Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Is it always a Sin to Tell a Lie?

If I was earning money from this blog, it would appear that I'd have to turn over a portion of my earnings to LarryD ......I can't seem to come up with any ideas of my own - I have to reference something I've found on his blog. Last week it was my post Wowee Zowee Malawi which came about as a result of Larry's post on the country.

The subject of today's post comes from a link I found on Larry's post, Various and Sundry Sunday which leads to a post by a blogger calling himself Reginaldus. As I mentioned in my post Ujiosama Rides Again, I try to stay away from blogs written anonymously - and with the scant amount of information he provides in his profile - I'd say Reginaldus fits the bill; but, I found the subject of his post It is a sin to lie, even to Planned Parenthood interesting enough to make an exception.

In his piece, Reginaldus argues that members of the pro-life group Live Action were guilty of the sin of lying when the group secretly video taped events in Planned Parenthood centers recently. In these videos, we see Live Action members posing as pimps and prostitutes while conducting a "sting" operation in an attempt to expose the unsavory practices of some Planned Parenthood employees. The Reader's Digest condensed version of his argument is that the Live Action members lied, deceived the Planned Parenthood staffers, lying is a sin and the end does not justify the means.

Reginaldus mentions a story of a man hiding Jews in his attic during the reign of the Nazis in Germany. The Nazis come to his house and ask the question, “Are there Jews hidden in your attic?” Reginaldus believes that telling the Nazis "No" would be "......a sin against the Nazis, against the German people as a whole, and against God – it is a direct offense against the truth."

Later, a blogger named Stacy left this comment;

"I read this post and thought about it a long time. I wrote about it at my blog, Accepting Abundance. If you go there you'll see I'm a convert and a mother. If I'm honest, I have to admit that if my child were in imminent danger from an unjust aggressor I would definitely lie to protect him before I would utter the words that would assure his harm or murder. I can't help it, that's the truth. Why would that be wrong? Aren't parents supposed to protect their children? This is very confusing."

whereupon Reginaldus replied,

"I left a comment over at your blog.
Here I will only say that we have to protect our children IN THE TRUTH. Your work as a mother is a cooperation in the divine plan -- but to lie is to participate in the work of Satan.
What good would it do to gain the whole world (and save a child's life), if only to lose one's soul in the process?"

Here is where that particular argument breaks down for me. Concerning the killing of someone in self defense, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says at 2264 and 2265:

2264 Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one's own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow:

If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful.... Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one's own life than of another's.

2265 Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.

So, my question is this - if, under certain circumstances, such as when protecting an innocent child's life against an aggressor, one can kill the aggressor, why then would lying to the aggressor for the same reason be a sin?


LarryD said...

My bill is in the mail. lol!

I'm still working out whether or not the LiveAction stuff fits the "it is a sin" definition. That's one thing about our faith - not everything is black and white, and it permits discussion on such topics.

I still come back to the "we are not permitted to commit evil in order to bring out a greater good" - because that's God's department.

One difference I see between LiveAction's work and a police undercover sting is that in LA's case, they are 'lying' in order to get information they are not entitled to - they're not a legitimately sanctioned body authorized to protect the common good. I'm not sure if, in the final analysis, that makes any difference - but it remains a sticking point for me.

I'm going to continue to think, pray and read about this so that I can come to a conclusion that satisfies Church teaching and my conscience.

Robert said...

Hi Larry,
I see the point re Live Action. As you say, they're not a legitimately sanctioned body authorized to protect the common good.
Still, I question Reginaldus' response to blogger Stacy.

LarryD said...

Stacy's hypothetical situation is too vague for Reginaldus to make such a definitive statement, IMHO. She needed to be more specific.

For instance -

An aggressor is murdering children of Catholic families. You are asked if you are Catholic. Do you lie to protect your child, thus denying Christ, or do you tell the truth, knowing that your child would be killed?

For me, I would have to tell the truth, and then defend my child from the aggressor.

Stacy Trasancos said...

Thanks for your thoughts and the links! I will continue to pray about this too, but still right now I won't lie and say that I would allow my child to be harmed just so I can say I never lied.

Two things still bug me: 1) What does a citizen do when the law enforcement does nothing? Who has legitimate authority then? 2) How would anyone capture criminals without some deceptive act?

I do understand the point about vigilante work and LiveAction's taking matters into their own hands. That I'll continue to prayerfully think about and hope that if it is indeed morally wrong that another way to fight the evil will present itself to those young people.

As for my own choices, I also pray that if it is indeed denying God and loosing my soul to lie to someone who wants to kill or even harm a child in my presence, I am spared ever being in such a situation. And if I am then I pray that I am struck dumb and graced with the power to physically stop the aggressor some other way.

Stacy Trasancos said...

P.S. Robert I really like your blog, and will be visiting much more. I already LOL's (as they say) a few times. LarryD's the next stop...

Robert said...

