Fascinating May 28, 2013

I did not know this, but it is gratifying to see that before it became sexy to lie and tempt people to mortal sin, old school prolifers Robbie George and Bernard Nathanson articulated what used to be known as “the normal position of Christians”:

George: “When you were promoting abortion, you were willing to lie in what you regarded as a good cause. Now that you have been converted to the cause of life, would you be willing to lie to save babies? How do those who hear your speeches and read your books and articles know that you are not lying now?”

Dr. Nathanson: “No, I wouldn’t lie, even to save babies. … You said that I was converted to the cause of life; and that’s true. But you must remember that I was converted to the cause of life only because I was converted to the cause of truth. That’s why I wouldn’t lie, even in a good cause.”

Nathanson’s approach to truth, which used to be called “a mark of a heart converted to Jesus Christ”, is now routinely described by many in the prolife community as “moral idiocy”, “Phariseeism”, “kumbaya Catholicism”, “cowardice”, “brain-dead idealism”, and “stupidity”. The conservative Catholic anti-charism of discernment has it all figured out.

Augustine, Aquinas, George, Nathanson, and the Catechism?: Old and Busted. Lies and temptation to mortal sin?: New Hotness.


Welcome, prolifers, to the “What could it possibly hurt?” phase of the history of the prolife movement. Sooner than you would ever believe, you will be moving on to the “How were we supposed to know?” phase. When you get there, remember that you were warned multiple times and have absolutely nobody but yourself to blame. Then, man up, take responsibility for your sin, and ask for forgiveness for the ruin you helped inflict on the prolife cause in your panic and faithlessness. God will give it, of course. But just between you and me, he’d rather not have to have sins to forgive, since they hurt him and us so bad. So you might consider Plan A while there is still time, just stick with the actual teaching of the Church and not run off after stupid trendy moral shortcuts. It’s been tried a gazillion times before with a 100% failure rate.

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  • Kevin O’Brien

    But, Mark, undercover-cop-Nazis-at-the-door-does-this-dress-make-me-look-fat-Jesus-lied-so-did-Solomon: I’d like to see you address THAT.

    • Joseph


    • Stu

      Well. Let me give this a try.


      I do not believe your snark is helpful. Nor do I think your characterization of some objections that have been raised to be accurate.

      As a convert, one of the more challenging aspects to me was our relationship with Christ’s mother. As many protestants, I characterized the Catholic treatment of her as “worship.” Fortunately, instead of ridiculing or trivializing my concern there was a friend who in charity took the time to understand my difficulty and have and explanation for the concern I raised. In the interest of truth, I would think we should be able to do the same here.

      Regardless of how others might act, I think it would be wise to have sensible answers to all such objections being raised. I would also submit that we appreciate the distinction that some are trying to make between “lying” and simply telling an “untruth.” Now this may be a false distinction. But if it is, then we should have a good answer for it which in some cases has been absent.

      For instance, those who would claim that Jesus used and “untruth”
      in speaking to the Canaanite women. Now is this a lie? Well, you and I would agree that it cannot be given it is Christ. But yet it does APPEAR as an untruth so some would then conclude that not all untruths are lies. So what is the answer to that? Could it be we might
      not understand the Scripture passage completely or the real implication in what Christ was saying? Absolutely. Or could it be that taking into the account the definition of a lie by the Church which is “to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error,“ that because the intent is not to “lead people into error” that an “untruth” is acceptable if that intent is absent?

      Or consider the case of Solomon. Was he bluffing the prostitutes in ordering the baby to be cut in half or was he serious? If he was bluffing, is that a lie and what does that say about him being given great wisdom? If he wasn’t bluffing, what does that say about him being given great wisdom? We should have answer for these questions.

      Now I will admit that I don’t have an answer for either. Further, I find the assertions that equivocation or other such acts as being acceptable mode of behavior that most agree on to also be a bit in need of bolstering.

      But here is what I do know. Like with the style of my friend who
      explained our love for Mary to me in a charitable manner, we do need answers to all of these question and we need to provide it in a charitable manner. Absent such, I don’t see much headway being

      • Kevin O’Brien

        Stu, do your homework. We have answered these questions numerous times. Instead of accusing me of snark, read what I’ve written on this – for I’ve addressed all of your concerns and then some: http://www.thwordinc.blogspot.com/search/label/LYING

        • Stu


          A few things.

          First, forgive me if I don’t frequent you blog. I don’t read every Catholic blogger. Time is what it is and choices are made in terms of return of investment. It is what it is.

