Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The End of the Lying Debate?

Jimmy Akin has just crowned Deacon Jim Russell the winner in the two or three-year-old Lying Debate

All along, Deacon Jim has been furious with me because I have claimed that if you don't hold lying to be intrinsically evil, as Scripture, St. Augustine, the Angelic Doctor, the Catechism of Trent, and the Modern Catechism do, you are in dissent against Catholic teaching.

To avoid the charge of dissent while at the same time supporting Lying When the Situation Calls for It, Deacon Jim has worked out a theory in which there are "two traditions" and that the Magisterium has not weighed in on the matter; thus one may hold either of the "two traditions" without being in dissent.  Akin votes with Deacon Jim's interpretation - at least in so far as the notion that the Magisterium has not been teaching about the morality of lying. 

Peter Keeft weighed in early on with the specious argument that our "moral common sense" tells us that lying is sometimes right - an argument that is easily answered by the fact that our "moral common sense" does not tell us to "love our enemies" or not to divorce and remarry, or to do almost anything that Jesus or the Holy Spirit keep telling us to do.

In the meantime, lots has been written, with Mark Shea, Dr. Christopher Tollefsen, Dawn Eden, Sean Dailey, Joe Grabowski and others taking, along with yours truly, the anti-Lying position, with Russell, Kreeft, Ahlquist, Janet Smith and others taking the pro-Lying position.

But now we have a well-respected and popular Catholic theologian in the popular media who, in a post that is quite sane and balanced, has affirmed the assertion that the Magisterium has not had a voice in this issue.

I think Jimmy Akin is wrong. 

As I pointed out yesterday in my post The Truth About Lying (a response to this article), this is not a question of "two traditions" but of the Ordinary Magisterium (what Russell calls the "majority opinion") teaching clearly on an issue that has a few dissenting theologians here and there.  This happens all the time in the Development of Doctrine.  If the Ordinary Magisterium consisted only of 100% consensus on an issue, there would be no Ordinary Magisterium.  The Ordinary Magisterium is the consistent weight of Church teaching over time, the teaching of bishops in union with the pope as well as the common consensus of the people, while a few here and there may beg to differ; it's not a question of "either / or" and certainly not "both / and", but of who is teaching what Christ taught and what the Holy Spirit unfolds.  Russell denies such a thing is the Ordinary Magisterium at work, calling such consistency of teaching and belief the "majority view", and non-Magisterial opinions as the "minority view", but it's more than that.


But even if Akin and Russell are right, we are left with this - should we be lying to the very people who most need a witness to truth?  Should we be tempting them to mortal sin (as Shea points out the sting video actors are doing)?  Can truth ever be served by a lie? 

Because even if Deacon Jim (the most annoying man on the internet) has been right all along, even if the Magisterium has not taught conclusively on this subject, that doesn't mean that lying is a valid means to an end.  Our faith and morals are not entirely dictated by what the Magisterium teaches.

That's right, Catholic Minimalists!  Our faith and morals are not legalistic; they are not confined only to Magisterial pronouncements. 

Yesterday I gave an example in one of my comboxes.  I think it's a good example, and I will repeat it here. 

I am very tempted to enter into intimate online realtionships with attractive women in their 20's - non-sexual but emotionally intimate. I have never seen a bishop condemn this. There is nothing in the Catechism about it. Scripture does not mention the internet once. Am I therefore to assume that I may, as a good married Catholic, do such things with impunity?
And I ask that question again, and I ask it seriously - since the Magisterium has never weighed in on "emotional unchastity over the internet", may I be "emotionally unchaste over the internet" - especially if I call it something else?  May I, for that matter, view pornography if I feel convinced I possess "mature purity" and if I do so to wonder at the marvels of the naked female body and stop before signs of physical arousal well up in my flesh?  I mean, the Magisterium has never directly addressed that.  And may I treat my animals as if they were children and spend a fortune on them when they get sick?  The Catechism advises against it, but the Catechism is not Magisterial, right?

If this is how we choose to live out Christ in our lives, we are worse than the Pharisees.


My friends, even though Peter Kreeft got this one wrong, he was on the right track. 

We do have a "moral common sense".  In the case of the Old Adam, the "moral common sense" is selfish, self-serving and sinful.

If, on the other hand we sow not to the flesh but to the spirit, we can be given the beginning of a new thing, the "moral common sense" of Christ, which bears very little resemblance to our old one.

"But we have the mind of Christ," (1 Cor. 2:16) if we ask for it and cultivate it, and if His new life is in us.

Therefore, even if Akin and the others are right and the Magisterium has not been teaching on this, it does not follow (as Deacon Jim Russell claims) that "a good Catholic" may side with the "minority view" and lie if the situation calls for it. 

Even if Deacon Jim Russell is not in dissent, he's arguing for an ignoble and self-serving position, and one would hope that we, as Christians, are called to better than that.


