Liars for Jesus

Liars for Jesus May 30, 2012

…is back in the game. The result will be the same as last time: a cheap short-term gain as prolifers feel a thrill over embarrassing Murder Inc. followed by the damage done, first to Christians who embrace lying for Jesus, and second by a public relations windfall for Murder Inc., who can rightly say that prolife Christians are liars.

For those who are unfamiliar with the controversy surrounding this matter, please go here before sounding off in the combox.

The usual rejoinder to those of us (like Augustine, Aquinas, and virtually every other major theologian) to address the question of lying is the hoary, “What if the Gestapo was at your door?” Because everything always comes back to Nazis. Sure the Church could say lying was bad back in the simple days of marauding and raping Vikings, merciless Saracens, and Romans who would roast people alive on griddles. But when Nazis came along and *our* generation discovered *real* evil for the first time everything changed and it became okay to do whatever we think best without reference to old-fashioned Church teaching (except about abortion and contraception, that’s still binding). But all other moral issues are prudential judgements. So when the Church tells us that lying, by its very nature, is to be condemned, we either call that a “Prudential judgment” (Latin for “screw the guidance of the wussy bishops and do whatever seems best to you”) or we simply resort to euphemism and rename “lying” something else like “acting” or “citizen journalism”.

Euphemism is an infallible indicator of the presence of evil.

Christianity is a *faith*. That means it has nothing to offer if it cannot offer the truth. Christians who imagine they are serving the Faith by establshing a reputation as liars are fools. They are also, by the way, telegraphing that fact that, at the end of the day, they do not trust God, but instead believe they must lie in order to establish the kingdom. It is utter folly.

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  • That Facebook link is no good for those who aren’t “friends” with Sean P. Dailey. This particular status/link/post is not available to the public (i.e. the privacy settings for that post are too strict for public viewing).

    What is this story about, specifically?

  • The first link is broken sorry Mark.

  • The link from Mr. Dailey would redirect to Go there and you can see what Mark is talking about.

  • It’s possible that there are separate issues. On one hand, those who make elaborate plans based on lying in order to advance a cause, which is simply wrong. On the other, those in a pinch who can think of no other recorse but to lie to save an innocent, again in a pinch. One seems to fall under the heading of ‘don’t lie’. The other, while still being a lie, would seem to fall under the heading of venial, since it wasn’t planned, it was a failing based on the overwhelming desire to do a wonderful thing when the time to consider alternatives wasn’t available. Not that the lie itself is good, but it is understandable. I can’t help but feel that if the only time I ever lied in my life was to save babies from Nazis, then I’m doing pretty darn good.

  • Thanks for the link, Mark! I’m honored! But yeah, people should just go to It’s a website set up by Lila Rose/Live Action, with with a video of the first (of many) stings at Planned Parenthood mills across the country, in which Miss Rose goes under cover to “expose” the fact — something we already knew — that more girls are aborted than boys.

    What I wrote, in my comments, was, “Sadly, Live Action continues to lie in the service of pro-life activism. I laud Live Action’s goal of exposing Planned Parenthood as the murderous, racist, anti-woman outfit it is. I deplore Live Action’s tactics. Consequentialism is un-Christian.

    But don’t take my word for it. Vatican deputy secretary of state, Archbishop Becciu, in an interview in Inside the Vatican that, coincidentally, appeared today, has this to say:

    ‘There was a desire to justify the publication of the documents on the basis of criteria for the Church’s cleanliness, transparency and reform.’

    Becciu: ‘Sophisms do not go very far. My parents not only taught me not to steal but also never to accept stolen goods from others. To me these seem to me to be simple principles – perhaps to some people too simple – but it is certain that someone who loses sight of them, easily loses him- or herself and also brings others to ruin. There can be no renewal that tramples on the moral law, even on the basis of the principle that the end justifies the means, a principle which, among other things, is not Christian.'”

