Over at Strange Notions, There’s Been a Three Way Debate About Lying

Over at Strange Notions, There’s Been a Three Way Debate About Lying August 23, 2013

Really, it’s a two way debate.

On the one hand, James Croft, the atheist says, “Go ahead and lie if that seems like a good idea to you because Nazis.”

On the other hand, Deacon Jim Russell says, “Go ahead and lie if that seems like a good idea to you because Nazis.”

Oh. Wait. That’s the same hand.

Okay. It’s a little more complex than that, since, unlike the atheist, Deacon Russell, has to figure out a way to avoid the plain and obvious teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which says, just like Augustine and Aquinas and countless other Catholic theologians, that “By its very nature, lying is to be condemned.” This involves deploying a number of strategies to achieve this goal in an endlessly rotating treadmill of rhetoric that has currently been operating for roughly two years around St. Blog’s.

Sometimes, Deacon Russell deploys the Definition Game so beloved by advocates of various things the Church teaches to be sinful. This consists of saying, “I agree that the thing the Church condemns is bad and wrong. But who even knows what that is anyway?” It’s all so confusing and impossible to define.” So the advocate of the sin thereby agrees that “in theory” abortion/mass murder in war/torture are wrong, but manages to remain eternally baffled about exactly what specific acts might constitute such sins.  Is it really abortion to kill a baby before the 40th day?  Is it really torture to waterboard?  Is it really mass murder to nuke Hiroshima and Nagasaki?  Who can tell?  Where is the formal dogma from the Church precisely defining these mysteries.  Golly, this is soooo complicated.  I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.  This positivist sophistry of pretending that you can’t make any moral judgments until the Church specifically defines whether a specific act is sinful is silly with big sins and it’s silly with small ones.

For, of course, lying is usually about something trivial and on rare occasions is about something desperate in a panic  situation.  That doesn’t make it “not lying” though.  It makes it (sometimes) “less culpable lying.”  For as Thomas points out, while lying is not always mortally sinful, it’s always sinful. And the trouble with justifying small sins is that it leads to justifying big ones (as the bishops demonstrated really well in recent years). Catholics, as apostles of the mercy of God, should be all about defending reduced culpability for sins where appropriate, not to mention praising heroism when they see it. So hooray for saving Jews from Nazis and Moses from the Egyptians and children at Sandy Hook!  Who would not applaud that?

But Catholics should not be about trying to call sins virtues.  Thomas strikes that balance by praising the Hebrew midwives as we would praise the teacher at Sandy Hook who lied to save her students.  He does not condemn the Hebrew midwives (who heroically did the best they could) but simply notes that their lies were “not meritorious”.  That is, they added nothing to the good thing they aimed to do and were therefore not necessary.  The implication is that, given sufficient presence of mind, they could have done something else since sin is never necessary.  The much more important implication is that we are not the Hebrew midwives, or bravely protecting Jews from Nazis, or faced with critical life and death emergency decisions that transform us into heroes.  Usually, we’re just looking for an excuse to lie to save our butts from something we fear or to get something we really want badly.  This is called “consequentialism.”  And consequentialism, the absolute number one favorite moral heresy in the world is something that the Church always and in every case condemns.  You may not do evil that good may come of it.  So we must stop searching for rationales for doing exactly that.

Things that are sinful, including venially sinful, are never truly necessary for the very good reason that God never tempts, much less forces us to sin and to suggest otherwise is blasphemy.  Our task is to therefore think of other ways to approach problems beyond, “What would be your first unthinking response in a life or death crisis?”  It turns out moral deliberations can be more sophisticated that that.  It also turns out that there were evil people before Nazis who threatened innocents and that Augustine and Thomas were as aware of that as we are.  They still said this was not sufficient justification to lie–as does the Catechism at this hour since that’s what “by its very nature, lying is to be condemned” means.

Because of all this, sometimes even the most strenuous denials of common sense fail to prevail and people have to admit that, yeah, freezing people into hypothermia is torture and tearing a baby, even a tiny one, to pieces is murder and incinerating a civilian population at Hiroshima is a crime against man and God–and when you walk up to somebody and lie through your teeth about your identity and purpose so as to get them to believe you, that’s what all normal people call “lying”.

When common sense washes away that dam, the next loop of the treadmill is to say, “If you don’t like the second edition of the Catechism, whose language was specifically tightened up to avoid the truck I am about to drive through this loophole, just stick with the first edition and tell yourself that so long as the person you are lying to has no right to the truth, you can lie your head off, because Nazis.” The idea here is that what we would in *any* other case call a “lie” magically becomes “not a lie” when you lie to somebody you have decided has “no right to the truth”.

Now it’s true that if you decide the Nazi at the door (a constant problem we all face) is unworthy of the truth you can keep mum, or misdirect, or evade, or equivocate and this is not lying. But the reality is, if I walk up to you, give you a false name and purpose and try to deceive you into believing me, that’s called “lying” and it doesn’t magically become “not lying” because I think you are a dirtbag. Nor does it become “not lying” if you instead walk up to me, ask me a question, and I lie to you–even if you really are a dirtbag. It’s just me lying to a dirtbag.  If you are a dirtbag with a gun who is trying to kill my students and I can’t think of anything else to say, I expect I would lie because I’d be panicked and couldn’t think of anything else to do.  I expect God would forgive such a lie and say, “Well done, thou good and faithful” as I expect he said it to the teacher of blessed memory who lied at Sandy Hook.  But I don’t expect God would say, “You didn’t lie.”

