Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The four opinions

I've got to admit, reading my own comment boxes has been my biggest guilty pleasure these past two days. Which probably tells you more than you need to know about my sense of humor.

On the one hand, I am told by one commenter that I am one of the Catholic blogosphere's known Mean Girls, a Queen Bee ready to buzz in at a moment's notice and sting the poor feelings of hapless Catholic writers who, by posting their ideas, are really posting a little bit of themselves, such that my criticism of said ideas is the exact same thing as if I walked up to them, punched them in the face, and stole their lunch money.

Boy, I'm glad I didn't know that criticizing someone's written words has this effect back in the days when I took literary criticism classes in college. Because Hemingway would have punched back. And missed. Because he was drunk. And then written about it. In bitter terse yet dull sentences. Because he is Hemingway.

But I digress.

On the other hand, amazingly enough, I am told that I am a pathetic sycophantic cringing toady so desperate to be accepted at the Catholic blogosphere's Cool Kids' table that I will uncritically accept any opinion Mark Shea comes up with in between providing him with graveyard gray matter and holding off the torch-wielding villagers, who are righteous and of the Lord. Wait...can I really be both Igor and a Queen Bee? Because from a fashion perspective alone that would seem wildly impossible.

In all seriousness, though, I've realized that more of this discussion hinges on the Lila Rose/Live Action/morality of lying debate than I first thought. The "are you with the real pro-life people, or only the armchair ones?" question seems to revolve around whether you think Lila Rose is a persecuted heroine who is single-handedly bringing down Planned Parenthood while exposing fake pro-lifers for the hypocrites they are, or whether you are still concerned that dressing like a prostitute or pimp and telling palpable untruths to get PP workers to expose their willingness to break existing laws might not be the best of tactics from a Catholic moral perspective.

I think that in the online Catholic community, at least four distinct opinions about all of this have emerged:

Opinion 1: What Lila Rose is doing works. Therefore, endless egghead debates about angels and pins and lying and similar things is just a distraction. That kind of hair-splitting is embarrassing and unnecessary.

Opinion 2: What Lila Rose is doing is "not-lying," because of the long-standing if never articulated Catholic morality exemption from the rules about lying for undercover cops, spies, and undercover journalists. No matter how many false statements she makes as part of her investigations, she is covered by the "not-lying undercover exemption."

Opinion 3: What Lila Rose is doing may technically be lying, but it's a noble and virtuous kind of lying, the kind with Biblical precedents, the kind that saved Jewish lives when Nazis came to the door and demanded to know where people were hiding their Jewish friends. Just as you can lie in a moral and good way to save the lives of Jewish people hiding from Nazis, so can you lie to help defund Planned Parenthood since this will eventually save lives, provided the Senate is made to toe the line and there are enough votes to override the president's planned veto and PP doesn't manage to make up what it loses in federal funding via private donations from people like Bill Gates and so forth. If the Church says otherwise, then the Church is wrong.

Opinion 4: What Lila Rose and her agents are doing is lying, and that's not a morally valid option regardless of the gravity of the fight or the goodness of the intended outcome. There's no "undercover journalism" exception, and even IF the Church were to spell out a "telling unplanned untruths under duress when a gun is in your face and the lives of innocents are in immediate danger is not lying" exception, this would not cover Live Action since they have plenty of time to plan their courses of action, are not under duress, and are not saving immediate lives.

I hold opinion 4. I have some understanding for those who hold opinion 2, although I don't agree with it; at least those who hold opinion 2 have thought deeply about this issue, have agreed that lying is wrong, and are trying to think of a way that moralists might eventually carve out an exemption for various types of undercover work. But for those whose opinions more closely align with 1 and 3, I lack that understanding--because the morality of actions are important if one is not a utilitarian, and because believing that there is such a thing as a noble and virtuous lie in defiance of Church teaching is a tragically wrong turn.

The thing is, while I would try to persuade those who hold opinions 1 and 3 to consider Church teaching about the morality of lying more carefully, I am quite willing to shake hands cheerfully with those who hold 2, and to agree to disagree for the time being. What really bothered me about Pat Archbold's slighting reference to this whole debate is that he doesn't seem willing to extend the same courtesy to those of us who hold opinion 4. Here are his words again:
A young woman by the name of Lila Rose took on the abortion behemoth Planned Parenthood in a continuing video series exposing the organization for what it is. This young woman has almost single-handedly has brought Planned Parenthood to its knees. All the while, the armchair pro-life sniffed at her tactics and offered ex cathedra pronouncements from the comfort of their la-z-boys decrying the unseemliness of it all.