    Joe Grabowski had the most poignant comment: “Gut-wrenching video, in every respect. The horror of what’s being discussed, the horror of how it’s being obtained, all converging to make for one great sadness. It hits at one of those finer points in the objection against lying for a good cause though: that laughter in the moment when the woman mentions that she’s had two abortions herself already – it should haunt us in our sleep. I cannot even conceive of laughing, even in a ploy or a conceit. That’s the moment my cover would be blown. How even to act laughter, when the angels are weeping? It would tear apart one’s own moral metaphysical nature to attempt it. And that’s the upshot: we cannot employ these tactics because even if they’re not sins for which we are culpable they are actions which engage a kind of violence against our moral nature within the act. This is, of course, to say nothing of all the positives evils done by this kind of activity, which I’ve noted before and won’t labor to elucidate here: the treatment of the ‘other,’ so wounded, so exploited, who more than anyone needs truth herself. To laugh at a woman who’s had two abortions herself, and all the damage its done her – to join her in her laughter at it! – all for the sake of some ‘evidence’ which is inadmissible in any serious legal application, unconvincing in any shrewd argumentative sense (because it can’t be demonstrated or proven to be “typical”). It pains the soul.”

  • victor

    I don’t see why it always has to come down to the Gestapo at the door. It could also come down to the spouse in the burned-up car: arriving on the scene you ask the fist responders who arrived while your spouse was still alive if he or she suffered. Would you demand in that case that they tell the truth (“Oh, yes. She suffered terribly. The screams… horrible. I’ll never forget them!”). Wouldn’t you prefer that they lie to you?

    • @Victor, No I wouldn’t prefer they lied. That doesn’t mean they have to go into such detail either. I would prefer my spouse to have not suffered so but I also realize and accept that sometimes suffering is a part of life and a necessary one at that.

  • ivan_the_mad

    As usual, the great sage Chesterton had something to say about lying. Here’s an article from Gilbert magazine with the appropriate quotes from GKC:

  • Thanks for the link, Ivan. We have migrated and overhauled our web page, and if Ivan’s link does not work, try this one:

    When this issue broke last year — over another Live Action sting operation — it became the most divisive issue that Gilbert Mag’s editorial board ever dealt with. As you can see in the link, we finally wrote not one, not two, but three editorials.

    I still hold to what I argued more than a year ago: that these stings constitute a sin against the charity and justice we owe to our neighbors, and that in this case, our neighbors are Planned Parenthood employees.

    • ivan_the_mad

      Yes, I still have the print issue, and appreciated the frankness and candor of the discussion between the three of you. I thought Mr. Ahlquist right, we are engaged in a war, a culture war. And I think you were right too. We should sally forth as Christian knights, chivalrous and orthodox. Jesus promised us the final victory, but He did not promise us the victory in any particular battle. Let us have faith in His promise, and fight each battle in fidelity to Him, and despise the weapons of the enemy.

      Mark’s distinction

    • Ted Seeber

      I would argue with what you wrote a year ago- because as you wrote:

      A failure in justice and charity. To our neighbor. Who is our neighbor? Like it or not, Planned Parenthood employees are our neighbor. Planned Parenthood is evil, yes, but its employees? Did Live Action ever wonder who they are, or even see them as people? The irony here is that they work at Planned Parenthood not because they are evil, but because, possibly, they have been lied to. How does Live Action help them by lying to them also? As Christians, it is our duty to be salt and light, to present these people with opportunities for virtue rather than opportunities for more evil. They have souls too, souls already in grave danger of eternal damnation. Should we be helping to send them to hell?

      From that standpoint, is it right to convert anybody at all, or are they better off in their extreme ignorance of the truth? I’m willing to bet that getting fired for trying to provide abortions to underage teenage prostitutes actually led to a few conversions of heart, if not to the pro-life side, then at least to the pro-legal side. From that standpoint, yes, the lies told by the Live Action crew *would* result in the souls of the fired Planned Parenthood workers becoming closer to God; perhaps even worthy of salvation.