More to the point, if I lie to you in order to try to get you to be an even worse dirtbag than you already are, I am not only lying, I am giving scandal, which is much more serious and is potentially a mortal sin depending how big of a dirtbag I’m trying to get you to be with my lies.

The editors of the Catechism, realizing this well-meaning “no right to the truth” loophole essentially allowed every liar in the world to unilaterally declare that their victim had “no right to the truth”, fixed it in the second edition, so the Catechism’s teaching unambiguously underscored what moral theologians from Augustine to Aquinas to the present have overwhelmingly affirmed: “By its very nature, lying is to be condemned”.  Take it from a professional writer, when you very carefully edit a text like that, it doesn’t happen in your sleep and you don’t do it in order to say, “Feel free to ignore this edit that has gone through a dozen committees and stick with the previous looser language.”  In much the same way, when the Church at Nicaea beefed up the Apostle’s Creed to specifically say, “God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father”, they didn’t mean “Feel free to go ahead and keep reading the Apostle’s Creed as an Arian might.”  The clarification and tightened language existed to govern how the earlier and looser text was henceforth to be read.

Once this elementary fact is made clear, this leads to the final loop of the treadmill, which is to say that there are “two traditions” about lying in the Church (despite this super clear teaching of the second edition of the Catechism.) The “two traditions” thingie is a strateegery much beloved by advocates of dissent on the Pelvic Issues too. It goes like this: There’s the Magisterial teaching in the Catechism (if you are into that kind of thing) and then there is the “sensus fidelium” or the “primacy of conscience” tradition (meaning “Whatever I feel like doing regardless of what the Church’s magisterium says in the Catechism“). (Lefties like to appeal to “primacy of conscience” while Righties love to appeal to “prudential judgment” to blow off the Church’s clear, obvious, and authoritative teaching.) Of course, “sensus fidelium”, “primacy of conscience” and “prudential judgment” don’t actually mean any of that, but never mind.  This approach to the Church’s teaching on lying is, as near as I can tell, indistinguishable from Charles Curran’s approach to Humanae Vitae on artificial contraception: “Ignore the clear, obvious and authoritative teaching of the Magisterium since it has not been dogmatically defined and do as you please.”

Bottom line, both Mr. Croft and Deacon Russell are agreed that Church is wrong to say “By its very nature, lying is to be condemned” and both argue that sometimes you can and even should lie. The atheist has the excuse of his atheism to at least temper the fact that he may well have no clue what the Church says and no reason to see why he should care if he did. But one would expect a Deacon to side with the Church’s clear, obvious, and authoritative teaching against an atheist, not clasp hands with him in warm agreement against the Church. In my view, that also is “giving scandal“, something numerous clergy and laypeople, including Yr. Obdt. Svt, have vainly tried to get Deacon Russell to acknowledge over the past two years.

Leah Libresco, in contrast, actually writes an argument that reflects the teaching of the Magisterium and honors well her confirmation name: Augustine). She is the actual other side of the debate.  Well done, Leah!

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  • Jan Frederik Solem

    I suppose this is still about the Live Action debate that started two years ago? You probably know about these, but… anyway:

    1. Peter Kreeft: “Why Live Action did right and why we all should know that”

    2. “A response to Peter Kreeft, on lying”

    • HornOrSilk

      I recommend Peter Lombard on lying. Get out of modern attempts of justification of political ideologies and engage universal morality.

    • If we are going to start discussing Live Action’s uh, actions, I’d like to point out for consideration that over at Slate.com, Marcotte and her ilk gleefully make a big deal of every lie any pro-lifer ever says, because in their minds it serves as proof that we are morally bankrupt.

      • wineinthewater

        This exactly. Even if you don’t believe what LiveAction did is wrong, it is certainly imprudent. Those who disagree with them have been using “those damn lying pro-life liars” as a successful fundraising campaign.

      • rozdieterich

        The nature of this issue notwithstanding, if I choose to act or refrain from acting based on how those poseurs will react in the press, I should take a minute to pull my big-girl boots on.

        • enness

          Yeah, “what will Amanda Marcotte say” isn’t high on my list of compelling thoughts.

  • ivan_the_mad

    The Catechism has a nihil obstat, meaning it is free of moral and doctrinal error. If lying isn’t always and everywhere wrong, it would be a moral error to state that in the Catechism. But, clearly, the Church thinks that a moral truth, hence the nihil obstat.

    But even failing that, surely our Lord’s very words, that the devil “is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44) ought to be sufficient a prohibition.

  • Dave G.

    When the old ‘lying to stop Nazis’ comes around, I think before I get to the ‘would I lie to save Jews from Nazis’ scenario, I wonder if I would even be in that spot in the first place. I mean, there are about ten levels of serious devotion and bravery I would have to achieve to be in a spot to lie to save Jews from Nazis. Perhaps that sort of ‘is lying right or wrong in life and death situations’ is best discussed by those who have the stones to be in those situations. Personally, I fear I would have dropped off somewhere long before it came to the ‘hiding Jews from Nazis’ level of devotion to the right cause.