          Second, why do say “my side?” I’m simply looking for the truth and truth be told, if forced to choose, I am in Mark’s camp on this issue. But that doesn’t equate into not pointing out to what I see as weaknesses in his position that need shored up. If that offends your sensibilities, then there is nothing I can do about.

          Third, Your post was snarky. It is what it is.

          • Kevin O’Brien

            OK, Stu, I’m taking you at your word that you’re seeking the truth and not playing games, so I just spent an hour and a half writing this: http://thwordinc.blogspot.com/2013/05/a.html – a synopsis of the Lying Debate, with the big objections answered. I did not address Solomon; some objections do not merit to be taken seriously, much less addressed. But I did my best to address the more serious ones. Hope it helps you and others.

            • Kevin O’Brien

              And please, instead of coming up with more hypotheticals, especially ludicrous ones like “split the baby” being a lie, or arguing from Old Testament characters of dubious morality (like Solomon) – instead, dear readers, do what we’re supposed to do. Try to understand the principles underlying Church teaching and apply them on your own. Think things through. Pray and seek the mind of Christ. Then ask questions. To keep firing pot shots is not really to engage your opponent in a debate. Stu, I’m counting on you, buddy! Reflect and think about what I’ve taken the time to write tonight – please don’t come back with superficial and ill-conceived attacks that a moment’s reflection on your own will reveal the answer to.

              • Stu


                I appreciate you taking the effort. But I am looking for an answer or opinion on a very specific question. And by your own admission, you didn’t answer it. Further, I don’t see why the question is either ludicrous or seen as taking a “potshot.” In my past profession, we made an effort to identify any and all weakness in ourselves prior to any action. This not only applied to warfare but our rhetorical exploits as well.

                I think the Solomon example needs a better answer than simply calling it ludicrous or sending me off to pray. If it is so ludicrous, then simply make that case and let’s discuss.

                So here is why I think it needs to be addressed. Let’s review the Scripture.

                “In Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream at night. God said: Whatever you ask I shall give you.

                Solomon answered: “You have shown great kindness to your servant, David my father, because he walked before you with fidelity, justice, and an upright heart; and you have continued this great kindness toward him today, giving him a son to sit upon his throne.

                Now, LORD, my God, you have made me, your servant, king to succeed David my father; but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act—

                I, your servant, among the people you have chosen, a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted.

                Give your servant, therefore, a listening heart to judge your people and to distinguish between good and evil. For who is able to give judgment for this vast people of yours?”

                The Lord was pleased by Solomon’s request.

                So God said to him: Because you asked for this—you did not ask for a long life for yourself, nor for riches, nor for the life of your enemies—but you asked for discernment to know what is right—

                I now do as you request. I give you a heart so wise and discerning that there has never been anyone like you until now, nor after you will there be anyone to equal you.

                In addition, I give you what you have not asked for: I give you such riches and glory that among kings there will be no one like you all your days.

                And if you walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and commandments, as David your father did, I will give you a long life.

                Solomon awoke; it was a dream! He went to Jerusalem, stood before the ark of the covenant of the Lord, sacrificed burnt offerings and communion offerings, and gave a feast for all his servants.

                Later, two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him.

                One woman said: “By your leave, my lord, this woman and I live in the same house, and I gave birth in the house while she was present.

                On the third day after I gave birth, this woman also gave birth. We were alone; no one else was in the house with us; only the two of us were in the house.

                This woman’s son died during the night when she lay on top of him.

                So in the middle of the night she got up and took my son from my side, as your servant was sleeping. Then she laid him in her bosom and laid her dead son in my bosom.

                I rose in the morning to nurse my son, and he was dead! But when I examined him in the morning light, I saw it was not the son I had borne.”

                The other woman answered, “No! The living one is my son, the dead one is yours.” But the first kept saying, “No! the dead one is your son, the living one is mine!” Thus they argued before the king.

                Then the king said: “One woman claims, ‘This, the living one, is my son, the dead one is yours.’ The other answers, ‘No! The dead one is your son, the living one is mine.’”

                The king continued, “Get me a sword.” When they brought the sword before the king, he said, “Cut the living child in two, and give half to one woman and half to the other.”

                * The woman whose son was alive, because she was stirred with compassion for her son, said to the king, “Please, my lord, give her the living baby—do not kill it!” But the other said, “It shall be neither mine nor yours. Cut it in two!”

                The king then answered, “Give her the living baby! Do not kill it! She is the mother.”

