Mark Shea on Lying

What can I say?

When he’s right, he’s right.

23 Responses to Mark Shea on Lying

  • Counterpoint: Peter Kreeft.

    I’m gonna go with Kreeft.

  • I am not convinced. Arguments for both views are logical and well though out. Witty too. Of course, both cannot be right and until we face the Judge, we may never know which way to go. I lean toward considering this action OK. Sure they lied; however, they did not cause the nature of the response, they only caused the response by lying. Had they told the truth, then PP’s response would have been a lie. Does that mean by going in honestly and without deception LiveAction would have created an occasion for sin for the PP workers? I suspect the answer is yes. The PP workers would have had to lie because they would know they were being recorded by a pro-life organization trying to reveal them for the deceptive murderers that they are (I am not referring to any specific employee, PP in general).

    The deception, or lying, by LiveAction, simple revealed the truth, which uncovered the lie of PP. This is akin to attorneys who must defend the accused in court. The attorney has a responsibility to provide a vigorous defense, they cannot lie, but they sure can mislead the witnesses in order to uncover their lies. LiveAction’s action, which is probably a lie, reveals the truth. I know we cannot do evil in order to do good; however, when you are dealing with deceivers, willingly or unknowingly working for the father of lies, then deception is often necessary. Again, I am not sure we can come to definitive conclusion and this is uncomfortable, which is why it is important that Joe brought it up.

    I am leaning toward support for this, after all, without trying to be a consequentialist, PP is about to lose $363 million in federal funding – how many babies will that prevent from being murdered? If we could ask them if LiveAction should do what it did, they’d be very happy with the result – of course, that does not necessarily make it moral. I suspect that the time spent in Purgatory for this lie, is worth the lives that may be saved. I certainly wouldn’t be willing to go Hell, and Purgatory sounds hellish – but, if we could save lives, is that a price worth paying? I am still not sure about any of this and it is driving me nuts. I’m not sure if I want to hug Joe or punch him for bringing it up.

  • There is a lot you could say!

    One must ask: Is all use of deception sinful? When does the practice of deception become sinful? In war time don’t submarines hide under the water? In police work don’t undercover agents pose as non-policemen? When Corrie Ten Boom hid Jews wasn’t she being, in a certain sense, deceitful, right from the get-go, long before anyone interrogated her? She pretended to the Germans to not be hiding Jews. The very act of hiding carries with it the will to deceive. Does peaking the deception make it sinful? Is that the test, when it is spoken?

    What about a Joseph who hides his identity from his brothers as well as his ability to both speak and understand their language. This is intrinsically evil? What about Rahab, the harlot in Joshua 2 who hides Jewish spies, lies to the authorities about it, and earns a place in the bible hall of fame in Hebrews 11 for doing so. Augustine claims Rahab was wrong to lie but that she did not know better because she was a Pagan, not a Jew and did not know the 10 commandments. That seems weak to me, especially given her reward in the New Testament. Also, the law forbidding lying certainly belongs to the category of “natural”—things we can’t not know, laws that don’t require revelation for us to be bound by them. In other words even Pagans know it is wrong to lie. The golden rule (I won’t lie to you because I don’t want you to lie to me) does not require any “thus says the Lord;” it is written in the human heart. Yet Rahab is held up as a hero of the Faith in the NT and only a couple of things are known about her, she hid Jews and practiced deception to protect them. Mark dismisses the Rahab story way too easily, given her place in Hebrews 11, which is in the NT.

    Was Strider sinful in hiding his identity from the Hobbits at Bree? Were the twin boys Cor and Corin in C.S. Lewis’s The Horse and His Boy sinning for masquerading for a good part of the story? All of the great stories of heroes masking their true identity now need to be banned?

    When Jesus tells us to hide the fact that we are subjecting ourselves to the rigors of fasting by oiling our hair and washing our face, is he asking us to do something sinful? When the Christians let Paul escape down the walls of Damascus they did so at night, very much hiding their actions from the eye of the authorities. Isn’t that deceptive? Does one really think they were obliged, if asked, to tell the authorities which direction he went? Or . . . they needed to have command of sophiticated verbal trickery to tell a truth that does not help the authorities find him? Really? Where does this end?

    To me it appears that using deception to protect the life of the innocent, far from being sinful, can even be virtuous.

    The morality of a sting operation is certainly not the open-and-shut easy-to-decide sort of thing that Marks wants it to be. I am not at all convinced that it is intrinsically evil. The attempts to label it as such end up like those defending absolute pacifism. They seem clean and clear but don’t work out over time in real situations.

    Tom in Ohio

  • AK

    “I certainly wouldn’t be willing to go Hell, and Purgatory sounds hellish – but, if we could save lives, is that a price worth paying? ”

    No, it isn’t. And it is a total insult to God to say, “I’m going to do this thing I know is a sin, and do my time in Purgatory.” That’s presumption. That’s a sin against the Holy Ghost.