Hi Stacy,
Thanks for dropping by.
Yes, do stop by to Larry's blog.......he could probably use the hits. :)

Richard Collins said...

Robert, thanks for your comment. I had not read your blog so I was surprised to see that we both chose the Nazi reference.
God bless.

LarryD said...

Yes, do stop by to Larry's blog.......he could probably use the hits. :)

Nyuk nyuk - what a comedian!

Stacy - if you stop by, say 'hi'!

Left-footer said...

I too have blogged on this subject, about 3 weeks ago - http://left-footer.blogspot.com/2011/01/moral-theology-its-sin-to-tell-lie-but.html

My position is clear - I would lie, cheat, or kill to save myself or the innocent.

I think I am a Catholic.

Reginaldus said...

Lying is always wrong, by its very nature.
Killing on the other hand is not always wrong; it is not "to be condemned by its very nature" (as is lying, according to the Catechism).

This is why one can kill an aggressor, but cannot lie to him.

The teaching of the Church is very clear on this matter...

Peter D. Williams said...

The answer to your question, very briefly, is that killing is not an intrinsically evil act. Scripturally, there is a distinction between killing, and 'murder', which is unjust killing. Thus, killing an aggressor in order to save an innocent is justifiable, but killing when no much necessity exists is murder. However, lying (consciously telling a deliberate untruth) is always an intrinsically evil act.

As Catholics, we do not believe that ends *ever* justify means, and thus, committing any evil to achieve a good end, even if it is the saving of the lives of children, is wrong. It would not be right to torture a terrorist to save a thousand lives, and in the same way, no other evil may be done, regardless of the supposed good that would be achieved through such actions.

Therefore, lying, strictly speaking is *always* wrong. It is never justifiable. In the 'Corrie Ten Boom' style example, one would not be morally compelled to tell the Nazis the truth, but to equivocate, or to keep silent.

Interestingly, however, if you know they will force it out of you, then it is possible that it might be justifiable to kill (if you cannot otherwise incapacitate) the Nazis to prevent them from hurting the people you are hiding...

Hope that helps!

God bless, and all the best,


Al said...

Like LarryD, I've been milling this over since I saw it on his blog.
1 question I have is, how is this different than an undercover sting by a news organization? They're not a legitimately sanctioned body authorized to protect the common good any more than Live Action is.

How about someone wearing a wire? Isn't the person wearing it lying by silence since the person he is talking to assumes that no one else is listenning?

If it is wrong for Live Action or the news media, then it is wrong for the police to use stings or wires also.

& this is just a couple of the questions. Bluntly, I don't see it as lying because the people are playing a role to gather info.

Complicated Life said...

I too have wondered about the authority issue. I don't know if it matters or not, but I've wondered about it.

Regarding the aggressor at the door seeking to kill a child: I feel like we all presume that our options are only lie or be killed. Perhaps there are moral options.

Someone did mention, tell the truth and then defend against the aggressor. That would be completely moral.

I discussed something similar with my wonderful pastor over a year ago. He created a similar scenario: A man comes to his house looking for me (Meg) and he had hidden me in his basement for protection. The aggressor asks him, "Is Meg here?" or some similar question. Father said he could respond, "I have not seen Meg for some time." He answers the question purposefully vague, does not lie, and hopefully satisfies the aggressor with similarly true, but vague, answers to questions so as to protect my life.

It's just an example. I myself called Planned Parenthood a few months ago to inquire about a teen outreach program they will be implementing in my town. I was careful with my words, never revealing that I am not a supporter of anything they do. I just asked the questions I wanted answers to, they gave me answers, and then they asked where I "worked" with teens. Not wanting to cut the conversation short by revealing association with a Church I said, "I don't work actually. I volunteer with teenagers for a couple of local organizations." It was the truth, it answered the question, and I moved the conversation along to get more info that I wanted.

I don't know, but maybe there are other, moral ways, to obtain the information that was desired from PP.

Robert said...

The story you tell of the pastor hiding "Meg" and then giving round-about answers to the questions is similar to another scenario on Reginaldus' blog (he was giving an example of a priest telling someone that he was a farmer...the claim being that it wouldn't be a lie because the priest was a farmer "metaphorically").

If a lie is wrong then it's wrong. I've read on one blog the claim that if we can be deceptive without lying, then it's not a sin.

Sounds to me like some of these folks are just lying to themselves and trying to pull us along too.

Complicated Life said...

This is all so interesting. It makes me wonder...

The Catechism quotes St Augustine in defining a lie:

"A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving."

It appears a lie has two components 1, speaking a falsehood and 2. intention to deceive. But what if you speak a truth (albeit vague and carefully worded, but a truth nonetheless) with the intention of deceiving? Does that constitute a lie?

Just things I'm thinking about today...

Reginaldus said...

For a serious discussion of undercover police, see "Lying to Planned Parenthood, or is it mental reservation?" http://newtheologicalmovement.blogspot.com/2011/02/lying-to-planned-parenthood-or-is-it.html