  • This has probably been answered in one of the many other threads about lies: There is a distinction between murder and the lawful killings committed by, e.g., soldiers in legitimate militaries. If a spy tells a lie, is that lie a sin since lying is always and everywhere wrong, and is intrinsically evil the way, e.g., unchastity is? Or are spies’ lies akin to soldiers’ killings? I suspect it’s the former (the Magisterial condemnation of lying seems to be as broad as can be), but I’m open to correction.

    • wineinthewater

      It has been covered.

      The difference is how entwined the act and the intent are. One can kill a person without the intent to kill. One can kill a person as a consequence of the act of defense. (And remember, in “justified killings” the killing can’t be the means, it must be an unintended consequence, cf Augustine. Only the state has the right to execute.) But one can’t unintentionally lie. A lie can’t be an unintended consequence because a lie is an intended act.

    • Stu

      Interesting to consider that in warfare spies are executed while capture men in uniform are to be taken prisoner with set rights. But, if a military man is capture out of uniform, he is treated like a spy.

      • Andy, Bad Person

        This. In war, uniformed combatants, trained killers, are considered far more honorable than spies. There is something to be learned from that.

        • Stu

          That was exactly the takeaway I hoped people would see.

  • Michael Blonde

    Is there any argument that could appeal to non-Catholics as to why not lying should outweigh protecting innocent life?

    • Joseph R.

      First explain to them that their argument presupposes that lying is the only way to protect innocent life.

      Then explain that, “[Y]ou can keep mum, or misdirect, or evade, or equivocate and this is not lying.” So unless one sets up the question so that lying is the only way, any of these other techniques has an equal chance to protect an innocent life.

    • capaxdei

      Don’t start with the vice of lying. Start with the virtue of truth-telling.

    • A Philosopher

      A word from the non-Catholic gallery: if my children were in dangerous of being brutally tortured and killed, and I could save them from that fate by lying, there is no lie I would not tell, happily, over and over again, to save them. I would debase and degrade myself and all I loved, I would swear allegiance to the foulest of people and ideas, I would blaspheme God and all his angels. And I would count myself fortunate that I had the chance to do so.

      Not only would I do these things, convinced that they would be the right things to do, I would regard anyone who wouldn’t do them as suffering from profound moral confusion. I simply cannot imagine an argument which would be the tiniest bit persuasive otherwise. Certainly nothing I’ve ever seen does anything to move me away from that position.

      • Guest

        There are numerous problems with this: How does one know beforehand that the lie will save the person? One generally cannot, so to commit evil for something which may not even occur is irrational. Hypothetical examples also do not outweigh the truth/principle about something. It also neglects the fact that there is a hierarchy of values and that it makes no sense to commit the “foulest” of evils for the sake of avoiding another evil. And how would you weigh these evils and judge which is worth doing or sacrificing? There are those who also do not think death is an evil and might even prefer it, though not necessarily in your example (i.e. people who advocate euthanasia, abortion, infanticide, assisted suicide, etc.); so that argument would not work with them.

        The death of the soul and eternal damnation is also a greater evil than the loss of physical life, so there is no proportionality there. And if one does not believe in God and the immortality of the soul then one can question why they are so concerned about someone dying so as to commit evil for it: if there is no ultimate meaning to life, if we are only here by accident, if the person does not have a soul and is not made in the image and likeness of God, what should it really matter if a life is no longer here.

        And finally, once one accepts the error that one can do evil so that good can come of it/the end justifies the means, greater evil always follows, and history is full of examples.

        • A Philosopher

          How does one know beforehand that the lie will save the person?

          Well, I’m not a skeptical, so I don’t think such things are in general difficult to know. But forget knowledge. If I thought there was a good chance that lying would avoid the death of my children, I would lie. If I thought there was a .1% chance that lying would avoid the death of my children, and lying was the best available strategy, I would lie.

          To commit evil for something which may not even occur is irrational.

          Perhaps. But I deny that lying in those circumstances would be evil (indeed, I claim that not lying in those circumstances would be evil), so irrelevant even if true.

          There is a hierarchy of values

          Yes, and “avoid brutal death of my children” is much much higher on it than “tell the truth”.

          It makes no sense to commit the “foulest” of evils for the sake of avoiding another evil.

          Again, my view is that no evil is done in lying in these circumstances. I said I would swear allegience to the foulest of evil, not that I would actually do it. If I were going to do it, it wouldn’t be a lie.

          There are those who also do not think death is an evil and might even prefer it.

          Well, they’re probably wrong. But in any case, my children aren’t among them, so the consideration isn’t even potentially relevant.

          The death of the soul and eternal damnation is also a greater evil than the loss of physical life, so there is no proportionality there.

          I’ll also accept eternal damnation to protect my children from brutal death, so I’m not too moved by that. But in any case, I’m not risking eternal damnation by lying in such circumstances, because there’s nothing wrong with lying in those circumstances.

          And if one does not believe in God and the immortality of the soul then one can question why they are so concerned about someone dying so as to
          commit evil for it.

          Again, not evil to lie in those circumstances, so the point isn’t relevant. And in any case: why would not believing in God possibly cause me not to care about the death of my children?

          If there is no ultimate meaning to life, if we are only here by accident, if the person does not have a soul and is not made in the image and likeness of God, what should it really matter if a life is no longer here.