ADDENDUM: I go into this in a more general way, relating it to Christian discipleship here ... What Do "Intentional Disciples" Intend?


StevenD-Jasper said...

my daughter came crying to me the other day saying the kids in the neighborhood were calling her fat, she asked me 'Daddy, do you think I'm fat?' I said 'yes honey, they're right, you are fat'.

Following your silly 'intrinsically evil' argument did not go over well.

I notice what sparked this whole debate was Live Action. There are all kinds of stings that go on, but you arm chair pro-lifers only weigh in on LA. Keeping tight with your liberal fan base...

jvc said...

The only way to understand the Live Action organization and its supporters is as mental masturbation. In fact, it is the key to most of the so-called evangelical Catholicism movement.

None of these people seem to be actually concerned with results. No one ever evaluates whether what they do accomplishes anything. In the end, it really doesn't matter.

The only thing that matters is that it feels good to its supporters. Therefore, it must be good. After all, we've been told by this same crowd that whatever maximizes pleasure is the ultimate good.

The entire Christopher West disaster can be understood in this context. Is he accomplishing anything? I would argue no. What do the rock concerts accomplish? The ghetto Catholics get to pat themselves on the back for their faith, and the non-Catholic asks of himself why bother if Catholicism is just the same as everything else.

But, again, West and Rose and the others get to feel good about themselves, and that is all that truly matters.

Sean Nygaard said...

"But the greatest of these is love." (1Cor 13:13)

Scripturally, it would seem the debate about lying is best addressed by the test of love. Rahab lied because she loved Yahweh, the spies, and the Israelites more than her own life, which she endangered by not telling city officials the truth.

Of course, most lying is done to protect one's self, which is not motivated by Christian love. Our debate centers not on this practice, but on untruths told to protect innocent life.

For those who hold that lying is always wrong, I'm concerned they may be loving doctrine more than people, a practice Jesus specifically condemned among the Pharisees. Jesus made clear there is a hierarchy of moral imperatives, and love is at the top. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness." Jesus made clear the most important command is love. In the rare cases when untruths are spoken to uphold this command,
I can't imaging that God, or His Church, would have any objection.

- Sean Nygaard
Portland, OR

Kevin O'Brien said...

Sean, not one life has been saved by Live Action and not one life ever will be. It is mental masturbation, as JVC says.

Kevin O'Brien said...

OK, Stephen D. Jasper, if you want to call me an arm chair pro-lifer, come to St. Louis where I live and say that to my face.

In the mean time, if any one else brings up, "What do I say if my wife asks if the dress makes her look fat?" or "What if I write a work of fiction - is that lying?" or "Only closet pro-abortionists read the Catechism" or anything that ignores what we went over exhaustively in the Lying Debate, I will not only delete your comments, I will do so with a very angry "delete" finger.

Feel free to comment and disagree with me, but don't bring up inanities. If you don't get the fundamentals of the issue, scroll down and click on LYING in the column of tags of the left side of this blog. Read those posts. All of these objections were covered there at length ad nauseum.

I will tolerate neither lazy comments from people who are bringing up basic things that were covered two years ago and that they could find a response to if they put any work into it at all; nor will I be called a secret pro-abortionist for defending the teaching of the Catholic Church and for trying to save the pro-life movement from its own sin and folly.

jvc said...

Paul Stilwell had a pretty good comment on the false analogies, today:

David said...

I think a simple answer is questioning whether Akin is to be counted as any sort of authoritative opinion or any weighty theologian, just as Deacon JR. No offense against Akin, but his main claim to fame is being a convert, and as often happens, converts are pushed into the limelight and given lofty status, whose opinions are then automatically given weight.

His analysis is not very scholarly but superficial and presents the usual straw man arguments and errors, e.g., equating historical examples with the intentionally created situations of live action; saying that because some individual acted in some way- if even a pope- then therefore it is probably morally licit; and claiming that the old text of the catechism is still of equal weight, despite the fact that the current edition is the normative text to be used for analysis, and thus can at least be taken to be the more probable opinion.

Anonymous said...

To answer to one's child 'yes you're fat' rather than point out the truth that beauty is internal, and that that internal, unique beauty radiates through her into her appearance also, is in my humble opinion a typical fallacy in such a topic as lying.

From experience, for argument's sake, when my own dad answered my personal question with a straight out answer that was hurtful, it's not so much "telling the truth" as it was being blunt without thinking who lovingly wanted an answer from him in the first place, and that there is a deeper answer that is present solely for me to hear.

BEFORE you go to the combox to answer, i am NOT calling you a bad parent. All i'm saying is that out of the 'obvious' comes a deeper clear truth which is easily taken for granted, and not noted when we don't take a minute to see it.

