FAQ on Lying

For all your endlessly repeated debating point needs.

How utterly bizarre that the prolife movement has chosen to die on this hill arguing for the sacredness of lying in order to try to get somebody to agree to commit murder. That it should come to this. The Conservative Catholic Anti-Charism of Discernment–from circling the wagons for Maciel, to attacking Corapi’s bishop as part of a gay cabal, to striving to justify torture, to falling in love with enemy of God Ayn Rand and anointing her as Aristotle, to choosing *this* gravely evil and completely unnecessary cause to fight for tooth and nail–continues to amaze me. It is, incredibly, now a core value of the majority of so-called “Faithful Conservative Catholics” that lying in order to get somebody to agree to commit murder is a moral virtue and that those who object to this astonishingly stupid notion are Pharisees, fools, CINOs, and moral idiots. Astonishing how the devil can get us to twist the human intellect.

  • vox borealis


    OBJECTION: If what you say is true, then undercover cops can’t do their job!
    ANSWER: Most undercover work can be done without the cop positively asserting a false identity. For example, if an undercover policeman approaches you and says, “I want to buy some drugs from you,” he is telling the truth – for if you sell him drugs, he can arrest you and get you off the street. Much of this kind of stuff can be done without lying.

    Hmm. So by analogy, one could “sting” an abortion clinic by saying “I want to schedule an abortion…” and it would not be lying.

    • Andy

      In your objection you say the policeman wants to buy the drugs so there is no lie, because although not wanting to use the drugs the policeman does want the sale to go down. This is different than saying I want to schedule an abortion when you don’t want to . I am confused, your analogy does not follow – it seems the rehash of the same arguments about telling lies to achieve a good end, which the church says can’t happen.

      • vox borealis

        I’m not saying that at all. I’m objecting to this particular objection-answer as being too permissive in allowing lying in the case of the undercover cop.

        If the cop can say without lying “I want to buy drugs from you” to the pusher, then why is it a lie for the LA stinger to say “I want to schedule an abortion”? I mean, one may *want* to *schedule* an abortion, if in so doing it reveal the horrors of the abortion industry, even though one has no intention of ever going to the scheduled appointment. By analogy, this is not a lie. After all, *scheduling* an abortion is not the same as having it, or even wanting it, right?

        Now, I think *both* are attempts to deceive. But if the example used in the Answer is legit, then that paves the way for a lot of deceptive-but-not-lying stuff for LA.

        • Mariana Baca

          There is plenty of stuff LA can say that is not lying to get information, like: I want some information on abortion procedures. I’m curious what happens and what is standard procedure. I want to know what my options are at this clinic. I want to know what a baby would go through if I opt to have an abortion at this point in time.

          Saying things like: I really don’t want my baby to survive and can you ensure that? (something to this effect was said in the latest video) is a different sort of statement. It is both a lie and an enticement to evil.

          • vox borealis

            Yes, I agree with you. I merely point out that in the FAQ/Answer article about lying, linked in the post, *if* the example of the undercover cop saying to the pusher “I want to buy drugs from you” is legit, then it would also be legit for the LA “undercover agent” to state “I want to schedule an abortion.” Technically it would be a true statement, thus not lying, thus legit. Yet it strikes me as obviously deceptive.

            In other words, I quibble with the FAQ article on this point.

            • Beadgirl

              I think that it was not the best example of undercover work that does not involve lying.

              On a practical level, I’d also like to point out that there are some law enforcement experts who think undercover work is not nearly as effective as the public thinks,* and that in some cases it actually generates more crime. If the societal outcome of this debate on lying is that much undercover work is morally wrong (unlikely, I know, given modern American society), I’m ok with that — I personally think there are better ways to fight crime.

              And on another practical level, I’ve read* that long-term undercover work takes a real psychological toll on the participants, affecting their relationships and their sense of self. Another sign, perhaps, that deception, and particularly lying, is not good for the soul.

