Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Defend Live Action! or I'll shoot this dog

There have been a number of great posts by a number of great bloggers about whether or not it's OK for Live Action! to lie. The first place I saw this was on the blog site Big Blue Wave, in the post Something that bothers me about LiveAction's sting operations, which says
The pro-life blogosphere is a buzz with's latest sting operation where a man and a woman pose as a pimp and a prostitute to catch a Planned Parenthood official aiding and abetting sex trafficking.

People seem to look at these videos uncritically because...folks, the people who are telling stories about these made-up girls are lying.

Remember lying? That sin prohibited by the Ten Commandments?

I know catching Planned Parenthood doing shady things is very exciting and it provides ammunition in the fight to get them defunded.

But to do it by sinful means is wrong.

And the pro-life blogosophere should not uncritically accept this means of deriving information just because it puts us an advantage.

In fact, the Devil loves giving us a reason to sin. He'll use whatever motive we have, including a desire to please God and save the unborn.

I can see many objections to my comment come up.

For instance, that it's okay to lie sometimes.

No it's not.
In other words, Live Action! is as evil as Planned Parenthood because both are sinning. I consider this viewpoint a bit extreme, and somewhat wrong. First off, equating lying with abortion is incorrect. Lying is a venial sin unless it has grave consequences. Let me focus your attention on five paragraphs of the catechism on lying that are relevant to the discussion.
2482 "A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving."280 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."281

2484 The gravity of a lie is measured against the nature of the truth it deforms, the circumstances, the intentions of the one who lies, and the harm suffered by its victims. If a lie in itself only constitutes a venial sin, it becomes mortal when it does grave injury to the virtues of justice and charity.

2488 The right to the communication of the truth is not unconditional. Everyone must conform his life to the Gospel precept of fraternal love. This requires us in concrete situations to judge whether or not it is appropriate to reveal the truth to someone who asks for it.

2489 Charity and respect for the truth should dictate the response to every request for information or communication. the good and safety of others, respect for privacy, and the common good are sufficient reasons for being silent about what ought not be known or for making use of a discreet language. the duty to avoid scandal often commands strict discretion. No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it.282
Now, lest we fall into the sin of rash judgment we should examine the situation.

Mark Shea takes a less rigid position in Can you lie for a good cause?
All of which is to say, “I’m mostly opposed, but not enough of a moral theologian to say definitively what I think.” Had I been hiding Dutch Jews in my attic, I would have cheerfully lied to the Gestapo and figured out the fine moral issues later. So if somebody could make a really good case for such deception that is not, in the end, just another consequentialist argument, I would be willing to listen. But I am frankly skeptical that such arguments are thick on the ground. Having watched for years now as Catholics eagerly throw themselves into ridiculous justifications of radical evil like abortion, torture and war crimes “for the Greater Good” I am extremely sensitive to “camel’s nose under the tent” justifications for arguments that boil down, in the end, to “Let us do evil that good may come of it.” If you think you’ve got an argument for deceiving PP managers that is not, in the end, an argument that would not also authorize lying for any other good end, gimme your best shot. But I’m not inclined to believe you. After all, you are setting yourself the task of trying to get me to trust that somebody who approves of lying is not lying to me.
Of course, Mark's blog is popular and there have been may many responses. I tried adding my own voice to the fray, but my comment disappeared (literally, it never showed up on the blog). Rather than be one voice among the many, I thought I'd respond here, where nobody will comment and contradict me (sometimes it's nice to be obscure).

First of all, let me say that I agree with Mark and the others - lying is wrong - but I think there are arguments to be made in favor of the actions of Lila Rose and Live Action!. Let's take a look. I want to justify Live Actions!'s actions, and not just because I admire beautiful women who try to save lives, but because it saves Jews.

Some people have invoked "double effect" to say they are justified in lying. That does not apply here. As explained in my award winning post Between a rock and a hard place (Part III: double trouble), in order for the act to be OK, "the act itself must be morally good or at least indifferent." Lying is not morally good or indifferent. It is wrong.

Some have invoked the "hiding Jews in the attic" argument. I think this is an apt analogy, because just as people told the Nazis that there were no Jews in the attic in order to save innocent human lives, Live Action! is telling Planned Parenthood there are babies in the womb in order to save innocent human lives. I think if you condemn Live Action! you have to also condemn those who hid Jews in World War II, or those who hid Immaculée Ilibagiza during the Rwandan genocide, and that's something I cannot do.

I will note that although I would gladly tell the Nazis there were no Jews in the attic, or tell the Hutus there were no Tutsis in the bathroom, I would go to confession afterward. I don't know if my actions would qualify as a lie and if they would qualify as a sin or not, but I'm not going to risk it all on that

So, how can it not be a lie? A lie implies that Planned Parenthood has a right to the truth. Does someone have the right to information that enables them to kill others? Does the Gestapo have the right to know that the Jews are in the attic? I haven't found any definitive writing on what constitutes or abrogates one's right to the truth, but I'd maintain if anything did abrogate it, that would.

Secondly, can a lie not be a sin? Certainly. For an action to be a sin the person performing it must know it is sinful and freely choose it. In the case of Live Action! I think both of these are in play. Without a definitive definition of the right to the truth I think it is reasonable to doubt whether or not there is a right to the truth in this case. And before you think I'm on the slippery slope Mark points out of those who say "but the Church has never defined torture" let me assure you I'm not. I'm not trying to say that this is not lying or that lying is not bad, but a case of where the "line in the sand" is on an issue that is explicitly not absolute according to the catechism.

Secondly there is an issue of freedom of choice. Now, this is sort of tenuous, so please bear with me. I'm sure Live Action! would much rather defund Planned Parenthood and uncover corruption and illegal activity without having to lie, but Planned Parenthood has set up a situation where the means to that cannot be achieved by walking in and saying "I'm from Live Action! and this is my camera and tell me if you are doing something illegal." With a strong desire to defend life there is a temptation to do so by performing actions that are legal and acceptable, even if they are shaky morally. This is not attempting to justify actions, but merely an extenuating circumstance in deciding whether or not a sin has been committed.

So in other words, I don't know if what they did is a lie, and I don't know if what they did is sinful. I must admit I am glad that the result may save the lives of women and children, and I leave the question of whether or not they should go to confession between them and their confessor.


Also no moral theologian, but to me, this sounds like a too strict definition of lying. At the very least, it sounds like any time we knowing tell a falsehood, we are lying. By this definition, telling your kids about Santa, is lying. By this definition, telling someone it is night when they can clearly see it is day it also a lie. I think the purposes and outcomes of the communication must be taken into account, but I certainly also am aware of the dangers of a utilitarian argument. For example, "white lies" can still be harmful if for no other reason that they can break down trust. But I am hard pressed to find ANY harm caused by the "lie" of Live Action. Even the people being lied to are being helped/not harmed, by their being exposed. This sounds dangerously like a utilitarian argument, but I guess my point is that I am not trying to minimize negative consequences. I am actually trying to argue that there are no negative consequences. I realize this is a rather bold statement, and certainly not one I am willing to bet my life on at this point. But, if this were objectively true, then I would think there is no sin involved. Admittedly, how to ensure that this is the case before acting (or even after acting) is a little tricky.

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