So, in your case sir, if your daughter is having a hard time with these kids - and i'm passing advice here out of personal bullying experiences - it's because they envy her unique personality, what makes her her, what brings joy to others as your child. Seems odd, but that is the basis behind bullying always. Believe me. . . . That and clearly having nothing better to do on their part, plain and simple.

God bless you.


Kevin O'Brien said...

David, I agree with what you say, but that sword cuts both ways. Akin does not pretend to be a theologian, nor do I and neither does Deacon Jim.

The fact is the internet has become a medium for regular folk who like to write and voice their opinions. Therefore I want to make it clear that I have never claimed to be the Magisterium on this issue. I have only said, "Listen to the Magisterium on this issue and take with a grain of salt opinions that contradict it, and realize that if you push a private agenda at the expense of Church teaching, you are putting yourself in peril."

Meanwhile, the issue continues to be debated hotly, and I have just today learned that at least one major scholar in academia will be publishing a work on this very issue - a work that is bound to be better researched than anything any of us bloggers have so far written.

Benjamin. said...

You seem to dismiss conscience so quickly.
Are you really dismissing the idea of an importance of a sense of guilt? Ultimately is that not what we follow?

Isn't it important to have a sense of what we should do beyond what we read on a piece of paper? Personal revelation is not dismissed by false claims of personal revelation anymore than resurrection witnesses are dismissed on the claims of other fake resurrections.

Are you telling me that if early on in learning about the Church, you saw some supposed paper on Church teachings, and read something on there that you sensed was evil and wrong, you would not allow your conscience to ultimately take over and say, "No, this must be wrong. Maybe that means this isn't from the Church, I don't know, but I believe it to be against the commandments of God."? Are you saying that you could never do that? Are you saying that your morality lies alone in a piece of paper that you read, and in the validity of the person claiming to work for the Church? Is your relationship with God reduced to a legalistic detective story of where the information comes from?

Benjamin. said...

I should clarify, ULTIMATELY we follow God, not "ultimately conscience," though our conscience may be rooted in God, therefore we do follow conscience.

joeclark77 said...

I think it's super cute how the Pharisaical author tries to accuse the other side of being Pharisees because they, er, AREN'T being hyper-legalistic and, er, AREN'T self-righteously wagging their fingers at the other faithful.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Benjamin, quit hating the Catholic Church.

By the way, the Catholic Church teaches we are OBLIGATED to follow our conscience, and also OBLIGATED to form our conscience to comport with the Mind of Christ.

Many of the folks who make so much noise about lying and sex and torture and so forth are simply trying to quiet that still small voice of God, that troubled conscience within them.

After all, if you really think Lying is good and if your conscience doesn't trouble you, be my guest and lie your ass off. But if you're not so sure, then be my guest and tie yourself in knots to rationalize it - and sacrifice the Catechism, Scripture, Thomas Aquinas, Trent, Augustine and others in the process.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Joe Clark, who's being hyper legalistic here? Who's wagging whose finger at whom? Google "Deacon Jim Russell" and "lying" and see what you find.

Yes, I hate it when one side calls the other side PHARISEES, like you just did to me.

Benjamin. said...

I didn't justify lying in my comments. I didn't want you to dismiss to the role of conscience because of people lying about their conscience that is not reasonable.

Where did I hate the Catholic Church? Does everybody who disagrees with you disagree with the Catholic Church? I have never heard the Catholic Church argue in the way you do.

Didn't Aquinas say that if your conscience tells you that you cannot follow a particular Church teaching, then following it would be a sin? It seems you are the one disagreeing with Aquinas.

joeclark77 said...

"Joe Clark, who's being hyper legalistic here? Who's wagging whose finger at whom?"

Are you playing dumb? Doesn't playing dumb count as deception? Maybe you ought to go to confession for that mortal sin right there.

jvc said...

"Go to the Confession" is the Godwin's law equivalent on the Catholic blogosphere.

Get a life.

StevenD-Jasper said...

"OK, Stephen D. Jasper, if you want to call me an arm chair pro-lifer, come to St. Louis where I live and say that to my face."

LOL, Ok I like your spirit. I'm sorry...

Kevin O'Brien said...

Thanks, Stephen! Apology accepted. I'm so used to the more typical "I'm sorry, but" - and you didn't even go there!

Anonymous said...

While yes there have been discussions on lying over the centuries and while yes the Catechism presents various kinds and degrees of teaching -- it is the teaching of the Church that lying is to be condemned.

2475 Christ's disciples have "put on the new man, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness."274 By "putting away falsehood," they are to "put away all malice and all guile and insincerity and envy and all slander."275

482 "A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving."281 The Lord denounces lying as the work of the devil: "You are of your father the devil, . . . there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies."