              * I’m sorry to be so vague about the references, I read these articles years ago.

  • Tim in Cleveland

    I found this article the other day that seems relevant to the whole lying debate. It discusses a lawyer’s ethical duty to tell the truth. While it’s a pretty high standard, I’d like to think that the Christian duty to tell the truth is even higher. An excerpt:

    “For the liar, the biggest problem is that one lie begets another. In the words of Sir Walter Scott, writing in 1808: ‘Oh, what a tangled web we weave, / When first we practice to deceive!’ Lies inevitably proliferate…

    “…Long-term self-interest demands truth-telling, even if short-term self-interest can seem to counsel lying. If you want to be taken seriously as a professional, and if you want to be a credit to your profession, you must fiercely protect your reputation for honesty. And the only way to do that is to tell the truth—consistently.”

    http://www.abajournal.com/mobile/mag_article/language_gives_us_ways_to_remain_honest_and_tactful/

  • Desi Erasmus

    Since truth is a person (John 14:6), and I’ve resolved to be his disciple, I’m inclined to agree with your critique. However, it is possible to tell the truth with the intent to deceive, mislead, or confuse, as in an earlier poster’s example, and your example of “formally truthful” behavior of an undercover policeman which is at the least misleading. Scripture records at least one occasion (1 Ki 22:22) where the Lord is represented as sending a lying spirit to bring judgment on Ahab… however this is done in such a way that Ahab is warned by the very account which describes the scene… and Ahab chooses to ignore the warning, meanwhile punishing the messenger. And the instrument for deceiving Ahab is his lying prophets, not the prophet who delivers the warning. Perhaps there is some opportunity for creative imitation here, in the case of resisting the abortion industry?

  • Dave G.

    I read that, and I though if only Live Action was lying to promote that freedom of the spirit and loving life. Maybe then the emphasis would be on freedom of the spirit and loving life instead of the lying.

  • kirthigdon

    With “I want to schedule an abortion” or “I want to buy drugs”, the issue is not so much lying as tempting others to sin – acting as a “satan”. That said, the actual practice of police undercover work and LA stings go far beyond the simple statements above.
    Kirt Higdon

    • Mariana Baca

      Maybe we should reconsider some investigative police work and some of the laws that lead to wide use of undercover work if they involve widespread lying and temptation instead of using that to justify lying and temptation? Entrapment is in general either illegal or will cause a criminal case to fail, anyway.

  • Kim Whelan
  • http://www.facebook.com/johnhschaefer John Schaefer

    Here’s my question, Mark. If a blogger or com boxer were write a post, based on something that has not been corroborated, as being true, is that a lie? Does propagandizing, and peddling a story, fall under lying?

    • chezami

      I don’t see why it should be. People repeat uncorroborated things all the time under the honest assumption that what they are saying is true.

  • John

    As I understand it, it is not permissible to deliberately kill, but it is ok to defend yourself or another. If in defending yourself or another you unavoidably end up killing someone, that’s unfortunate, but not morally impermissible. This is the “double effect” theory.

    I have trouble distinguishing this from lying. When you lie to protect someones life you’re not setting out to deceive–you’re setting out to protect. In both cases any killing or deception that takes places is not intentional.

    To be sure this sounds a bit close to consequentialism. But so does all double effect reasoning.

    • Zac

      One of the conditions of double-effect is that the evil effect cannot be the means by which the good effect is attained. You cannot say that you lied only to protect, not to deceive, because lying depends on deception for its efficacy. A quick way to check is to ask how you will feel if the evil effect does not come to pass: if I defend myself but the assailant doesn’t die, I ought to feel relief. If I lie but the person to whom I lie is not deceived…then the lie won’t work and I won’t be protected by it. the whole thing falls apart.

      But that’s a bit beside the point, since it isn’t deception per se that makes lying wrong, but rather the intentional assertion of a falsehood as the truth.


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