dress?”, or Tooth Fairies and Santa Clauses and all the rest that we are the ones who initially tell the children of.

    I know there’s nothing new in these arguments either, but common sense tells us they are not sinful. Common sense tells us courtesy and folk traditions are not built on sinful acts.

    Nor does a mother commit a sinful act when she says to her toddler, “where’s Mary, I can’t find her”.

    But yet if we take Pope Innocent III and St. Augustine according to the letter of the law, they would all be sinful acts.

    So what I wonder is, how do we square everyday life as we live it? Because it’s against common sense that mother is committing a sinful act while playing a game with her daughter, just as it’s against common sense that a father is committing a sinful act when he says “Santa Claus is coming soon so go to bed”.

  • Blackadder says:

    To quote Cardinal Newman: “The Catholic Church holds it better for the Sun and Moon to drop from Heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions on it to die of starvation in extremest agony … than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one wilful untruth, or should steal one poor farthing without excuse.”

  • “The Catholic Church holds it better for the Sun and Moon to drop from Heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions on it to die of starvation in extremest agony … than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one wilful untruth, or should steal one poor farthing without excuse.”

    One of the most foolish things said by a very wise man, and something I doubt anyone outside of a mental institution truly believes. “Yeah, I would prefer that my kid die in extreme agony rather than Jake down the street take the Lord’s name in vain.”

  • “it is better . . . for all the many millions on it to die of starvation in extremest agony” than for a father to say to his child, “the sandman put sand in your eyes”.

    When I wrote ‘nope’ above, it was means of dismissing a polemic which was getting in the way. But yet it would be better for the Sun to fall from the sky, than for me to have written that. Where is the balance of justice in that? Where must the fulcrum be placed that would cause the Sun’s life giving warmth to weight so little in comparison?

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    I’m sorry, LTG, were you seriously calling St. Augustine and Pope Innocent III HERETICS? The man who destroyed heretics with this writings and the pope who destroyed them with Crusades? You’ve really just lost all credibility, unless you were just trying to be cute or something… and even then, I don’t see it as such.

    Before I get into the rest, I am far from the only Catholic who views Lila Rose’s work in this way:

    http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/pro-life-groups-video-stings-spark-ethical-debate/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+catholicnewsagency/dailynews+(CNA+Daily+News)

    If you read this link you see Rose – who recently converted to Catholicism – has tried to defend her work by comparing it to a just war. If this is a war, then we can kill these people. We can blow up their clinics, we can assassinate them, we can cut their throats in the middle of the night. We would probably even be obliged to do the same to politicians who support PP and businesses that donate to it.

    This is not a war. We use the language of war to describe many political campaigns but that is all it is – language. I’ve never heard of an actual war in which you can lie to enemy troops but not blow them up.

    Don’t you think I’d like to lie to PP? That I’d like to support Rose? I hate abortion as much as anyone else here. It is simply not an option.

    Frankly LTG, all of these petty examples don’t impress me in the least. Maybe one would have to conclude that a mother could never play a game with her daughter according to the letter of the law – though personally I think that is insane – but to use these absurd examples as a way to argue that there are certain situations in which one MUST lie or has some sort of obligation to lie is just ridiculous.

    If you could lie in these “little” situations of almost no significance, it would never follow that you could deliberately lead someone into sin using deception, and certainly not for vague benefits that may only be realized in the future. So stop trying to reverse-engineer a case for the deception of Planned Parenthood. It isn’t going to work.

  • Teresa says:

    Joe,

    If People are killing people via abortion how is this not a war, using the term war unconventionally ?

    Pope Pius XII and others under his wing forged Catholic birth certificates for Jews during WWII. Do you see this as a form of lying? Do you think that the Church should come out and condemn this past action?

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Teresa,

    If we aren’t out there killing them, and they’re not killing us, how is this a war? Who declared this war?

    We are always, always in a spiritual war with evil. But there are certain conditions for a temporal war, and we haven’t met them.

    This is why I have, for a long time, been opposed to comparing abortion to the Holocaust or even black slavery. What goes on in Planned Parenthood is an abominable crime against nature and human dignity, and frankly I have asked myself many times whether or not the scale and magnitude of this crime justifies an actual war, in which we would attempt to capture or kill abortionists, destroy their facilities, etc. It may well, but one of the criteria for a just war is that you have to have some chance of success – and at this point I find that criteria lacking.

    As for what Pope Pius XII did, I don’t know how it is possible to conclude that forging birth certificates is not a form of lying.