                When all Israel heard the judgment the king had given, they were in awe of him, because they saw that the king had in him the wisdom of God for giving right judgment.

                This event happens right after we see God giving Solomon the wisdom for which he asked. Indeed, Solomon later “went off the rails” in terms of sinning but I don’t think it happened that soon. Instead, I would submit the incident with the baby was meant to show this wisdom given the context. And the very end of the narrative reaffirms this; God gave him right judgment.

                So when Solomon gave the order to kill the baby, it seems we are left with a few possibilities:

                1. He really intended to split the baby. But that doesn’t seem like “right judgment” to me. Perhaps I am wrong?

                2. He was speaking an untruth and thus telling a lie. That doesn’t seem like “right judgment” especially given our current viewpoint on lying as you set forth in your latest piece.

                3. He was speaking an untruth but for some reason it was not a lie.

                I again openly admit that I don’t have the answer to this. But I don’t think you have answered it either. So, if you would like to take the principles underlying Church teaching that you have laid out and apply them on your own to this case, I
                would be most interested. If you don’t have an answer, that’s fine too. Doesn’t mean your position is wrong as it may simply mean that we might need to noodle it through better.

                Fides Quaerens Intellectum

                • Sam Schmitt

                  How did Solomon lie? He commanded a servant to cut the baby in two, but he did not state a deliberate falsehood. I must be missing something.

                  • Stu

                    Did he intend to have the baby cut in two? Or were his actions meant to give that impression? If a lie is “to speak OR ACT against the truth in order to lead someone into error,” then it is not just words that make a lie. I suppose we could say that in giving the order he was not under the obligation to inform others that he was going to rescind it. But isn’t that deceitful?

                    BTW, thank you for answering the question.

                    • chezami

                      Why are people appealing to Solomon, of all people, as some sort of gold standard for developed Catholic moral teaching? Should we also make the book of Judges the source for our understanding of Just war doctrine?

                    • Stu

                      I’m appealing to Scripture which says this act demonstrates Solomon had the “wisdom of God for giving right judgment.” I would submit that it cannot be at odds with Catholic moral teaching. I am puzzled as to why the avoidance in wanting to explore this facet and simply connect the dots. All part of building a strong case on your part.

                      I have not claimed, nor do I believe, this story somehow demonstrates that Church teaching is wrong or as a means to defend LA. But I do think it is a question that should be answered. But if you don’t want discussion like this, then just say so. I’ll go knock on the door of Catholic Answers or even email a rabbi I found online who had some thoughts on this very subject.

                    • chezami

                      Come. The whole backdrop to this entire controversy is Live Action. That’s what ocassions this entire discussion.

                    • Stu

                      Agree, that is what has caused the discussion. And as part of that, some have brought up his instant as a case where deception (lying? I don’t know.) has been used and seemingly as a demonstration of the “wisdom of God for giving right judgment.”

                      Mark, I have never lied to you. All I can offer is my assertion (again) that my baseline position is with you on this. I’m not comfortable with LA’s tactics. But that doesn’t mean that in making your case, I can’t point out that I think there are some loose ends. And I think in the interest of of tying them up, the question should be explored. That’s it. Nothing more in my point. No guile. No deceit. I am telling you bluntly my concern.

        • Stu

          BTW, I just did quick check of that link. I was really interested to see your treatment of the Solomon question but could only find one reference to Solomon as follows:

          “6.Forget evidence from Scripture! Solomon lied and Jesus lied – so there!

          Therefore if you use one of those six rebutals, your comment will not get through.”

          So either the link is wrong OR my ability to find your thoughts on that are lacking. I’m honestly asking for someone to address the question. As I said before, I don’t have a good answer for the question. If you do, please share. If you don’t, please share that too.

          • capaxdei

            Half a week late, but Discus seems pretty good at reminding people of old comment threads, so: I offer my own take on Solomon and the baby here: http://disputations.blogspot.com/2013/06/my-solomonic-judgment.html

            • Stu

              I like it. You definitely have the best answer i have seen to this. I don’t have time to read it as closely as I would like at this moment but I will.

              But I will say, that in saying this is not a lie, we are acknowledging that for lack of a better word, “deception” of sorts is permitted and perhaps that is where people are getting hung up in making that distinction. And understandably so, as this can be a vexing dilemma given the sometime clash in present in virtues.

              • capaxdei

                I addressed the “deception” argument also, at the end, and suggest the better word is “test.” Even if that’s not convincing, I’d say there are better thought experiments than Solomon: The Early Years to investigate the fine points of truthfulness.

