Excellent work!

Excellent work! June 26, 2012

Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology student Humberto Lopez ponders the question of Live Action and Fraternal Charity

It takes me a while but I think I’m able to articulate at least part of the confusion that inevitably arises when it comes to the strategy of lying to PP.

When defenders talk about lying to Planned Parenthood, the rather strong emotion is that child murdering bastards get whatever is coming to them. The focus, in other words, is on the grave and monstrous evil done by PP. Perfectly understandable. People who stick scissors in baby’s brains are behaving vilely and the desire to stop that evil is strong in any normal person who has not been perverted by lies. So grave is the sin opposed that it tends to dwarf all other sins and make them seem puny in comparison.

The problem is that a comparatively small sin is still a sin. This is, in fact, exactly *why* the Church makes the distinction between mortal and venial sin and does not adopt the Protestant folly of saying “all sin is the same”.

The good news about this, of course, is that we can make common sense distinctions jaywalkers and serial killers. The bad news is that Catholics often forget the distinction in one of two ways: they tend to either imagine that “venial” means “not really sinful” or that saying “a venial sin is still a sin” means “Any critic of Live Action’s lies is saying Live Action is as evil as Planned Parenthood.” I should know. I’ve seen Catholics say both nonsensical things multiple times.

No. A venial sin is not in the slightest as serious as a mortal sin. But it *is* a sin and though we can make a distinction, we cannot allow a big sin to transform venial sin into “not a sin” or, worse still, a virtue.

So, for instance, if I walk up to you, lie about my identity, and persuade you to give me a ten bucks by tricking you into thinking I am your Army buddy’s son, I am a thief. If it turns out that you are a bankster who is in the process of stealing one billion dollars from some hapless investors, the fact that I robbed you is dwarfed by your theft, but my theft remains a sin nonetheless. Moral: a burglar in Nazi Germany is not exonerated by the fact that much greater sins are happening all around him. Venial sins are not mortal sins, but they are sins nonetheless.

The problem with our tendency to let mortal sins drown out the signficance of venial sins and even turn them into imagine virtues is simply this: in the Church’s tradition venial sins are, if you will, gateway drugs to more serious sins. And the perfect way in which to allow a sin to take root and metastasize is to tell oneself that not only the sin not a sin, but it’s a positive virtue.

That’s why I keep banging away at lying for Jesus. It’s not because I equate, in the slightest, the sin of some young kids telling lies to Planned Parenthood in ill-considered youthful zeal. I’m skeptical they are very culpable at all due to ignorance and not thinking things through clearly. What concerns me *much* more is the consequences of Christians who *do* have time and leisure to think this stuff through consciously embracing an ethic of lying for Jesus and making the choices that must inevitably flow from adopting that, not as a rash strategy in haste, but as a core facet of their life ethic. That *will* end in catastrophe and will not remain a venial sin forever: it will lead, probably more quickly that apologists for lying realize, to mortal sin.

Indeed, it’s already well on the way there since LA strategy consists of enticing PP employees to commit mortal sin. Excuses about how “they’d do it anyway” are rationalization. An alcoholic would go get drunk anyway. That will not relieve you of the heavy millstone you are tying round your neck if you offer them a bottle and entice them to drink–even if you are videotaping it all to show the destructive effects of the whiskey industry. Their blood will be on your hands.

Live Action and its apologists have not, I would guess, really considered that fact. But they cannot avoid considering it much longer. And if they do and go on with this strategy of lying to entice people to commit mortal sin after that, their culpability will be much graver–and the corruption of those member of the Body of Christ who makes excuses for it will be much more serious.

Remedy: find other ways to fight the good fight that do not involve wilfully choosing to commit either venial or mortal sin.

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  • zaidagal

    great post Mark!

  • Betsy Rheaume

    I’m glad to see Planned Parenthood exposed but I also wish that Live Action tweaked their methods so as they weren’t lying. For most of the videos that I’ve watched, it appears that they could get the information they want without telling a lie.
    There is a television show, I think it’s called, “What Would You Do?”, where actors play out a scene in public and the cameras catch the reaction of people who are unaware they are being filmed. I can’t bare to watch it because I ‘m embarrassed for the people who react poorly.
    This show reminds me of what Live Action is doing and I think both Live Action and the producers of the show are looking for same result, exposing people at their lowest.

  • I sincerely appreciate all the times you’ve discusses “lying for Jesus”, Mark. The PP stings bothered me, but I couldn’t articulate why- and then I read your discussions on it and it became clear why I was troubled. I wish this issue would get some more serious attention from fellow Christians.

  • So, for instance, if I walk up to you, lie about my identity, and persuade you to give me a ten bucks by tricking you into thinking I am your Army buddy’s son, I am a thief.

    The trouble is your parallels always seem to be so unparallel. In this example you are self-interested. You are after $10 for yourself. If Live Action was doing this to get PP to give them money then nobody would see it as anything but immoral. All they are getting is information. True information about how they would handle certain situations. I see that exposing what they did do is different than getting them to do something new. The issue of entrapment.

    The fact that PP is bad is not the point at all. It is the fact that Live Actions actions are only harmful to PP if they behave badly. I would have no issue with it if the police were doing it. In fact, they should be. Many of these issues are crimes and should be investigated. The idea that a political opponent can do this or a news organization is a bit smelly. But nobody goes there. It is either fair game for everyone or always and ever wrong.

    • ivan_the_mad

      Randy, the analogy isn’t concerned with end goal (getting $10 vs exposing PP) or the object of the lie (a criminal investment banker or PP), but with the sinful means. It’s that to lie is always wrong; see CotCC 2482-2486. The point is that neither the end goal nor the object ever justify sin as a means. (At least this how I took the analogy; the OP may correct if I am mistaken).

