Thursday, February 17, 2011

An Answer to Objection Number Nine

I've discovered another one. Objection Number Nine - Scripture, especially the Old Testament, condones lying.

Here's my reply, also in the form of a letter to a well-meaning friend.


There is no question that we need to stand united and strong with those who have the guts to fight abortion. The problem is, as with the torture issue, that if we begin to adapt the techniques of the enemy, we become the enemy. The devil is the father of lies, and was a liar from the beginning. God is Truth. The Way, the Truth and the Life. We must live conformed to Him and His mind.

This does not necessarily mean that you are less than Catholic if you support Live Action - though honestly, it might. For if the Church teaches (as she does) that lying is intrinsically evil, and if the Live Action actors are lying (the prima facie evidence is that they are), then if we continue to support them, we are supporting them from a Consequentialist position (the end justifies the means), which is condemned by the Church.

My point all along has not been that Lila and James are necessarily lying (I think they are, but it's debatable). My point has been that when a person says, "Well, I don't care what the Church teaches on this issue; I'm going to ignore it," then that person is at that point not in full communion with the Church - or you might say, "less than Catholic".

My latest post addresses this more fully.

As to Scripture. A few points.

1. God never tells anyone to lie in the Old Testament.

2. Jacob, the father of the Israelites, was a liar and a thief. David, the precursor of Jesus, was a murderer and an adulterer. St. Paul, a prideful persecutor of the Church. Are these heroes of the Bible celebrated because of their vices or because of their virtues?

3. The Old Testament is not the fullness of revelation. We can not look to the tales it tells - almost all of them full of blood, gore and sexual sin - as exhibiting the fullness of revelation concerning morality.

4. With that in mind, when did Jesus ever lie? When would He ever lie? When did any of the martyrs lie to save their skin rather than die in honesty? When Peter lied it was the worst moment of his life. How easy when the emperor says, "Renounce Jesus Christ or die," to simply lie and say, "I renounce Him!" But the martyrs never did that. And the lie of Judas and the lie of Peter were equally destructive of their souls - until Peter repented.

You know me well enough to know that I am NOT against effective action opposing the horrors of abortion. The problem is the devil tempts us with a compromise - look away from the inconvenience of Church teaching, don't pick up that cross, just keep your eyes on me and I'll get you there a lot quicker.

And if we take that bargain ... we are lost, despite our good intentions.


Baron Korf said...

"When did any of the martyrs lie to save their skin rather than die in honesty?"

Fr. Edmund Campion, or Mr. Campion the jewel dealer as he was known upon entering Elizabethan England.

Bl. Miguel Pro was a master of disguises, one time pretending to be a detective accosting the police for not catching the 'renegade Pro'.

I understand your point, I really do. However, I think there is something we are missing here. Something along the lines of being as clever as serpents but harmless as doves.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Baron, I grant that there is something we are missing here.

The problem in the Torture Wars was a lack of precision in defining torture. The object of TORTURE is the destruction of the Image of God in another human being, by means of physical pain or psychological torment or sensory deprivation, or what have you. The object of torture is to destroy a person's reason and free will. This makes it very different from spanking or other forms of corporal punishment, which do not share that object.

Likewise, I would suggest that LYING has as its object the leading of another into error. PRETENSE, on the other hand, or PRETENDING has a different object. The object of PRETENSE for a stage actor is to reveal an artisic truth or to entertain or to play. Likewise, if a parent pretends that Santa Claus comes down the chimney, he is not trying to lead his child into error, but communicate the wonder of Christmas and love and giving - to communicate deeper truths through artistic license. Touchstone talks about this in Shakespeare's "As You Like It". The virtue of "if".

Now, are the actors in these sting videos LYING or PRETENDING? Certainly, they are adopting roles and disguising themselves, and certainly their disguise reveals a truth about Planned Parenthood. In that sense, a truth is revealed through a fiction, as in play acting. On the other hand, they are deliberately leading the targets into error as the means to achieve their greater goal. This is lying.