    That being said, let me repeat again: even if lying might be, could be, justified in such circumstances – and I don’t say it could – it wouldn’t mean that it could be justified in the case of Lila Rose. A forged birth certificate = a saved life. A deception of PP = maybe some people loose trust in them, maybe somewhere in the future lives are saved. The gravity of the two situations is very different.

  • Teresa says:

    Joe,

    Abortionists are killing humans every day. The pro-choice movement, people who are against human life and who are promoting the killing of humans, are those who have declared war on the human population. You may have to go to an abortion clinic to see it but just because it isn’t in plain sight doesn’t mean that it isn’t a war.

    I am going to research this further but from what I know moral ethics allows for the killing of another person when it is in defense of others. With that being the case then I don’t see much difference in the morality of lying to save another person’s life, especially when it occurs within a movement to stop the countless murders of innocents.

    I am puzzled that you don’t consider the murders of over 1 million humans to be a holocaust. I consider abortions to be worse than slavery, especially since those innocents have been murdered in comparison to blacks being held as servants and having been treated extremely harsh to say the least – although some were killed.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Teresa,

    I’ve tried to explain this before, as have others in Catholic history; the fact that it is ok to take a human life in certain circumstances does not automatically mean that it is ok to lie in certain circumstances.

    A lie is a sin against truth, the gravity of which has been made clear by the teaching of the Church throughout the centuries.

    A human life is a mortal thing. When we lie, we destroy our souls; when we kill justly, we destroy someone else’s body. This is why Augustine said that it is better for someone to lose their life hearing the truth than for someone to lie to save that life and lose their soul.

    I only said that I don’t compare the situation of legalized abortion to THE Holocaust. It is industrialized mass murder, and I think a just war could be waged against it, provided only that there was a reasonable chance of success – and there isn’t, because most people do not think clearly enough or are courageous enough to understand or appreciate the implications of the situation.

    And frankly we have to consider the possibility that legalized abortion is a punishment from God and one of the signs of the end times. We might further consider that if we put total faith and trust in Him, instead trying to find loopholes in the moral law, and fight only with the weapons of the truth, that He might lead us to victory against this enemy.

  • American Knight says:

    I am having a tough time with this one. On one hand I think that we need to engage the enemy of innocents using available means, on the other, we cannot ever, even for good reasons, compromise the moral law. I must admit when I first read this post, I was a little frustrated and just left it alone. But, it kept nagging at me. Why am I uncomfortable with this? Is it because the methods are wrong? I am not sure. Joe makes a compelling argument and the war rhetoric aside, this is not a war in the sense of soldiers on a battlefield, a spiritual war without a doubt. It is also a political war that may eventually escalate to all out war, but we aren’t there yet because there is a reasonable chance of changing the laws.

    Ultimately, this is a moral issue, but before it becomes all out war, it is a legal issue and that falls on temporal laws based on the Moral Law and law enforcement.

    Does the deceit employed violate the commandment against bearing false witness? I don’t know. Is it morally licit for police to set up a sting against criminals who are already engaged in criminal activity? I think so. Of course, that does not allow them to entrap the criminal, merely to expose the criminal for the crimes they commit. So does Miss. Rose’s action constitute a sting or entrapment?

  • Jasper says:

    “I am puzzled that you don’t consider the murders of over 1 million humans to be a holocaust.”

    I’m puzzled too. I’ve read Joe’s posts, I know he is a good man, but I just don’t why he thinks 50 million murdered unborn humans can’t be compared to the Holocoust.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Jasper et. al.,

    I will tell you why I don’t compare abortion to the Holocaust.

    I think it shifts moral responsibility for abortion away from where it belongs – with individuals and the decisions they make. The Holocaust was carried out by the SS, and the average German didn’t really know about it. They didn’t elect the Nazis because they wanted to kill all the Jews, but because of things like the Treaty of Versailles, the Bolshevik threat, etc. Abortion is a different situation. It was foisted upon us by the Supreme Court and the radicals, but it is now accepted by the majority of the people. No one in this country is forced to get an abortion.

    We have to recognize that abortion is first and foremost a cultural and spiritual disorder.

  • Teresa says:

    While I disagree, I understand your reasoning for not comparing abortion to The Holocaust. In the United States we have State sanctioned murder and in Nazi Germany Jews were forcibly murdered due to State sanctioned murder under Hitler. While the morality does ultimately lie with the person who chooses to have an abortion the State has instituted an immoral law and made it legal to kill another human being so this has affected peoples sense of morality. The immorality of abortion has been perpetuated by the State which has in turn had significant influence over countless women. I think the main difference between The Holocaust and our holocaust is the use of “force” to commit murder. If you go by pure numbers – which is actually at least 1 million abortions per year – this far exceeds the deaths in Germany and to me is far worse, in some ways, than what happened in Germany.