          It turns out that denial of the existence of God doesn’t entail moral nihilism. But even if it did entail moral nihilism, moral nihilism in turn entails that lying isn’t wrong. So either way, you’ve got no argument against my position here.

          And finally, once one accepts the error that one can do evil so that good can come of it/the end justifies the means, greater evil always follows.

          Well, no, it doesn’t. Sometimes one does evil to achieve good, and the final results are pretty good. (Otherwise, one wouldn’t need to argue against consequentialism.) But in any case: it’s still the position that lying in these circumstances isn’t wrong, so no evil is being done.

          • Guest

            Your main reply is simply your opinion that lying in those circumstances is not wrong, essentially moral relativism. But that is just an easy way out of the objections. Telling a lie is either always wrong or it is not, a fact which cannot change because of the circumstances. If telling a lie is wrong because human persons, endowed with intellect, seek for and have the right to pursue and know the truth, then any lie will be wrong. It cannot be wrong only in some circumstances but not others. Then one falls into the untenable position of relativism, with its contradictory nature.(To begin with one ends up saying that there are no absolutes, except for the one that says there are no absolutes.) Or what authority, other than your own opinion, are you invoking to say that lying is not always an evil?

            There is also the error of saying that the circumstances can turn an intrinsically evil action to good, whereas certain actions can never be justified. Any evil would be capable of justification with such an approach. In fact the murderer in your hypothetical example could say that some circumstance he has in mind justifies the killing of the children, or that he doesn’t think that killing them would be an evil in his view. In sum all your claims could easily be turned against you once you pursue the relativistic, consequentialist, circumstantialist views. But that being the case, that is an unsound and refutable approach.

            • A Philosopher

              There isn’t even the tiniest hint of moral relativism in my response to you. I do, of course, reject the claim that “telling a lie is either always wrong or it is not” (assuming you mean “is either always wrong or is always not wrong”), but you have no compelling argument in favor of that claim. All you do is give an argument for the value of truth-telling. But there are many things that are of value, but are such that, in certain circumstances, it is wrong to do them, because doing them would involve defeating some other greater value.

              • Guest

                Saying that any given person can choose to label what actions are wrong or not is not moral relativism? And saying that there is no objective reference for being able to determine whether lying is always wrong or not is not relativistic? What standard, outside your own opinion, are you appealing to say that lying is not always wrong, and if you deny such a standard, that is relativism.

                The “value” of truth telling is the point. Some things have inherent value or are “goods” that flow from human nature, such that no violation of them is permitted. E.G., human life, being alive, is such a good. Therefore the intentional killing of someone is an intrinsic evil. Having an intellect is part of human nature. The object of the intellect’s operation is to know the truth about things and we have a right and duty to pursue it. As such, any misleading of the right and ability to know the truth with the intention to deceive- the frustration of a human being’s basic component of mind- is wrong. From a religious perspective one could appeal to scripture or Church teaching as a further authority.

                Again all your own claims could be turned against you, indicating a lack of objective standards you are evaluating with.

              • Archaeopteryx

                Except that after all is said and done, your children are going to die anyways. Everyone does. So you’ve damned yourself to merely delay the inevitable; net loss. Worse than that, your example might lead your children to think it’s okay to damn themselves to gain some temporary end. Now it’s a total loss.

                While saving a life is good, better to take care of the part of oneself that outlasts death if one has to choose.

                This is why the Church holds the position it does. It states, truthfully, that we’re all going to die eventually, get over it. Then it shows how to ultimately survive that death and gain perfection, immortality, and joy unending.

                Unlike the world, we in the Church, following the example of our Lord, do not consider mere temporal death to be a loss condition. That’s not the end, so we don’t need to treat it as such.

  • entonces_99

    Once this elementary fact is made clear, this leads to the final loop of the treadmill, which is to say that there are “two traditions” about lying in the Church (despite this super clear teaching of the second edition of the Catechism.) The “two traditions” thingie is a strateegery much beloved by advocates of dissent on the Pelvic Issues too. It goes like this: There’s the Magisterial teaching in the Catechism (if you are into that kind of thing) and then there is the “sensus fidelium” or the “primacy of conscience” tradition (meaning “Whatever I feel like doing regardless of what the Church’s magisterium says in the Catechism“).

    You know, you’d never guess it from reading this post, but Deacon Russell actually addresses the issue of what the fact that it’s in the Catechism means, and his approach is quite distinguishable from “Charles Curran’s approach to Humanae Vitae on artificial contraception.”

    I happen to adhere to the Augustinian/Thomist view on lying (as my wife well knows, from our repeated arguments on the subject), and I used to think that I had the clear teaching of the Magisterium on my side. A little deeper reading has persuaded me that it’s not as simple as that. I’d *like* the Magisterium to line up with me, and I’d love to be able to point to proof texts that support my position, but my wishing doesn’t make it so.