A reader pointed out to me privately,

"One interesting thing with regard to the pro-life issue is that John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae explicitly identifies the devil as the 'father of lies' and stresses that the pro-life movement's integrity rests on truth."

And shrewdness and disguise need not include lying. But I grant you that there are elements here we haven't been able to put our finger on.

Mark Shea is pretty comprehensive on this here:

Baron Korf said...

You must forgive me on two counts. First is that I have not read the article Mr Shea wrote. It is best for both he and me that I no longer read anything of his. Second is I think you are dancing around the point so much that we are no longer discussing the matter at hand.

Live Action, Bl. Miguel Pro, and St. Edmund Campion all took actions to confound and deceive evil people to bring about good. The purpose of a disguise and alias is so that people will not know the truth of who you are and behave differently as a result. So either Holy Mother Church has canonized these and other martyrs inspite of their deceptions, or lying is not intrinsically evil.

Dr. Kreeft has given this a good treatment at InsideCatholic.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Baron, you'd have to give examples of how the disguises of these saints and blesseds crossed the line from PRETENSE to LYING in order to make the case you're making.

"So either Holy Mother Church has canonized these and other martyrs inspite of their deceptions, or lying is not intrinsically evil." This is wrong on so many levels I can't count them.

First, everyone canonized by the Church sinned (except for the Virgin Mary). So to point to sins commited by saints proves nothing. And martyrs for the Church are saints by definition, regardless of their life's moral character.

Second, if lying is not intrinsically evil, then the Catechsim of the Catholic Church is wrong and the magisterium is fallible on matters of faith and morals.

So if your conclusion holds that lying is not intrinsically evil, then the magisterium can make any mistake, including canonizing people who are not in heaven.

Baron, the fact is the Catechism couldn't be clearer on this. So the true dichotomy is - Does Baron Korf accept the authority of the magisterium or not?

I thought all along our disagreement was with whether or not the acts of Lila and James constitute lying. I think legitimate positions can be taken on both sides of that question. What can not be claimed by any Catholic is that lying is not intrinsically evil.

Kreeft's article is simply weird. His main point is that if something goes against our "moral common sense" it is almost certainly wrong. But, as I pointed out in a previous post, the heart of Catholic teaching goes against moral common sense. And Kreeft is conveniently ingoring the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. He also states bluntly that he is not applying logic to this situation.

Now, if you don't have the stomach to read Mark Shea, I can understand. This is an issue that is stirring me up far too much as it is. But if you don't read him, then let's move on. He covers this issue comprehensively, incorporating everything I touch upon in these posts and quite a bit more. If you're going to read Kreeft, you need to read Shea.

If you don't want to read Shea (and I can understand why), then please save your comments for other topics. I guarantee you that any objection you'll bring up on this issue is dealt with at Shea's post.

Meanwhile, thanks for reading and if you skip over Shea's piece, please feel free to comment on other issues.

Baron Korf said...

Of course I accept the Church as teacher, but I don't think we are applying it correctly here.

So by this reading of the Catechism, I may kill a man in defense of someone in my care, but I may not lie to them to achieve the same end? (CCC 2265)

Kevin O'Brien said...

Baron, CCC 2625 is about prayer, so you seem to have given the wrong citation.

Two things - first, killing is not murder. Murder, like lying, is something that may never be done.

Secondly, the Catechism states that we may defend others by means of arms. You may brandish a weapon, you may fire your weapon, but your intent is to render the attacker incapable of attack. Killing is not your intent. We may defend others by means of arms, but not by means of killing (I know, this sounds very specious, but brandishing a weapon and using a weapon may not result in death. This is why if a police officer shoots an attacker and injures him, the attacker is rushed to a hospital to save his life. The intente is not to kill, but to halt.)

In the case of the sting videos, the means used is lying. The deception fostered upon the targets is intented; it is the object of the act. It is the means used to get information out of the target.