      • Kevin O’Brien

        One more thing. Why is it we are compelled to answer every one of your side’s objections, and your side routinely ignores every one of ours? Address what Dr. Nathanson said in Mark’s post.

  • capaxdei

    Bernard Nathanson illustrates the difference between thinking of truth-telling as a useful good — whereby if it isn’t useful, it isn’t good — and thinking of truth-telling as a virtuous good.

    • Andy, Bad Person

      Isn’t that just another form of consequentialism?

      • capaxdei

        I may be misunderstanding your question, and I was certainly sloppy in my own comment, but the distinction between a useful good — something that is desired as a means to something else — and a virtuous good — something that is desired for its own sake — is not consequentialist. (St. Thomas defends it, citing St. Ambrose.)(The third and last kind of good is the pleasant good, something that is desired that one may rest in it.)

        It’s not consequentialist as such to think of telling the truth as good, not for its own sake, but for the sake of some end. It’s wrong, but not consequentialist. It’s putting truth telling into the wrong division of good. If telling the truth is useful rather than virtuous, then in that way it’s more like building a fire — which is a good thing to do, if you need a fire — than eating in moderation — which is something you ought always to do, because eating in moderation is a virtue.

        • Andy, Bad Person

          Got it. Thanks for the clarification.

  • Over the weekend Comedy Central had a marathon of South Park episodes, and I caught one — “Butt Out” — I had not seen in years. In it, a caricature of Carl Reiner stopped at nothing to end the scourge of smoking, and because smoking kills people every year, he explained to the kids that it was ok to tell lies to bring about the ruin of the tobacco companies; “it’s ok to lie when you know better than other people do.” I laughed and laughed.

  • Guest

    Moral rigor and intellectual honesty are soooo….whenever! The catchism? That’s for catechumens, not for real, fully grown Catholics like LA…of Machiavelli…

  • Chesire11

    Whenever I hear a person defend lying and tempting in the service of the pro-Life cause, I hear echoes of Screwtape who, if I recall correctly, explained to Wormwood that one of the most effective ways of luring a soul into sin was by convincing him of its necessity in pursuit of a greater good.

    Good ends cannot be pursued through evil means. The entire goal of Hell is to convince us that sins don’t really matter, or can be excused, thereby inviting us into a moral morass from which we can’t extricate ourselves, and despair of being worth of grace.

    Sin is death, and most deadly when we fool ourselves to imagine it is anything but.

  • Eileen D’A

    Why aren’t you so critical of the undercover detectives who broke the Gosnell case? I’ve met one. He’s Catholic, by the way.

    • chezami

      A) I don’t know know anything about them.
      B) I don’t know that they lied and tried to get Gosnell to commit murder.
      C) I do know about Live Action’s tactics.
      D) Those tactics include lying and trying to get people to agree to commit murder
      E) How has it come to pass that the core value of the prolife movement is the defense of lying in order to get somebody to agree to commit murder?

      • Eileen D’A

        My point is: are you planning to pursue undercover detectives and reporters or is Live Action your only target?

        • chezami

          The tactic of lying and asking people to agree to commit grave evil is my target, not Live Action. I know what they are doing. I don’t know what undercover cops are doing. And till LA tried to baptize this evil tactic, no Christians were tying themselves in knots to defend this evil tactic.

    • Upbeat Dad

      Yeah, I here Nancy Pelosi is “Catholic” too.

      • Eileen D’A

        He’s actually a faithful Catholic.

  • Dave G.

    Personally, I don’t know that I wouldn’t lie to save a baby’s life. But then, I don’t know if I have what it takes to sell everything I own, give it all to the poor, and follow Jesus. I guess the best way to know what I’m prepared to do is to sell everything I have, give everything to the poor, and follow Jesus. Then I might know I have the spiritual wherewithal to avoid lying at all costs, even if it means the certain death of an innocent. If I’m only willing to let the innocent die rather than lie, but not willing to give up my worldly possessions, I’m just not sure what that would say about me.

  • The Jerk

    What kind of unAmerican nonsense is this? If lying is always wrong, then you might as well condemn Superman when he pretends to be Clark Kent. You know who hates Superman? Nazis, that’s who.

    • Rebecca Fuentes

      Lex Luthor.

  • BigBlueWave

    Can we get the CDF to issue a ruling? I mean, to make it crystal clear.

  • Foxhole Atheist

    too funny to be talking about lying through the prism of a philosophy built upon falsehoods