    • wineinthewater

      There is a significant problem with this. The catechism makes a doctrinal statement, that lying is an intrinsic evil. If we may embrace either “tradition,” then lying cannot be an intrinsic evil, and the Catechism contains an error about the faith. The Catechism doesn’t just endorse a school of thought, it makes a an absolutist positive assertion about faith and morals. Deacon Russell’s positions is, therefore, built on the assertion that the Catechism is not a reliable guide to Catholic teaching. Since the Catechism was published by Blessed John Paul II’s apostolic constitution “Fidei Depositum,” it is an expression of his ordinary magisterium. So, Deacon Russel is making the claim that Blessed John Paul II taught error. That’s a high hurdle to clear, and I don’t think he has done so.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        Russell is not arguing that some lying is not intrinsically evil. He’s arguing that some deception is not lying.

        • chezami

          No. He’s arguing that some lying is not lying, and that some lying is okay.

        • wineinthewater

          If that were his argument, I would have no quibble. But he does not stop there. He makes the argument for “special cases,” which depends on the catechism either being wrong in its definition of lying or wrong in its classification of a lie as an intrinsic evil. For those are the only two ways to make “special case” exemptions for the permissibility of lying. Either way, he is claiming that the catechism contains an error in its teaching on faith and morals and that Blessed JPII’s ordinary magisterium is void.

          He is also very selective with his sources. He says there are multiple Catholic schools on lying, but never mentions *who* belongs to the other schools, that we might judge their authority. He mentions Newman’s confusion, but neglects to mention that Newman was writing at a time when the Church’s “common teaching” was receiving its first significant challenge. He recommends his point by referencing the Catholic encyclopedia entry, but that entry shows what a minority opinion the “special cases” position has always been. He continually makes the “common teaching” of the Church but fails to mention that the CE entry calls this not just the common teaching, but the “common and universally accepted teaching of the Church.”

  • Stu


    Your critiques about people asking to better define and bound the problem, as usual, are not discrete and do collateral damage to people who either want to bound the question or are seriously trying to figure it out. There is nothing wrong with attempting to better define these things. For instance, you ask ,” Is it really torture to waterboard?” Is it in a training session or in an attempt to solicit information or are you saying both are torture? Same types of questions can arise in terms of tell mistruths and in fact I think many who point out that lying is simply wrong at its base level, whitewash other forms of mistruths such as equivocation and such as well.

    Often pointing out the extremes in a given moral dilemma is easy. It is the middle ground that can be difficult to discern because it sometimes pits too seemingly good virtues against each other. That’s tough for people and in moments where people are confronted with such touch choices, it is those the “do the right thing” that we applaud because it is a challenge. I think it better to approach this with that in mind and again, leave the bad tone out of it. We need clarity and charity in such debates.

    • Marthe Lépine

      Clarity can sometimes sound harsh, and charity does not necessarily require to make it sound less harsh, because “the truth hurts” sometimes.

      • Stu

        Agreed. But I don’t put snark or assuming the worst in someones position in either of those categories. It’s bitter and sounds like brass.

        • Marthe Lépine

          Maybe that’s the way it sounded to you, but not to me. This question has been around for so long, and all those arguments have been brewing together for so long, that it is impossible not to conclude that holding on to some of those arguments for that long probably means an intention to simply reject the truth no matter what. IN that case, there is nothing wrong in being firm and using firm language without trying to soften the blow with niceties. I did not in the least feel threatened by Mark’s tone, and I did not even notice anything offensive. Maybe those who feel attacked do feel that way because the truth they hear makes them feel uncomfortable…

          • Stu

            Indeed. Maybe those who feel attacked do feel that way because the truth they hear makes them feel uncomfortable. But since I tend to agree with Mark on this, that excuse doesn’t really answer the mail. In fact, I think that defense for bad tone, that many often apply, can be a bit of cop out at times. Further, to say, ostensibly based upon your experience in the Catholic blogosphere, that everything on this has been said and therefore any new differing opinion is from those who simply reject the truth no matter what also doesn’t hold up.

            Some might roll their eyes and mockingly say “Golly, this is soooo complicated. ” But this topic has obviously been debated for some time, thus we bring Aquinas and Augustine and others into the mix. And as I have said before, it challenges people because it seemingly pits two goods against each other. So again I guess it matters what our goals are in entering in to the discussion.

  • Abe Rosenzweig

    A Drama in one act
    Setting: The Heavenly Court
    Characters: God, the angel Perplexiel, additional angels

    Our drama begins:

    God: Hail, Perplexiel. Where have you been?

    Perplexiel: Walking to and fro on the Earth, Lord.

    God: And what have you seen?

    Perplexiel: A bunch of bloggers are ragging on a guy for saying that maybe it’s ok to lie to Nazis. You know, Anne Frank and all that jazz.

    God: Heh. Bloggers… Hey, wait..what? I mean, they know that that is cool, right? I mean, c’mon! Of course lying to Nazis is ok. They know that, right?

    Perplexiel: I’m not sure that we’ve issued an official notice on that…

    God: Wait, what? Really? They need something official on that? I mean, shouldn’t that… Ugh, oh never mind. Of course, THEY would need something official! Ok, let’s just hammer this thing out. You got a pen and paper?

    Perplexiel: Just a sec… Ok, fire away!

    God: Ok, let’s see. Ok, send down some kind of apparition or something. They still into Mary down there?

    Perplexiel: Yeah, I think so.

    God: Ok, send down a Mary. Have her talk to some urchins or whatever they have now. Have her say… What do you think she should say?

    Perplexiel: It’s ok to lie to Nazis?