And while the armchair pro-life argued about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, the Republican governor of New Jersey, armed with a fiscal crisis and the embarrassing sting videos, vetoed funding for Planned Parenthood. Who? The Republican governor, that’s who.
I can't support Live Action in their undercover sting operations, because I am convinced that the prohibition against lying does, indeed, include such operations if those engaged in them utter deliberate falsehoods. But Archbold seems to reject out of hand the idea that anybody could have a problem with Lila Rose's tactics in good conscience.

In the news today we have James O'Keefe's latest sting operation, in which a couple of people lie about their identities, pretending to be part of a Muslim group, in order to get NPR executive Ron Schiller to reveal his opinions about Tea Party activists, conservatives, and others. My question to those who hold opinion 3: is the goal of embarrassing NPR and possibly removing their federal funding a noble enough goal to make the lies morally acceptable, or is it only okay to lie when your goal is to get federal funding removed from abortion clinics?


Mark P. Shea said...

Wait...can I really be both Igor and a Queen Bee? Because from a fashion perspective alone that would seem wildly impossible.

I am inexorably reminded of this.

Soldier on, Red. I am, of course, like you, relieved to know that nobody in this whole discussion in your comboxes actually means to refer to anybody specific, concrete, or even real. It's amazing how worked up they get about all these non-specified non-entities who nobody seems to be able to point to. But it is a comfort to know that it definitely doesn't refer to Eden, Doino, Tollefsen, Reginaldus, Brandon Watson, Robert George or any of the other voices in the public square (including yours truly) who actually engaged the question of lying. Given then, that it has been completely conceded by all the people in your comboxes who feel mysteriously compelled to insist that they aren't (wink) talking about, you know, anybody in particular (wink, wink) it would appear that this teapot tempest is pretty much over.

Perhaps a new topic is in order, such as, oh, I don't know, Passive Aggression?

melanie said...

I guess too, I take issue with being called arm chair pro lifer if I don't feel comfortable with lying to bring down PP? I don't know, that seems self righteous and presumptuous.
Now, as I have said over and over, I might just take the lie on my conscience, however, doing so does not make it morally right , justified, or make me a hero. Anyone who tries to argue that lying is okay in that instance, okay as in morally sanctioned, is wrong and cannot escape the fact that they ( as you pointed out ) are accepting that a good ends justifies an evil means. People who have abortions use the same logic. As do terrorists.

Chris-2-4 said...

I don't really think "Opinion 1" is as distinct as you make it out to be. That is, I can't really see how holding opinion 1 is mutually exclusive with 2 - 4. At least for anyone really involved in thinking the issues through in the Catholic blogosphere, they can't really claim to have come to an opinion that doesn't address AT ALL whether what Lila Rose did was lying justly, not lying, or lying unjustly.

I believe that Holding Opinion 2 or 3 could naturally lead one to lean towards opinion 1 in addition to 2 or 3.

In fact, even if one holds opinion 4, one could still conclude that the debate over it is not warranted at the current time. It's like finding out that your teenage daughter is pregnant and then launching into a tirade about premarital sex. It's a perfectly legitimate and necessary discussion to have and you're well within your right to point out true catholic teaching on it, but it's not exactly fruitful at the present time. Some time and distance are prudent.

Red Cardigan said...

Chris, as I mean it opinion 1 is sort of a "let's not discuss it ever," not a "let's discuss it later after some time and distance." But yes, some people seem to be holding multiple opinions; I've encountered plenty of people who combine 2 and 3 into a sort of "What Lila Rose is doing is not lying! Or, if it is lying, it's exactly like lying to Nazis and therefore good and wholesome!"

And I don't quite buy the pregnant teen analogy--Lila Rose's actions are presumably ongoing, so why not discuss whether these sorts of stings are morally good or not?

Red Cardigan said...

Oh, and Mark: that video is pure torture. ;)

Paul said...

You miss out Option 5: that Lila Rose's tactics (given the probable details) don't meet the definition of lying given by Augustine, don't meet the definition of lying given by Aquinas, and (most importantly) don't meet the definition of lying given by the Church.

And this discussion will keep going for some indeterminate amount of time (likely to be measured in centuries) because it involves the intricacies of double effect, which almost no one gets right.

Mark P. Shea said...

Whee! The Definition Game is back in swing!

You really need to take it up with Dr. Kreeft, who was being loudly lionized for his defense of Lila Rose and who most definitely called it "lying" (but for a good cause). When the defenders of Lila Rose call it lying, it's lying. What you are doing is, well, exactly what I predicted would happen: once it became clear that this is lying and that the Church says lying is intrinsically immoral, a certain percentage of people would then start trying to play the Definition Game and pretend that, in this super duper special circumstance, it's not lying.

And, by the way, this has nothing whatever to do with double effect.

Chris-2-4 said...