  • Betsy says:

    I appreciate the work that Live Action is doing and it’s unfortunate that our focus has been taken away from the evil that Planned Parenthood is perpetrating, to whether the method of obtaining that information is sinful. Though, I think it is good that we have this conversation.

    Had it been me posing the questions as a prostitute, I would have been very uncomfortable lying to get information. I couldn’t justify lying in this instance. And, it seems that Live Action could have gotten the same response from PP by phrasing the questions hypothetically.

  • Teresa says:

    @Betsy

    I do understand your concerns about lying but I don’t think Lila Rose using a hypothetical situation could have had the same response from the police. In sting operations money must change hands and crimes must be committed or shown in the process of happening in order for the perpetraitor to be brought up on charges. Unfortunately, a hypothetical situation would have only been a “hypothetical” and would not have verified that PP had participated in a criminal act.

    @American Knight

    This article may be helpful in answering your question, whether or not what Lila Rose is doing constitutes entrapment or a sting.
    http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/live-action-s-stings-planned-parenthood

  • Jasper says:

    I’d rather lie to save a life, then be silent to keep my righteousness intact.

    Found this at another website:

    ##########
    Note the commonality language between the Nazi positions and the claims of abortionists and today’s “pro-choice” supporters.

    In Nazi Germany, the killing of Jews was not against the law, the killing centers were “medical centers” that the killers were “doctors” and the killing was done in the name of promoting “health.”

    In pro-choice America, the killing of babies is not against the law, the killing is done at “medical clinics”, the killers are “doctors” and abortion is called a woman’s “health” issue.

    Former Auschwitz physician Dr. Fritz Klein made the analogy between the massacre of Jews and “a good doctor” who “takes a scalpel and removes an appendix full of pus.” He went on to say, “The Jews are the pus-filled appendix in the body of Europe.” Similarly, abortion advocate Dr. Alan Guttmacher likened the destruction of the fetus to “operating on an appendix or removing a gangrenous bowel.”

    In America’s death camps the victim is usually called a “fetus,” but they have also been called “unseen infections,” “a sexually transmitted disease” and “a cancerous growth”. Abortion supporters have stated that abortion is the “preferred treatment” for “unwanted pregnancy: the number two sexually transmitted disease” and “an aborted baby is just garbage.”

    Abortion is commonly referred to as a mere “procedure” or “minor surgical operation” and abortionists are often called “service providers.” Compare this to the Nazi death squads called “special service groups”.

    The IRS lists Planned Parenthood and other abortion clinic operators as “charitable organizations” engaged in “promoting health.” Compare this to the official name of the Nazi organization for implementing euthanasia, the “Charitable Foundation for Institutional Care.”

    Under the Nazi regime, the term “special treatment” was used euphemistically for Jews and others to be exterminated. Today, the medical establishment (AMA, American Academy of Pediatrics, etc.) refers to abortion as the physicians duty “to provide care and treatment” for unwanted pregnancies.

    Block 20 at Auschwitz, where “experiments” were “terminated” with a lethal injection of phenol to the heart, was known by both inmates and doctors as the “treatment room.” The room in abortion clinics where the abortion is actually committed is commonly known as the “procedure room.”
    ##########

  • Betsy says:

    Teresa,
    Thank you for that link, I agree that Live Action is doing the work that law enforcement and other government agencies should be doing.

    In regard to the sting operation, I don’t know the law, but I don’t see how it could be said that PP broke the law, the employees only gave information to some impersonators. Had there been real children involved, I know they could have been guilty of aiding sex trafficking of minors.

  • Dennis JP says:

    Button your shirt, your heart is going to fall out, you self ordained saint ! PP was not forced into doing anything that it hasn’t always done. Your Playing the old guilt complex game to deflect public outrage against PP. Deep thinkers like you are the reason we have a MUSLIM liar in the oval office. The slaughter has to STOP. Use your talents to put an end to it rather than typing your B/S all day !
    Knights of Columbus
    Council #3658
    Church Director

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Dennis,

    You are the poison that infects men’s souls. You are the voice that convinces the person who wants to do what is right that, in doing so, he is becoming “self-righteous.” That person then begins to sin and offend God, all because of a misguided notion that by not sinning, he is somehow placing himself “above” others. This is spiritual vomit.

    I have no desire to “deflect” outrage against PP. But it is not our job to save the world or destroy PP. It is our job only to conform our hearts, minds, wills and desires to God’s. If you deny that, you aren’t a Christian, but rather a secular crusader. So I am for doing everything possible to undermine and disrupt the abortion industry, as long as it does not contradict God’s laws or the 2000 year-old Tradition of the Church.

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