    God: Yeah, good. Have her say, “Of course you can lie to Nazis, you jackholes!” But, you know, more Jesus-y sounding. Got it?

    Perplexiel: …but more Jesus-y sounding. Ok, I got it! I’ll send this down to Communications right now.


    • Stu


      • Andy, Bad Person

        Worse than meh. It’s blasphemous.

        • Abe Rosenzweig

          Now picture it with Rik Mayall as God, and Steve Coogan as Perplexiel. i think it could work, and the USCCB would probably give it an A-II.

      • Abe Rosenzweig

        Now picture it with jason Sudeikis as God, and Aziz Ansari as Perplexiel. I think it could work; they’d probably make interesting choices in their respective roles.

        • Stu

          I don’t think Orson Welles could save your script.

          • Abe Rosenzweig

            How about green screen and adr?

            • Stu

              You are building on sand.

              • Abe Rosenzweig

                Maybe some kind of Brechtian black box sort of thing, then. You know–a whole different direction.

                • Abe Rosenzweig

                  I see an Obie in my future.

  • Guest

    It really puts things in scary perspective when putting the atheist’s and the cleric’s comments side by side. In his comments to Leah Libresco’s post, the said cleric actually states that the Church does not teach that lying is an intrinsic evil: “when you say the “Church condemns all lies,” I understand you to mean that colloquially.” Of course this is contrary to the statement of the Catechism: “By its very nature, lying is to be condemned.” This is another tactic used: trying to say that the Catechism and/or its contents is not “the Church’s”, even though it was promulgated by the Holy Father, in communion with all the bishops, and the decree of promulgation explicitly states: “The Catechism of the Catholic Church… is a statement of the Church’s faith and of catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition, and the Church’s Magisterium.

  • Imp the Vladaler

    You’re watching the television news when there’s a report of an escaped mental patient with green hair and clad in an orange jumpsuit in your neighborhood. The report is that he’s out to kill a neighborhood child you know, Mortimer, whom the patient believes is controlling his thoughts.

    Just then you look out your window to see young Mortimer walking east along your street. You get out of your chair to call to the boy, but just as you reach your front door he disappears from sight to the east, towards the safety of his home, where he should arrive in a few minutes.

    Seconds later, there’s a knock at your door. It’s the man from the television, right down to the green hair and orange jumpsuit. He says to you “you must have seen a boy walking along this street within the past few minutes. He’s my child and I’m worried about him. Which way did he go, east or west?” You, being a good Catholic, answer truthfully. And then the mental patient runs off and chops Mortimer to bits.

    The Church prefers a world where an innocent boy is cut into cubes with an ax to a world where a lie is told to a homicidal maniac and the boy lives. There are a lot of Church teachings that are difficult to accept, but this one takes the cake.

    • Stu

      Or I subdue the crazy man and call the police.

      Situation could be resolved and we still have time for afternoon tea and cookies.

    • Marthe Lépine

      Maybe when asked which direction the child went, you could have replied “I don’t know” without it being a lie. Once the child disappeared from sight to the east, depending on how far he still was from his home, he might very well have changed direction because his attention had been caught by something, as many children do. You could say something like “eh… let me think now… I did see him, yes, but… them I lost sight of him… which way was it going… (call to your wife inside the house) Dear, did you see the neighbour’s kid go by? What direction was he going? Oh! You don’t know? – and keep saying all kinds of other things to waste enough time for the child to make it home. God gave you an imagination, use it! And I am sure there are other things that could be done…

      • enness

        I want to agree with that, I do…it just sounds unconvincing to me, and likely to get the people in my house killed too if we’re dealing with a violent, unstable man.

    • You, being a good Catholic, answer truthfully.

      No. You, being a good Catholic, answer prudently.

      That is, you have many other options besides saying, “Mortimer, who I know you are after, but who I also know is not your son, went that-a-way.” Indeed, that would be a most un-Catholic answer.

      You could do anything from just slamming the door in his face to inviting him in for tea to making a citizen’s arrest. You certainly have no obligation to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

      What you are obliged to do is avoid lying to him.

      • Stu

        Tea, but no cookies.

        • Of course not! A proper host serves biscuits with tea.

          • Stu

            I have been hanging around my Dutch friend for too long. He calls everything a cookie.

    • A Philosopher

      You are going to get numerous replies pointing out other things you could do to save Mortimer’s life. But of course it just isn’t that hard to envision scenarios in which the course of action with by far the best chance of saving Mortimer’s life is lying to the mental patient. (He’s too strong for you to subdue. He’s already about to head east, which is the way Mortimer went, so if you claim ignorance, he’ll go that way. Etc.) And then the fact remains: a moral doctrine that says that in those specific circumstances, endangering Mortimer’s life by not lying is the right thing to do, is a moral doctrine that is, at best, highly counter-intuitive.

      • Stu

        I think you are confusing “the best thing one could come up with quickly in a challenging situation” with the right thing.

        • A Philosopher

          No, I’m not. I’m happy, for example, to assume that you’ve got a magical stasis device that will give you as long as you want to consider options. But there are easily conceivable circumstances in which, after full deliberation, the option that gives you the best chance of saving Mortimer’s life is lying. And the very compelling moral judgment is that, in those circumstances, one ought to lie.

          • Stu

            You assume that one can do evil to achieve good.