  • Maria Rioux

    The end never justifies the means. Lying is per se evil, though it may be venially or mortally so. The CCC addresses this, as does St. Thomas, Ambrose, Augustine….there’s no lack of commentary on this. I’ll supply just a little. One of the major consequences of the fall is coming to terms with our inability to prevent all evil. There are many evils we can do nothing about (short of doing evil ourselves). We must do whatever we can to prevent the evil and, when we have done all that is reasonable, with our wills firmly set against it, place ourselves (and those we love) in God’s hands.
    “The Catholic Church holds it better for the Sun and Moon to drop from Heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions on it to die from starvation in extremest agony, as far as temporal affliction goes, than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one wilfull untruth, or should steal one poor farthing without excuse.” — John Henry Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua

    Summa, II-IIae, Q. 110
    On the contrary, It is written (Sirach 7:14): “Be not willing to make any manner of lie.”

    I answer that, An action that is naturally evil in respect of its genus can by no means be good and lawful, since in order for an action to be good it must be right in every respect: because good results from a complete cause, while evil results from any single defect, as Dionysius asserts (Div. Nom. iv). Now a lie is evil in respect of its genus, since it is an action bearing on undue matter. For as words are naturally signs of intellectual acts, it is unnatural and undue for anyone to signify by words something that is not in his mind. Hence the Philosopher says (Ethic. iv, 7) that “lying is in itself evil and to be shunned, while truthfulness is good and worthy of praise.” Therefore every lie is a sin, as also Augustine declares (Contra Mend. i).

    Summa II-IIae, Q. 40

    On the contrary, Augustine says (QQ. in Hept. qu. x super Jos): “Provided the war be just, it is no concern of justice whether it be carried on openly or by ambushes”: and he proves this by the authority of the Lord, Who commanded Joshua to lay ambushes for the city of Hai (Joshua 8:2).

    I answer that, The object of laying ambushes is in order to deceive the enemy. Now a man may be deceived by another’s word or deed in two ways. First, through being told something false, or through the breaking of a promise, and this is always unlawful. No one ought to deceive the enemy in this way, for there are certain “rights of war and covenants, which ought to be observed even among enemies,” as Ambrose states (De Officiis i).

    Secondly, a man may be deceived by what we say or do, because we do not declare our purpose or meaning to him. Now we are not always bound to do this, since even in the Sacred Doctrine many things have to be concealed, especially from unbelievers, lest they deride it, according to Matthew 7:6: “Give not that which is holy, to dogs.” Wherefore much more ought the plan of campaign to be hidden from the enemy. For this reason among other things that a soldier has to learn is the art of concealing his purpose lest it come to the enemy’s knowledge, as stated in the Book on Strategy [Stratagematum i, 1 by Frontinus. Such like concealment is what is meant by an ambush which may be lawfully employed in a just war.

    Nor can these ambushes be properly called deceptions, nor are they contrary to justice or to a well-ordered will. For a man would have an inordinate will if he were unwilling that others should hide anything from him.

  • math_geek

    So, Mark, what do you say about the Turing Test that Leah Libresco holds between Athiests and Christians where Christians pretend to be Athiests to see if observers can tell the difference?

    What about the What Would You Do ABC series that stages ridiculous situations and observes how people react to them?

    Live To Action lies to discredit their enemies. Is it different when we are lying simply to learn some truth?

    • Mark Shea

      Not all fictive speech acts are lying: Leah’s test is a form of fiction in which all parties are knowledgable of and agreed on what is happening. What Would you Do (haven’t seen it) sounds like sleazy exploitation of human beings. Why appeal to it as some sort of standard for Christian behavior?

  • Scott W.

    What about the What Would You Do ABC series that stages ridiculous situations and observes how people react to them?

    I happened to watch an episode of this while on vacation. I found it to be dishonest and therefore not something I could support. People are not lab rats.

  • deMOAOC

    Thanks for the article Mark.

    So what IF “the Gestapo was at your door?”

    I am reminded of The Hiding Place, written by Christian survivor of Ravensbruck concentration camp Corrie Ten Boom. At one point she relates how her family’s home had a trap door in the kitchen floor where they hid Jews and they would put a rug on the door and the kitchen table on top of that. Once when the Nazi’s searched their home they asked the family where the Jews were. Valuing truth, one relative honestly told the Nazi’s the Jews were under the table. When the tablecloth was pulled back and no one was seen underneath, the Nazi’s thought they were being made fun of and left. Truth was told and the Jews were safe.