    You can come up with all of the absurd examples you like, in an effort to show that Mark or I or others are nit-picking, being overly-scrupulous, whatever.

    I maintain, and always have, that even IF a lie or a deception could be justified to save a life – or at best be rendered a venial sin – there is no way that a premeditated, aggressive campaign of deception can be rationalized.

    If someone told a lie in a state of agitation, not knowing how else to save a person’s life in an immediate, harrowing situation, I certainly wouldn’t condemn that person; if that person asked me if what he did was a sin, I would say it was probably a venial one, that he could confess it, but that he shouldn’t worry excessively about it.

    When someone proposes to me that we’re going to go lie to others, well in advance, in what is essentially a political campaign, I am going to condemn that as a mortal sin against the truth.

  • All those times I lied to my kids about Santa Claus, it was all planned by me and my wife. Should we be confessing this Joe?

  • Jasper,

    I honestly don’t see why Christian parents need to tell their kids about Santa Claus. Nor do I see how such fables can be justified, when they are told in such a way so that children come to believe that they are true.

    I’m sure people will say I am being a fanatic. I call it being consistent. No, I don’t think parents should deliberately lie to their children. It’s one thing to sugarcoat a difficult truth for a mind too young to comprehend reality; it’s another thing to just lie to them. Whether or not someone being below the age of reason makes a difference as to the moral gravity of a lie, I can’t say. It might. But I, for many reasons, not including but not limited to the fact that it is a blatant falsehood, will not tell my children about Santa as if he were a real person. Frankly it is Jesus and not Santa they ought to worry about keeping a list, checking it twice, and seeing who has been naughty or nice.

  • As for MAG’s link:

    “The next question, in light of Lila’s past four years is, why now?”

    I posted on this a long time ago, when they first started doing this stuff. So, that question doesn’t apply to me.

  • Thanks for the answer Joe. Now, should me and my wife confess this planned lie to a priest?

    “Whether or not someone being below the age of reason makes a difference as to the moral gravity of a lie, I can’t say. It might.”

    Joe, I thought we couldn’t make exceptions for lying. A lie is a lie and it’s a sin, correct?

  • Jasper,

    I never actually took this position. I’ve been open to the possibility that it might be acceptable to mislead someone under certain circumstances – though I have not seen that possibility yet.

    What I absolutely reject is premeditated and aggressive lying, even if good will come of it. And there is no doubt that this is what Live Action does.

    You should confess all of your sins.

  • Joe,

    How are the biblical Rahab, the Egyptian midwives, and Joseph, and the fictional Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings (not to mention all of the other “disguise” stories in classical literature) “absurd?”

    You treat this as open-and-shut, easy to understand. It is none of those. It is one about which even the likes Peter Kreeft and Mark Shea disagree. It is a case worth thinking about from many points of view.

    I ma not asbolutely sure of my position. I still have doubts. Dismissing my examples as absurd, especially Rahab, is not good style. It is not an argument likely to win me over.

    You can do better

    tom in ohio

  • sans typos

    I am not abslutely sure of my position. I still have doubts. Dismissing my examples as absurd, especially Rahab, is not good style. It is not an argument likely to win me over.

  • Tom,

    I think St. Thomas Aquinas dealt with Rahab.

  • I find only Augustine doing so and his opinion does not satisfy me. He says she did not know any better because she was not privy to revelation. But something that is intrinsically evil does not need to be known ny revelation, it belongs to the category of natural law, it must be something we can’t not know. Pagans know it is wrong to lie. So I think Augustine is trying to make something neat that just isn’t that neat.

    You have called my list of examples absurd. They are not. If you were honest I think you would admit they challenge your position. . . .just as the weight of some your arguments challenges mine.

    I am with Peter Kreeft.

    tom in ohio

  • Tom, what I thought of as absurd was this:

    “When Jesus tells us to hide the fact that we are subjecting ourselves to the rigors of fasting by oiling our hair and washing our face, is he asking us to do something sinful? When the Christians let Paul escape down the walls of Damascus they did so at night, very much hiding their actions from the eye of the authorities. Isn’t that deceptive? ”

    These are absurd questions.

  • Not absurd at all. I am showing that we hide things and rightfully so. We purposefully deceive those who watch us and who hear us. My point is that there are shades of deception, from that which is obviously virtuous to that whose virtue is, at least to some, less obvious, all the way to deceptions that are obviously not virtuous at all.

    Rahab hid Jews, lied to authorities. For that she received what amounts to an NT canonization. Live Action hid their identity to bring evil to light. For that they receive thanks from most of us. Too bad you can’t participate in the gratefulness. Peter Kreeft and I will try to make up for your absence.

  • Tom,

    This is a bad-willed and absurd argument.

    In Matt. 6:16, Jesus says,

    “And when you fast, be not as the hypocrites, sad. For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward.”