            • Imp the Vladaler

              You’re assuming that every collection of words that you speak with the knowledge that they do not match reality is evil.

              I contend that there are many situations in which:

              (1) the literal meaning of the words that you speak do not accurately describe reality; and
              (2) you are not “lying”

              • Stu

                Well, no.

                • Imp the Vladaler

                  Ever been in a play?

                  You can’t do evil, ever. But you’re skipping a step when you conclude that all instances when words come out of your mouth that aren’t factual involve doing evil

                  • Stu

                    A play?

                    That’s a terrible example. My baseline position is that all lying is wrong but even in that I do have some questions about it all that I think need to be worked out. But I wouldn’t point to a play as an example.

                    • Imp the Vladaler

                      I mention a play because actors knowingly make assertions of fact that do not match reality (“This is Sparta!” – no, it’s a soundstage in Hollywood), and no one thinks they’re doing evil. So we know that “lies” are a smaller subset of “knowingly untrue statements.” Nor would we say that an ironic statement, used for rhetorical effect, is a “lie,” even when the words used make a factual statement that is completely at odds with reality. Or commit any work of fiction to a page. Those events didn’t happen. You’re not “lying” when you write that they did.

                      The answers to why these statements are not “lies” and therefore not evil should be pretty obvious. But once you set out to fashion a rule for determining what false statements are “lies” and which are not, some close calls appear at the margins.

                    • chezami

                      All gone over a million times. Acting and fiction are totally different speech acts from lying.

                    • Imp the Vladaler

                      Okay then. When the Nazis ask me if I’m hiding any Jews, I’ll simply rehearse the one-man, one-act play that I just wrote in my head. Or I’ll do some improv. It’s the Nazi’s fault if he doesn’t realize that I’m an aspiring actor.

                    • chezami

                      Or you could just blather something stupid, as here.

                    • Imp the Vladaler

                      It’s not nearly as stupid as your “don’t lie; misdirect, prevaricate, and equivocate!” distinction-without-a-difference.

                    • chezami

                      There is a huge difference, unless you want to call Jesus a liar. Jesus equivocates, allows people to draw wrong conclusions, and remain silent. He never lies. Consider the possibility that the Catholic moral tradition, which has given this more than 20 seconds of the time you have devoted to this question, has some idea of what it is talking about.

                    • A Philosopher

                      Speaking of devoting more than 20 seconds of time, there’s a good overview article of recent philosophical work on lying (not, for the record, by me):


                      Among other things, it discusses the notion of what is said and its connection to the lying/deceiving distinction, theoretical issues surrounding bald-faced lies, and questions about the ethical and epistemological significance of the lying/deceiving distinction.

                    • Stu

                      Yes, I understand the distinction you are making. But we are talking about making deceptive statements here not “pretend” where everyone knows it is pretend. Further, I don’t know of any actors who intend to make their audience believe they are not anything more than just actors.

                      I think the Catechism if pretty clear here and my baseline position should be obvious at this point. But I would like to see this issue “nailed down” a bit more as I think the language used in the Catechism still has some loose ends which I would love to see discussed somewhere.

                      Absent such, I think the safe bet is to always strive to tell the truth even in the unlikely even that we face some heroic challenge that is often put forth in this debate.

                    • enness

                      “I don’t know of any actors who intend to make their audience believe they are not anything more than just actors”
                      Don’t most actors try to at least be convincing, though?

            • A Philosopher

              No, I observe that the intuitive moral judgment is that, in these cases, one ought to lie. I’m not here reaching any conclusion from that fact about starting intuitions.

              • Stu

                My intuitive moral judgment tells me that I ought to stop the crazy man from pursuing the boy.

              • wineinthewater

                Observing intuitive moral judgement might be a more compelling argument if we weren’t a faith that believes in original sin and a fallen humanity. If our intuitive were so trustworthy, there would be no need for the magisterium at all.

      • Imp the Vladaler

        You are going to get numerous replies pointing out other things you could do to save Mortimer’s life.

        That’s why I tried to steer the hypothetical away from listing alternatives to lying. Instead, I compared two of many, many options: one of which involved lying, and one of which didn’t. I then noted that Church preferred the one without lying. Really, there are three options:

        (1) Tell the truth, and Mortimer gets killed.

        (2) Lie to the murderer, successfully sending him in the wrong direction.

        (3) All other conceivable scenarios, including slamming the door, overpowering the murderer, yelling “Mortimer, run home!” etc. etc. etc.

        #3 has some good options. But as between #1 and #2 the Church prefers #1.

        • honzik

          There are two obligations here. One is not to lie. The other is not to reveal a secret. Implicit here is that Mortimer’s whereabouts should be kept secret from a maniac.

          If the choice is only between #1 and #2, I cannot reconcile both. In such a case, I’d pick #2 and pray to God that I will be forgiven for not telling the truth.

      • Andy, Bad Person

        But there are so many options other than to lie. You could say, “You should go West. That’s the best thing for you.”

        Or virtually anything else that isn’t an offense to the truth.

        • Imp the Vladaler

          But there are so many options other than to lie.

          Sure, any maybe that would work. But I could come back and say, okay, this is a particularly clever lunatic who notices that you haven’t really answered the question, and who knows that the cops are after him, this must be on the news, etc., and figures out that you’re trying to throw him off. I can do this for any alternative you suggest.

