First things first, let’s get something clear: as Kermit Gosnell has done a bang up job of demonstrating, abortion is a filthy monstrous evil that should turn the stomach of any sane human being. Indeed, it is so repellent that prolifers, desperately seeking to land a very justifiable punch thrill when a good hard punch is landed. After the monstrous things done in Gosnell’s chamber of horrors, who wouldn’t?
So it’s only natural to cheer that Live Action has landed some good hard punches with videos obtained by sending people in undercover to lie about seeking an abortion and filming the conversations with clinic workers that result. Only a pettifogging jerk could possibly question this, right?
I am that pettifogging jerk. Permit me to explain why.
Last year I spent rather a lot of time pointing out that the teaching of the Church is that lying is always immoral. Not always gravely immoral, mind you, but always immoral nonethelss. No. Really. From the Catechism, which tells us, “By its very nature, lying is to be condemned” to St. Thomas, who answers in the affirmative the question of whether lying is always a sin, back to Augustine and everywhere in between, the Tradition condemns lying.
And so, conservative Catholics spent all sorts of energy trying to figure out ways to pretend that what Live Action was doing was either not lying or not immoral. With the latest round of videos, particularly in combination with the horrors of Kermit Gosnell, that struggle will be taken up again with greater vigor no doubt and I fully expect to be denounced as a devil in human form for my misgivings about Live Action’s tactics.
Still and all, hear me out. Permit me, for starters, to note that while lying certainly enters into this discussion, it is not really the central issue. Rather, it is the purpose of the lie that gravely concerns me. Because the purpose of the lie, and what Faithful Conservative Catholics are enthusiastically cheering, is to tempt somebody to commit a mortal sin.
No. Really. The essence of the transaction Live Action’s agent proposes is simple: “I want to murder someone. Will you help me?”
Some will undoubtedly say “These people would murder in any case so let’s nail the bastards any way we can.”
The answer to this is twofold: a) we don’t know they would murder in any case and b) even if true, it does not in the slightest remove the stain of mortal sin from our act when we tempt another to commit murder. Indeed, to tempt to mortal sin one who is likely to succumb to mortal sin is, if anything, more blameworthy.
What do I mean when I say, “We don’t know they would murder in any case”? Consider such figures as Carol Everett, Bernard Nathanson or Sue Thayer. All were, at one time, pro-aborts with blood on their hands–and deeply troubled consciences. The very last thing they needed when they were on the cusp of changing their minds was for somebody to come to them pleading for an abortion and tempting them to continue in their path with one more conscience-searing act of slaughter. Inveigling them to continue murdering for the sake of the hidden camera is like handing an alcoholic struggling to get sober a bottle of whiskey in the hope they will die of alcohol poisoning on camera so you can expose the distillery industry. “He would have gotten drunk anyway” is not going to fly when you stand at the Pearly Gates and have to answer for tempting that guy to destroy his life for the sake of your expose. And, of course, once the person you have lied to finds out that you lied to them–just as they were starting to think “Maybe these prolife people are right”–one perfectly predictable reaction to such betrayal is to harden the heart against the prolifer who lied and tempted them to commit what prolifers themselves claim to be murder all for the sake of some footage. It’s not too hard to see how somebody on the cusp of a change of heart would conclude “These prolifers don’t believe what they are saying, or they would never tempt somebody to do this simply to score points.” An argument is won, but a Carol Everett, Bernard Nathanson or Sue Thayer is lost, perhaps eternally.
The reality is that the *least* serious moral issue is that LA’s tactics involve the sin of lying. The really serious problem (and one that the Faithful Conservative Catholic anti-charism of discernment refuses to give any serious consideration) is that it is lying in order to tempt somebody to commit a mortal sin. God does not tempt to mortal sin. Those who do tempt people to commit mortal sin are themselves engaged in grave matter and are in peril of their souls.
Yes. I’m aware they are trying to achieve a good end. So is the documentarian who gives the alcoholic the bottle and urges him to drink so he can film the effects of alcohol poisoning and damn the distillery industry’s encouragement of irresponsible drinking. Yes. I’m aware that abortionists are butchers. But tempting even a butcher to commit grave evil is like stripping for a porn addict in order to film him getting aroused in order to bring down the porn industry. It is gravely evil to tempt another to commit grave evil even–in fact *especially*–when they are likely to succumb to the temptation.
Some will argue that since no abortion is actually performed on the LA agent this means that no temptation to commit mortal sin has occurred. This is like arguing that merely because the person offering to take money in exchange for sex does not come through with the sex, no temptation to sexual immorality has occurred. Jesus has these words for that line of moral reasoning:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28)
Believe me, I get it. The butchery of Gosnell and Co is hideous. But the Church says that merely because you are at war it does not mean that all bets are off and you can do whatever you like, no matter how immoral, in order to win. This tactic of tempting abortionists to agree to more murder seems to promise massive dividends to the prolife movement. But that is a snare and a delusion. A Christian prolife movement that enshrines temptation to mortal sin at its heart as its most sacred tactic is a Christian prolife movement that is dying of a fatal and swiftly metastasizing cancer. It profits a man nothing to gain the whole world and lose his soul. These are not the weapons of the Spirit.
I would dearly, dearly love to stop being such a pain in the butt about all this and just join the parade of cheers for Live Action for landing some punches on the abortion industry. I do not enjoy the intense hatred I get from prolifers whenever I feel obliged to say this stuff. And despite the brain-dead accusations that I “secretly support abortion” or am “jealous of Live Action’s success” (what in hell does that even mean?), I *do* join the parade when the punches are landed with the weapons of the Spirit. So, for instance, I laud 40 Days for Life for shutting down clinics all over the US, including in Seattle’s University District, which is like walking into Mordor and poking Sauron in the eye as if he were Moe Howard. I *want* the prolife movement to succeed. I think that Lila Rose and Live Action mean well. But we cannot, in the end, succeed with these tactics because they seriously violate the Church’s ancient teaching that you cannot do evil that good may come of it. If we embrace that ethos, all we will win is a Pyrrhic victory and as we make a Faustian Bargain. So I speak, awaiting the next round of hate mail and brickbats. Goody.