Give it a rest Mark. Calling it "lying" is absolutely positively NOT some kind of magical affirmation that one is declaring it to be what the Church means when it declares lying to be wrong. No more than saying Jean Valjean stole bread for his family means he was guilty of "stealing". Nobody wants to play your little gotcha game of "see he even ADMITTED it was lying!"

Mark P. Shea said...

Of course, Chris. Of course. There's lying and then there's lying. How crude of me to use the word "lying" merely because that was what was being written and defended by people who had not sufficiently realized that they needed to deploy euphemisms for "lying" earlier on in the game. Now look at all the cleanup, euphemism and denial of the obvious that has left defenders of lying (or rather "lying") to do. They have to pretend that even the word "lying" doesn't actually mean "lying" but is something else entirely. Sort of like pretending that (wink) they don't mean to accuse, you know, (wink wink) anybody in particular in these comboxes of being Armchair prolifers but, oh, you know, just... people.

So thanks for that ringing denial of the proposition that anything I, Eden, Doino, etc. had to say was in any way problematic.

I sure hope those who are burning with concern about the sudden Menace of the Armchair Prolifer can convince those nameless, faceless, bodiless non-entities out there who *are* the problem to get up out of their La-z-boys and join in the defense of the unborn. Whoever those unknown mysterious people are (who, as you plainly acknowledge *certainly* can't *possibly* be identified with Robert George, Brandon Watson, Eden, Doino, me, Bernard Nathanson, Chris Tollefsen and any other critics of lying in defense of the unborn) they sure are bad people and you should really have a word with them. I would contact them myself and beg them to heed the passionate pleas of Anti-Armchair Commentariat, but the utter murk in which these unknown entities dwell makes that impossible. So I just hope that those in Red's comboxes who are so very alive to the menace of the Armchair prolife critic of lying for Jesus (a critic who is in no way at all to be identified with that circle of names above) will be contacting these shadowy *other* people. I hope too that, using their special Jedi mind powers by which they know the precise level of involvement in prolife activities conducted by these shadowy Armchair prolifers, exhort them to get out of those La-Z-boys and follow the sterling example of the Truly Committed, such as (presumably) yourself.

I'll be cheering for those who courageously and forthright engage these people, secure in the knowledge that, as you yourself make insist, my good name is clear, as are the good names of Eden, George, Doino, Watson, Tollefsen, Reginaldus, and the sundry others who thought to question this inadvisable tactic.

As inadvisable as passive aggressive double talk.

Chris-2-4 said...

Face it Mark, you're Nancy Kerrigan. You're right. She was lying. And she unknowingly committed a venial sin. Now you've pointed it out for all the world to see and put her on notice that she's sinning. And thus now you've put her in the position that if she does it again, maybe she's sinning mortally and putting her soul at risk. Way to go. You're right. And you're a big jerk for doing it the way you did.

(But those of course are just my opinions. My admission doesn't extend to everyone on the other side who carelessly uses the expression "lying" while contending that she wasn't lying.)

Paul Connors said...

"You really need to take it up with Dr. Kreeft"

I went back an re-read what Kreeft wrote. His opinion can be most accurately summed up as: "if lying is always wrong, then this is not lying". I agree with him (though I reach that conclusion via a different and more concrete line of reasoning).

"What you are doing is, well, exactly what I predicted would happen"

There is more than one reason why that might be so. All I know is that when I wanted to know exactly what torture really was, Mark Shea said it was only because I wanted to tiptoe to the edge of torture. And now that I want to really know what lying is, I am told I am just playing a game. (Plainly, the Catholic blogosphere is not a place for small children.)

Theology is advanced by actual reasoning, not by find-a-motive.

Mark P. Shea said...


Actually, I've made clear it was a venial sin (and I think it would likely be a venial sin if she did it again). "Intrinsically immoral" is not the same as "grave". I've also made it clear that my real target was not Lila Rose (who I take for a sincere disciple of Christ) but the burgeoning bumper crop of bad arguments the blogosphere quickly burst with in the attempt to justify lying for the Home Team. If you want to hide behind the skirts of this girl instead of taking responsibility for defending crappy arguments, feel free.

Paul: No. What Dr. Kreeft said was that it was lying and lying is not only justifiable but that if you questioned that, you were morally stupid. There was deafening applause for this proposition for a few days, till it became clear that the Catechism contradicts this proposition and declares that, by its very nature, lying is to be condemned. Then people like you began playing the Definition Game and attempting to pretend that what Dr. Kreeft clearly said was not what he said. It's the same game you played when you pretended to seek a definition for torture, yet refused the many, many definitions offered in order to go on feigning confusion. Euphemism is the reliable refuge of the enemy of clear language. If you still burn with a passionate thirst to have your oh so sincere questions answered, there still remains the exhaustive discussion of the question over at Zippy's blog. You don't have to live in fog perpetually. Unless, of course, you want to.

Paul Connors said...

