My Line In The Sand

Since I have posted, twice, on the methods and actions of Live Action’s undercover sting operations, I have been confronted with the issue more and more in the Catholic publications I read and circles I frequent. I am not going to talk about the morality of lying yet again. Instead I want to talk about what I find to be an incredibly disturbing attitude among people who I normally consider good-willed and faithful Catholics. It goes something like this:

“I approve of lies if they save innocent lives. And I don’t care if it were to turn out that such lies were actually sins. I would do it anyway, and I think God would understand.”

One more extreme version of this argument was “I would gladly die a heretic“, all for the sake of maintaining their own personal position on lying.

I want to be as clear as I can be, though bad-willed readers will ignore or twist this: I am not claiming that it is a sin to hold the position that you can lie (or use “mental reservation” or whatever) to save a life; to be honest I am still not sure and am still trying to get to the bottom of the matter. If someone holds this position in good faith, believing it to be right, and reasons that are actually based on Scripture, Tradition, the saints, theologians, etc. then I won’t fault them for that.

But if someone is holding this position simply and primarily because it makes sense to them, and feels no obligation at all to justify their position, then I have a serious problem with that. And I absolutely condemn the perverse declarations of those who would spit in the eye of God and say “I don’t care if it IS a sin, I’m going to do it anyway, and I’m going to call it good and a righteous, and if you don’t like it God, well forget you!”

It is one thing to have a legitimate debate over whether or not something is a sin, or whether a particular act falls into a certain category. It is inexcusable and reprehensible to declare that you are unaccountable to God for your beliefs and actions, and that you will do whatever you please even if it turns out that it is sinful.

People come close to this position or actually embrace it because they can’t fathom that God does not share their thoughts, their feelings, their opinions on the matter. Or they argue that since faith and reason do not contradict one another, a position that appears unreasonable to them cannot be required by faith. Most of the people who make this argument do so from a thoroughly worldly perspective, placing the innocent human life – and it is a precious and valuable thing – above the life of the immortal soul.

Anyone who really considers the matter can’t but understand that this is the beginning of atheism and apostasy. Underlying it is a total lack of appreciation or understanding of a spiritual reality, and an implicit acceptance of materialist (God-denying) premises. Consciously, it begins under the banner of “reason”, of assuming that if faith and reason appear to conflict, then it is faith that must be trampled underfoot. And it progresses to the glorification and then deification of man, assuming that whatever is injurious or even offensive to man, even if it is required by God, is the greatest possible evil. This sort of thinking is rampant on the “Catholic” left, but it evidently infects plenty of self-proclaimed conservatives as well. They have forgotten:

“And he said to them: You are they who justify yourselves before men, but God knoweth your hearts; for that which is high to men, is an abomination before God.” (Luke 16:15)

I don’t think it is the least bit unreasonable to proceed on the assumption that if, as Pope Innocent III believed, as St. Augustine believed, that it is a sin to lie even to save a life, that this is a test of our fidelity to God. The prohibition on lying is actually quite reasonable if it is viewed in the context of a spiritual and infinite reality. But I will be the first to admit that it – along with many other Christian precepts – becomes absurd in the context of a materialist and finite reality.

So what are your operating premises, really, when you are so attached to a position that you would essentially become a heretic or an apostate in order to keep it? And why should anyone ever listen to you rail about “Cafeteria Catholics” ever again, if this is your attitude? Again, please note – I am not addressing people who believe that there are certain exceptions to the rule against lying in good faith. I am addressing people who are determined to do as they please even if they are totally refuted by legitimate authority, going all the way up to God Himself.

14 Responses to My Line In The Sand

  • Joe,

    I never thought I’d say this, but I agree with the entirety of this post. ;)

  • I watched a documentary last night about a pregnancy crisis center. The deception they used on these girls considering abortion actually disturbed me so much that I lost sleep over it.

  • RR,

    Please share. I want to know what you are talking about.

  • The documentary is 12th and Delaware. This pregnancy crisis center bought a location literally facing an abortion clinic in the hopes that women would get confused and come to their center instead. The woman in charge seems to be an extraordinarily kind woman but she is a master of deception. The girls don’t realize they’ve come to the wrong place until hours in. She’s careful not to intentionally lie. She changes subjects. Some of the information she provides is false. I don’t think she does that intentionally. There’s just a lot of unreliable information out there. The documentary ends with a woman being bribed out of an abortion, which I think is fine, but you wonder if they’ll carry through with their shockingly generous promises of financial assistance or if it’s just more deception. Depressing stuff. I just wish they’d operate out in the light.

  • RR,

    For those of us who haven’t seen the video, can you give us an example of an outright lie from the documentary?

  • What of Rahab?

  • Maybe a ‘troof-seeking’ documentary filmmaker could come to Nassau County, NY and film/interview the mother of the 26 year old woman who, six years ago, was murdered by the father of her unborn baby boy because she refused to get an abortion. The rat murdered his unborn son, too.

  • Don, the documentary is not narrated and spends more time following the pro-lifers than the pro-choicers. Granted, it could have been edited to make it seem worse than it was but it’s not like the stories were made up.

    Mark, I’m not sure you can call anything they say an outright lie but there’s a lot that was at least misleading to the extreme. For example, that there’s a link between abortion and breast cancer. Maybe there was one study way back that raised that possibility. Maybe. But the overwhelming evidence weighs against it. Those who spent some time talking to relatively naive pro-lifers have come across these sorts of false claims. I don’t think anyone would dispute that the pregnancy crisis center was being deceitful. Some would argue that it’s a perfectly acceptable way to save the lives of the unborn. For me, it just stinks.

  • I want to thank you for calling me on the argument that lying is often harmless and can actually be beneficial. While I harbor doubts as to the immorality of lies engaged in under extreme circumstances and those which are part of performances (elsewhere it was mentioned that acting is, in essence, lying), I have prayed, thought about, and gone to Reconciliation on account of your post and admit that you are right.

    Outright lies are more common than I am comfortable admitting but it is the problem of bolstering arguments that most trips me up. Stating as certain what I do not know to be certain is the most common form of this sin for me. Allowing others to rely upon my representations is another form. Usually, this sin manifests itself in my attributing the underlying premise to persons without checking it or offering data such as percentages as being verified without having done so.

    I think the best reason for barring lying has to be that the invitation of sinfulness. Excuses for sin, in my experience, opens a door to greater sinfulness. It strikes me that allowing misrepresentations of fact to creep in under the guise of “harmlessness” creates a pattern of deceit that is likely to grow and a way of thinking that excuses an ever greater application.

    I was originally thinking that lying to cover up errors was probably the most common reason for day-to-day lying. But now I am thinking that this is not so. I suspect that the admission of fault carries with it enough of a cultural badge of honor that it is easier to admit the fault than to be caught in the lie.

    It may be that the impulse to lie comes on early, particularly with regards to lying to enhance reputation. The sense that “everyone else does interesting things and I need to embellish to keep up” seems pretty common in even small children. I find myself “one-upping” people in conversations too and this leads to lies that are particularly stupid since they serve no purpose other than to make me ashamed where I should not have been even embarrassed.

    Again, thank you for stating so clearly what seems so clearly true. Forced to look in the mirror and explain it to myself, I find that my earlier representations and arguments are simply not true and I hereby retract them.

  • I was thinking on this discussion accros the Catholic Blogs.

    Lying is never good.

    But if an undercover interview is not somtimes used there are some evils that can not be stopped.

    It seems to me a posssible soution would be the tests of the Just War Doctine which are used to resolve an even more serious problem.

  • G-Veg,

    Thanks for the comment. :)

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