    Lying is saying that we have to try to control the outcome ourselves because we don’t trust Jesus, Who is Truth itself.

    • That was her sister’s stance. The story was always followed up with the fact that the Jews were none too happy at hearing her sister do that. Corrie herself struggled with that, and at one point at least, she lied in a pinch about the Jews they were hiding. She reflected on that over the course of her life. I don’t think any sane person would think any less of her for lying, given the circumstances. I know I wouldn’t.

      • Scott W.

        As always, this is an example of reduced culpability because of the duress, so yes, I wouldn’t think less of her for lying since I would be sorely tempted to do it to. But it is still wrong. And note that we are back to murderers (Nazis) at the door. But this doesn’t compare to Lila Rose because there is no immediate duress. It is premeditated lying, which is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.

        • There are no murderers at the door? I thought that is exactly what PP is.

  • Andy

    Pope Pius XII saved almost a million Jews by deception. He had many fake passports issued so as to allow them to escape to Spain, Jamaica, and other countries. Would this be considered immoral or unjust?

  • ds

    Mark, a serious question: is it ok to lie as part of a just war? (and let me make clear this is not some run up to a pathetic “well we were at war with the nazis!!!” argument, or war on terror (which aint even just) or other nonsense). It is alright to kill during a just war, is it not alright to lie as part of the tactics of war? Could you justly lie to your war-time enemies as part of trying to defeat them?

    • Mark Shea

      It is permissible in the Church’s moral tradition to deceive (by, for instance, withholding information or encouraging an enemy in a blunder, or by evasion). But no, it is not permissible to lie.

      • ds

        Are you sure you understand the question? So it’s OK to blow a guys head off in a just war, but still not permissible to tell him you’re all alone so that the rest of your platoon around the corner can blow his head off? If killing, which is usually not OK, is OK in a just war, lying really still isn’t in a just war?

        • Scott W.

          Are you sure you understand the question? So it’s OK to blow a guys head off in a just war, but still not permissible to tell him you’re all alone so that the rest of your platoon around the corner can blow his head off?

          This isn’t hard. Yes, it is wrong to lie. Now in that scenario, he has minimal culpability for lying, but lying is still wrong. Besides, a) why would anyone believe an enemy that said “Yes, I’m alone?” and b). what’s wrong with “None of your beeswax!” as a response?

          • Ted Seeber

            None of your beeswax is still a lie- it’s obviously in the enemy soldier’s best interest to know what your troop movements are.

            • Scott W.

              No it isn’t–“none of you beeswax!” is conventional speech for refusing to answer a question. But if you don’t like that, then the soldier can offer the classic Augustinian (iirc) response to the murderer at the door: “I will neither lie, nor betray.”

              • Scott W.

                And of course silence is acceptable.

          • Either “None of your beeswax!” or, the equally cryptic (to a German) but resoundingly famous December 22, 1944, response of U.S. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe to German General Heinrich Freiherr von L¨ttwitz’s emissary at Bastogne, delivering von L¨ttwitz’s ultimatum to surrender or be annihiiated. McAuliffe’s response has been verified by a number of witnesses and by the typwritten official reply, which was as follows:

            To the German Commander.
            The American Commander

            Pax et bonum,
            Keith Töpfer

        • Mark Duch

          I appreciate Loretta’s comment/question from the original Augustine vs. the Priscillianists article, which I believe was never addressed by Mr. Shea (happy to be corrected):

          “Mark, does the Church actually teach that a person’s right to the truth is higher than his right to life? It was explained to me that a murderer forfeits his right to life by his act of murdering another. That is why capital punishment is moral. What you are saying is that this same person could not be “lied” to in order to prevent him from committing another murder. We can kill him but we can’t lie to him. This is the teaching of the Church?”