2485 By its very nature, lying is to be condemned. It is a profanation of speech, whereas the purpose of speech is to communicate known truth to others. The deliberate intention of leading a neighbor into error by saying things contrary to the truth constitutes a failure in justice and charity. The culpability is greater when the intention of deceiving entails the risk of deadly consequences for those who are led astray.

Note especially that line in 2485 "By its very nature" -- "lying is to be condemned"

(and one can note that some of the references are to Jesus and Paul).

The real question at hand is not "is lying ok in some circumstances?" it is not.

But rather is "such and such" lying or some other moral object.

Alyssa Tallentire said...

Here's a scenario I hope you will apply to this lying conversation. What if the Church was being persecuted so badly that Christians, when discovered, were rounded up to suffer terrible abuses and you were captured. The persecutors ask you who your priest is, where he is and if you know where your other Christian friends are. Do you tell them, or would you lie or would silence be the way to go? I don't presume to know the right answer here but this situation just popped into my over-active imagination.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Alyssa, by the grace of God I would remain silent. They have no right to know that information. Could I hold up under torture? I don't know, but that is what I would hope I would do.

FrH said...

My two cents (actually three):
1. Jesus never lied, but at the same time he did not always answer directly questions that were a trap.
He also said that he was born to testify to the truth (Jn 18:37) and also that he is the truth (Jn 14:6).
2. Therefore the best thing to do is to seek to accomplish the goals without lying (as per Mark Shea's very cogent arguments), even if that means risking failure in the endeavor
3. I think that anger, even righteous anger, can often tempt us to evil (e.g., Dresden, Hiroshima) and that this is an example of that.

Michael said...

"Can truth ever be served by a lie?"

I'm sure this has been covered...

perhaps we can apply the principle of the law of double effect to say that;

It's permissible to lie to reduce a net evil e.g. saying "there are no jews in my loft" to Nazi's.

It's NEVER permissible to lie for a good e.g. lie for the intention of something good happening.

Michael said...

Kevin, in light of my previous example;

how do you view self-defense and (self-defense by) lying as qualitatively different?

Michael said...

I do admit some truths are so important that they should not ever be denied...

e.g. Peter when asked if he was with hence a follower of Jesus.

But then this (the gravity of the lie in itself) would just be factored into the law of double effect as would the evil prevented.

Anonymous said...


What about undercover policemen and intelligence agents? Are they the exception? Is deception morally permissible in the case of, say, a narcotics officer infiltrating a drug cartel?


jvc said...

And on and on and on with these stupid hypotheticals. Can someone come up with a justification for this activity, or are we just going to run in circles with this intellectual emptiness?

Kevin O'Brien said...

Michael, Anonymous, et. al. - your questions display a fundamental misunderstanding of the rudimentary basics of Catholic Moral Theology. Even the terms are being misused in your questions.

This is not your fault. No one has taught you. But in the internet age, you can teach yourself.

Let me see if there's a way to approach this problem. Perhaps I can blog about it more, with the help of the guys I know who really do understand Moral Theology.

Michael said...

Kevin, I am just a layman trying to figure it out. (._.)

Looking forward to some new insight.

jvc, these aren't "stupid hypotheticals", they're real situations that man has encountered millions if not billions of times.

People DID lie to Nazi's to help others, undercover officers DO lie to criminals, to dismiss such things as hypothetical is odd.

Not that I want to confuse things MORE BUT...

take the example of a priest who hears something in the confessional, he is to behave as he would had he never heard any confession. By the Decree from the Holy Office (Nov. 18, 1682)

Which means the priest HAS TO ANSWER a question about the penitent in a manner as if there had been no confession.


- an adulterer confesses his sin to a priest
- later the wife asks the priest if he has any substantive knowledge of her spouse having an affair

This means if the priest hadn't any knowledge before and would have answered "No" he MUST answer "No".

Even to refrain from answering would defy this decree.

jvc said...

You can't find hypotheticals more divergent from the relevant situation, which is a reflection of how little you understand what is going on here. In ZERO of those situations is it required to lure someone into a sin in order to accomplish the goal (regardless of the merit of the goal). If you can't justify this without coming up with asinine Nazi analogies, you are a true idiot who will come up with anything to justify your own beliefs and actions. Conform yourself to Christ, not to your ego.

Michael said...

JVC, relax, take a deep breath, and dumb this sentence down for me;

"In ZERO of those situations is it required to lure someone into a sin in order to accomplish the goal (regardless of the merit of the goal)."

And while I'm waiting for that, I'd like to take you up on a phrase I read;

"asinine Nazi analogies"

History is asinine now?

"...who will come up with anything to justify your own beliefs and actions"

So which part did I make up now?

- priests not being allowed to cause confessional knowledge to influence their behaviour

- people lying to Nazi's to help others

- undercover police claiming they're "not a cop"

Ah, nevermind I'll take your word for it, all of those things are bizarre farfetched absurdities.

P.S. You're right about everything and have no ego.