      • But an analogy has to duplicate the essential elements in order to work as an analogy. Key elements are that the lie is temporary. Once the test is over the truth is revealed. The other element is no real harm comes to the “victim” except if he freely chooses to behave badly. Again, I am still not sure anyone should be able to “test” anyone else in this way. Still it is not the same thing as fraud which Mark’s attempt at a parallel implies.

        • ivan_the_mad

          “Key elements are that the lie is temporary.” I haven’t seen anything in the Church’s teaching to indicate that even temporary lies are permissible. CotCC 2485 is pretty unambiguous in its absolute condemnation of lying.

          • Mark Shea

            On the bright side, at least the lie is being clearly acknowledged as a lie and not euphemized into something else. So: progress.

        • Maiki

          Let me see if I can up with a better analogy.

          Parts needed: gravely evil victim, good intent, venial evil means, tempt victim to evil which they might do anyway, don’t cover up your sin (which is what I assume you mean by the “lie is temporary”… the lie and the consequences of the lie don’t disappear just because your reveal the truth and don’t repent. However, there is no intent to hide in the darkness).

          So, first, let’s pick a victim. How about a pickup artist? Fornication and occasionally adultery, plentiful deceit, etc. Definitely gravely evil.

          Good intent: Maybe I want to make an expose on him being a sleazebag liar to help other young women in the neighborhood from falling victim to his trap, but all I have is hearsay right now.

          Venial evil means: Maybe the guy doesn’t go for just any girl and knows better than to hit on a confident, modest, chaste young woman. So I dress very immodestly, give him clear non-verbal sexual signals that I’m easy, maybe engage in some foreplay behavior (not sex or other grave actions against the 6th commandment) to film him in action as a pickup artist, spouting lies and intending to take me to bed.

          Tempt victim into doing evil them might do anyway: Yes, the pickup artist is likely to have sex with someone that night, just like PP is likely to perform abortions anyway. But with my actions, I’m causing him to deliberately engage in deception and intent to fornicate.

          Expose the sin: After the night is over, I publish a video on the internet and go back to dressing mosdestly. My actions that night are clearly visible, and not my usual pattern of behavior.

          Ok, so the deal is: can I violate the 9th and 6th commandments (maybe venially) by dressing provocatively and making out with a random dude with the good intent of warning other girls about potential sleazebags at bars? Does it matter that their evil of actually having sex outside of marriage and lying to women is worse?

          • Why do you say that tempting someone to do grave evil is venial evil?

            • Maiki

              No, I was saying that the means (dressing provocatively) might be venial. If I was insufficiently venial in the means, please adjust it accordingly by having hypothetical woman dress a bit less provocatively and give chaster displays of affection to hypothetical sleazy guy.

              I don’t think tempting and presenting someone with the opportunity to do grave evil is venial.

            • Maiki

              Adding: I agree with Mark, and the analogy is there to illustrate that good intentions don’t excuse evil means. I think we are a lot more quick to condemn promiscuity than lies in this sphere of discourse (maybe according to our particular virtues and temptations), so this seemed like a good analogy to refocus that evil is evil, despite good intentions.

              • Humberto

                Maiki, nicely presented. We must always consider the goal–if the goal is to expose a sleezebag, it seems that the more remote goal is to promote chastity. The next question is, how do we promote chastity? Is it by posing to be, as you say, “easy”? Probably not, but rather, by informing our brothers and sisters of the dignity that is to be found in chastity. That dignity is only secured by cultivating a genuine love for neighbor through honesty and through respect. Teaching the sleezebag that he’s run the pool dry in one area code doesn’t stop him from moving to the next. Fostering a genuine love of self and cultivating a man who respects the dignity due to a woman requires much more than exposing foul-play. Likewise, fostering a love of life and of truth requires much more than exposing foul-play at PP. Sorry if this comment missed your point, I hope that it’s something along the lines of what you had in mind.

        • Humberto

          Randy, I think the only requirements for a false analogy are that the species and genera used point to multiple suppositions. I don’t think that that’s happened here, nor do I think that Mr. Shea’s goal was to expose fraud, but, as Ivan says, to illustrate the injustice of lying (the injustice of fraud is only additional, nonetheless, it isn’t essential to Mr. Shea’s argument). Self-interest or not, personal benefit does not (necessarily) constitute the permissibility of acts.

  • charles

    Victims becoming victimizers. The original victimizer “gets what’s coming to him”, but this should hardly be construed as justice. The victim ceases to be a victim when he decides to do something unjust in retaliation (revenge adultery is what comes to mind – the unfaithful partner “gets what’s coming to him” in a pagan karmic sense, but is still injured – even if he’s unfaithful, the other does not have the right to be unfaithful – and the original victim is morally worsened by offending the cosmic order which should obtain) It is better to suffer injustice than to do injustice. And every sin is an injustice.

  • Matthew

    An aspect that I don’t think you have mentioned: the real issue is not winning a “this worldly” cause but rather what my sin does to me. So what if I expose PP and cause it to be shut down, if I have done so in a way that damages my soul and I do not repent than I have damned myself for all eternity. “Our job is to be faithful not successful” (M. Teresa) LA seems taken up with “success”.

    • Mark Shea

      Agreed. The principle damage lying does is to the soul of the liar. It makes him… well, a liar.

  • kmk

    Amen, Mark–thanks for your thoughtful articulations. I am printing this to have handy….

  • Outstanding post, Mark.

    Keith Töpfer