          So, Mr. Shea, why is it that we can kill to stop someone from killing, in the face of “Thou shalt not kill,” but we can’t lie to stop someone from killing, in the face of “Thou shall not bear false witness?”

        • Mark Shea

          Lying is to speech as murder is to killing. It is permissible in war to kill when necessary and as a last resort. It is not permissible in war to murder. Analogously, it is not permissible to lie. I’m simply reporting here. Now, do people lie in war? Sure. Are lies told in wartime typically venial sins? Probably. But they remain sins, and that’s the point. Killing in self-defense is not a sin. But (and note this) the lies told by Live Action were not in the slightest acts of last resort. And yet (such is the corrupting nature of lying for Jesus) everybody is scrambling to figure out a way, not to avoid lying, but to justify it.

          • Mark Duch

            Maybe I’m missing it, but I’m looking for a specific reason *why* killing in defense of self or others is not a sin, but lying in defense of self or others remains a sin. I’m not seeing that explanation in what you’ve posted.

            • Mark Shea

              The Church, reflecting the unbroken tradition that goes back to Augustine (and ultimately to Romans 3:8) says that lying is “by its very nature” to be condemned. Killing is not “by its very nature” condemned, murder is. Evidently, the Church believes that lying is an act of such a nature that nothing can justify it. Thomas says the same thing. So does a huge host of other theological authorities. So does the Catechism. As I say, I’m just reporting. I think the smart thing to do here is to take note of what the Tradition says first and try to understand it rather than immediately set out looking for loopholes.

  • More reading (if you’re so inclined) from Msgr. Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington:

    He presents the Catholic teaching on this in a very clear way. Much better than I could have done. 🙂

  • So, people are on the same page, the traditional definition of a lie is to speak a falsehood with the intention to deceive. According to the hugely dominant analysis of this issue it fails to be an acceptable action on three levels

    1. It is an action contrary to the nature of speech.
    2. It is an action contrary to the nature of the human mind.
    3. It is an action contrary to the nature of human society.

    In a Nartual Moral Law analysis only one of these would be sufficient to deem a lie an intrinsic evil, i.e, an action that no circumstance (including saving lives: that would be consequentialist thinking) can make praiseworthy.

    • Ted Seeber

      I’m kind of iffy on all three of those. To put it in some perspective, one of the symptoms of my autism when I was younger was branded as lying by others (well, and not so younger- ran into this with HR in a government job as well) when in reality it was that my autistic worldview was just on a different perspective than other people’s. If you don’t know you are lying, are you still lying?

      • Scott W.

        If what you say is false, but you are unaware that it is false, then it’s not lying. Lying is when you know something, but deliberately say something other than the truth. Think of the proper response to the belligerent question, “Are you calling me a liar?” “No, I’m calling you mistaken.”

  • I think the distinction is between lying that would be venial vs. lying that isn’t. Hi honey, I have to work late tonight again (wink, wink), or no problem, this investment is truly legit are probably not the kind that pass the test. Even setting something up for lying, like Live Action, is just too purposefully embracing something that is wrong. But to tell a lie to save someone’s feelings because you can’t think quick enough how not to hurt them, or the classic case of lying to save an innocent’s life? It’s still a lie, but the reasons behind it, and that it wasn’t intended, but spur of the moment in lieu of saying something else, isn’t going to carry the same weight.

  • Anya

    I don’t know if I agree with you, but I do remember once having the opportunity to join in a “program” designed to expose rental discrimination by posing as the wife in a biracial marriage. Something inside me recoiled very strongly at the idea of lying, even in the cause of eliminating unjust practices.

  • James Morgan

    Maybe Adam told the first lie when Eve asked him, “Does this fig leaf make me look fat?”
    “Of course not, dear,” replied Adam, thereby presevring Paradise until the talking snake slithered by and the apple episode occurred.

  • Jill

    I scrolled to the bottom of that protectourgirls website, and saw a section entitled “Other Live Action Projects”, under which there is a link for “Lies”. (At least they’re honest? Sort of…?)

    … What can I say? … I LOL’d.