    He is telling his disciples NOT to lie. In the next verses he says,

    “But thou, when thou fastest anoint thy head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not to men to fast, but to thy Father who is in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret, will repay thee. ”

    All he means by this is that you shouldn’t stop basic hygiene for the reasons that the hypocrites he first mentioned do.

    You have to be totally ignorant or totally dishonest to think Jesus is telling them to lie.

    As for escaping at night, again, how ridiculous and absurd. No one told a lie in that situation. Sneaking is not lying, and any honest person knows that. Anyone who agrees with you on this is as dishonest and absurd as you are.

    Really you just show to everyone here how little you care at all for the truth.

    ” Live Action hid their identity to bring evil to light.”

    No they didn’t. Everyone knows what happens at PP – unspeakable evils, day in and day out. The problem is that no one cares about the evil of abortion. So Live Action and people like you say, “well, we’ll make it look like they support sex-trafficking, something the heathens actually seem to care about, and then we’ll get them.” It’s dishonest.

  • A few years ago, a municipality sent mailers to several hundred addresses suspected to be where bail-jumpers were hiding. “Congratulations, you’ve been selected for a free big-screen Superbowl party! Come down to the auditorium to see the game and have free pizza and drinks!” Several hundred scofflaws came down, got their free pizza and drinks, got real comfortable, and then the police swarmed in and scooped them all up. Beautiful.

    If this is ligit for cops to do, then this sort of deception is not intrinsically evil. Yes the state is doing it, not private citizens, granted. But the state is not allowed to do something intrinically evil, no matter what. If this is the beef you have with Live Action then we are not arguing about lying and its intrinsic evil. but rather a behavior that might or might not be called vigilanteism.

    That’s a different discussion.

  • Yeah, I don’t think sting operations are moral at all. I totally oppose what Chris Hansen and Perverted Justice do.

    But this bail-jumper scenario isn’t even what Live Action did. You mention that the lawbreakers even got their pizza and drinks. Where was the lie? You don’t seem to understand that telling someone you are a pimp/prostitute when you are not, and that you want their help to do all sorts of wicked things you don’t even intend to do, with the intent to deceive them, is a lie.

  • Actually the parallel is quite direct. The police did not send out the invitations in their own name or no one would have shown up. They sent the invitations under a fictitious name to an event that was 100% pretense. So also do Live Action actors go into PP under a guise, and yes it is 100% pretense.

    Is it OK to lead someone to believe something erroneous as long as you don’t use words? Joseph led his brothers to believe he could not understand their speech and then he listened to them. I do not see where that is not a deliberate deception, one that Jospeh used for a grand purpose. And you still can’t get past Rahab.

    It seems you would accept deception as long as words are not used. There is a sort of legalism at work that I cannot accept.

  • To Joe’s post from 5:01 yesterday

    This turns into a typical online discussion where people don’t listen to each other, just load their guns a fire.

    re Jesus, I did not use the word lie. I merely pointed out that no one would think that hiding our fasting is sinful . The point is that Jesus tells us to hide certain things. Rightly so.

    He encourages also us to be cunning in dealing with the children of this world. I think that could include, under certain circumstances, hiding my identity to test the intentions of an adversary. You call that lying (black and white, open and shut, easy). I call it being wise as a serpent. I think (and hope) Lila Rose sacrificed not one little bit of the other side of the coin, the innocent as doves part, in doing so.

    BTW, one of the etiquette rules on the internet is to cirticize ideas and not people. Yet you call me absurd and dishonest.

    “Anyone who agrees with you on this is as dishonest and absurd as you are.”

    Kind of takes the fun out of it when we talk that way Joe. You can do better.

    Lastly, you toss aroud the word absurd for a couple of my points but don’t respond to the main ones: Rahab, Joseph, and many other heroes of the OT. . They were holy, and they were both cunning and bold.

    And. . . Strider and many other fictitious characters whom we accept as exemplary and even virtuous, even though they use false identities. Not absurd examples at all. Widely accepted as virtuous . . . Strider is often seen as Christ figure, the King who returns.

    Tom in Ohio

  • According to the Catechism, to lie “is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error”. Live Action, on the other hand was leading PP and the public toward the truth—the truth about what goes on at PP. The aim of Live Action all along was to reveal who they really were. They couldn’t make their point without doing so. It’s hard to call something a lie when what you’re doing can’t work unless you tell the truth.

    I tend to agree with Peter Kreeft’s conclusion on this issue. Not only was Live Action right but they were clearly right.

    It’s very tempting to take a snippet from the Catechism and pretend that you’re making an infallible doctrinal pronouncement on an issue, but I don’t think Lila Rose’s detractors have made much of a case here.

  • Mark Shea has written far, far too much for far, far too long, it is clear. And this is probably the only memorable thing I have EVER seen him write—and he gets it wrong!

    Write this down, Mr. Shea: No human being owes murderers and eugenicists the truth. They must non-violently be ensnared —and as often as possible.

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