"What Dr. Kreeft said was that it was lying and lying is not only justifiable but that if you questioned that, you were morally stupid."

No, Kreeft didn't say that.

romishgraffiti said...

It's not so much the Definitional Game, but the never-ending appeal to finer detail. Example: Church Tradition is clear on a male-only priesthood. But that wasn't good enough, so JPII issued Ordinatio Sacerdotalis "in order that all doubt may be removed". Was all doubt removed? Nope, because we had to have a dubium to state that male-only priesthood was part of the Deposit of Faith. Was all doubt removed? Nope, because then we had to endure arguments about whether these were ex cathedra and of course the Church would have to make statements saying that the statements of the statements were ex cathedra and on and on...until I saw the most outrageous appeal to finer detail ever: a comment on an Amazon review of a book defending male-only priesthood in which the commentor said he accepted the Church's teaching on male-only priesthood, but guess what? The Church hasn't specifically defined what maleness is. (?!) in other words, dissenters start with their conclusion: Women can be priests, and no matter how much the Church pronounces otherwise, they can always break everything down to the sub-atomic level and keep a lost cause going.

The appeal to finer detail: a bad gift that keeps on giving.

Tony said...

Were I Lila Rose, I would be much more inclined to continue on, and take my chances at the throne of judgment with millions of voices of the unborn pleading on my bahalf, while a handful of internet scolds witness for the prosecution. :P

Mark P. Shea said...


You got it.

Tony: I have no interest whatsoever in prosecuting Lila Rose. As I have repeatedly said, I think she will receive the reward of the Hebrew midwives for her fear of God. What concerns me is not Lila Rose's eternal destiny, but the fact that so many Catholics in the blogosphere are willing to say so many stupid things in defense of lying, up to and including the deeply stupid (and blasphemous) claim that Jesus lied too, so it's okay.

Paul said...

romishgraffiti: "the never-ending appeal to finer detail"

The matter has been under discussion for a long time, because it is a difficult thing to define in all its details. Get it wrong one way and it will be permission to lie: get it wrong another, and what in justice must be kept hidden will be uncovered. In fact, there has not been a continuous appeal to finer detail -- pretty much exactly the same things have kept coming up over the centuries.

Are people correct to be worried about the matter? Of course they are! The worries are what has kept the matter recurring over a long period of time. But I do not think Kreeft is wrong -- he and Bl. John Henry Newman have the same opinion. To condemn Kreeft is to condemn Bl. John Henry Newman. What is needed is not condemnations, nor the plucking of motives out of thin air, but an actual discussion of the issue. It does not then help if an actual discussion of the issue is described as "a bad gift".

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I am reminded of a commentary in the late, great Wittenburg Door (the mis-spelling was part of the humor), regarding people who say you can't run a nation in perfect obedience to the Beatitudes. The commenter replied, I'm not claiming you can run a country that way, I'm just reminding you, that's what the man said. Implication: if you find it necessary to violate the teachings of Jesus, don't call what you are doing "Christian." If you can't run a nation in obedience to the Beatitudes, don't pretend you are running a "Christian nation." I suppose the corollary would be, if you find it necessary to lie to expose Planned Parenthood, don't pretend that your sting operation is a "Christian witness."

romishgraffiti said...

Paul, I'm not condemning Kreeft or Bl. Newman and frankly, I find that cheap like when someone criticizes Medjugorje apparitions and a defender comes on and says, "You are going against Our Lady!" Well that's convenient! The fact is, I just think Kreeft is wrong and others have given examples why and the reponses to those have not prevailed. Lying is intrinsicly wrong. A hard teaching to be sure, but an unavoidable one.

Mark P. Shea said...


If you question the wisdom of lying, aren't you questioning the Christianity of Peter Kreeft? And when you do that, aren't yo in fact condemning Blessed Cardinal Newman? And if you do that, aren't you in fact questioning the Pope who beatified him? And doesn't that call into question Peter, the Rock upon whom the Church is built? And didn't Jesus found the Church? And isn't he one with God the Father?

You can say all you want about lying, RG. But I am not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth God and the Holy Catholic Church!!!

(With apologies to Animal House.)

Paul said...

romishgraffiti: "I'm not condemning Kreeft or Bl. Newman"

I am glad to hear that, and I am sorry that I misconstrued your argument. Then I don't know who you are complaining about. I haven't seen any "never-ending appeal to finer detail". Though, the matter has been under discussion for at least 5 centuries. Perhaps, it you are unaware of this, and gradually discover some of the claims, it may appear that way to you as the details emerge?

Kreeft and Bl. John Henry Newman come to the same conclusions. Kreeft quotes with evident approval on one of the examples: "if lying is always wrong, then this is not lying". And Bl. John Henry Newman stated that there were occasions when deliberately uttering a falsehood was not a lie.