          I encourage you to be as clever as a serpent. But eventually there’s some scenario, as “A Philosopher” suggests, in which lying to a murderer is the choice that provides the best hope for Mortimer’s survival. And the Church says “better that Mortimer die than that you lie.”

          • Marthe Lépine

            Just bringing more fictitious and scary elements to an already emotional scenario does not constitute, as far as I can see, a valid argument. Life is full of uncertainties, and calling up the fact that a situation can be more complicated than originally stated in no way changes the fact that lying is an intrinsically flawed and unacceptable thing to do.

          • enness

            It *is* a bit convoluted.

        • A Philosopher

          So let’s assume those options won’t work. Mr. Mental Patient is a very literal guy. If he doesn’t hear an unambiguous assertion that Mortimer went west, he’s continuing east. Surely it’s not hard to see that such cases can be constructed? (Furthermore, it’s not as if we’re now focusing on bizarre cases. Suppose, as seems plausible in some ordinary cases, you think it’s 90% likely you can save Mortimer with an outright lie, but only 80% likely you can save him with a clever evasion, because there’s a decent chance that Mr. MP will notice that it’s a clever evasion. Again, I think the intuitive judgment is that the extra 10% chance of saving Mortimer is sufficient to justify the outright lie.)

    • chezami

      All hypothetical situations like this do is create emotional fictions specifically and carefully designed to attack the Church’s teaching. They are indistinguishable from the sort of emotionalism from Catholics for a Free Choice, ginning up a tale about the incest rape victim with some rare condition that will kill her if she doesn’t immediately abort, or the panic story of the Ticking Time Bomb that necessitates spitting on the Church’s teaching about torture.

      • Imp the Vladaler

        The attack on Church teaching is all in your head, Mark. Do you deny that following Church teaching at times can lead to misery, starvation, sadness, pain, suffering, and death? Or is it all sunshine and rainbows each and every day as long as you follow the Catechism?

        Pointing out that following Christ involves carrying heavy crosses is not an attack. There are some teachings that take us to some unpleasant places. But rather than swallow hard and say candidly “yes, the Church teaches that you can’t tell a single lie to the most evil person on earth to save five billion lives,” some Catholic apologists divert attention by attacking the hypothetical.

        That won’t do. The teaching is what it is, even when the result is jarring on a visceral level. If you don’t have enough confidence in it to proclaim it boldly, you should ask yourself if you actually believe it, or if you only believe it in easy cases where no one gets hurt.

        Nothing that I have said differs in any meaningful sense from what Cardinal Newman said. If you don’t like it, take it up with him.

        As for your abortion, the honest response is “it’s better that you die from your pregnancy than that you kill an innocent human.’ Cuz, you know, that’s the teaching. The appropriate response is not to blow off the question just because you know that the honest answer sounds bad, or because you suspect or know that the question is asked in bad faith.

        • Marthe Lépine

          It seems to me that bringing up some hypothetical scenarios of extreme cases can frighten some people into rejecting Church teaching, or make the Church sound like some tyrant devoid of any compassion, which could discourage some people from obeying Church teaching. I would probably be wrong in assuming that such statements could bring scandal on some people with weaker consciences (and I stand to be corrected). Viewed in such a light, this could be seen as an attack on the Church.

      • enness

        That’s where you lose me. I’m sure I’m not the only one who sees a difference between saying “Nope, no Jews” and brutally dismembering a baby. It doesn’t follow.

    • David

      Ahh, the last refuge of the scoundrel: the silly hypothetical example designed to look embarrassing. It is conveniently, erroneously framed in such a way to appear there is no other way out too. And its ends with the a priori and therefore illogical assumption that: “The Church prefers a world where an innocent boy is cut into cubes with an ax to a world where a lie is told to a homicidal maniac and the boy lives.” You have said so, not the Church. And “philosopher” replies by just offering other possible hypotheticals. Please.

      Catholics do recognize there are moral absolutes and intrinsically evil actions that can never be justified. To deny this is to end up in relativism and to undermine your own position, for then who are you to say that the Church is wrong in its position re: lying, or why is lying preferable to murder? What moral authority are you invoking to say that lying would always be the morally superior alternative? That sounds like a moral absolute to me.

      • Imp the Vladaler

        “The Church prefers a world where an innocent boy is cut into cubes with an ax to a world where a lie is told to a homicidal maniac and the boy lives.” You have said so, not the Church

        Let’s ask Cardinal Newman. Or does he not count as the Church?

        “The Church holds that it were better for the Sun and Moon to drop from Heaven, for the Earth itself to fall, and for all the many millions who are on it to die of 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 venial sin.”

        • David

          No, actually Newman does not count as the Church. He was only one person with a private opinion, not an instrument for declaring Church teaching. Interesting how you don’t address the contradictions I noted, I assume because you cannot. Again you pose a hypothetical example and then try to fish for a quote you think matches it?! Address the substance and argue on principle, such as how you declare lying to be morally good.

          • Imp the Vladaler

            So Newman was wrong? Interesting. Care to explain where he’s in error? Just FYI, you’re in the same boat as Christopher Hitchens, who characterized Newman’s statement as “hysterical, totalitarian fanaticism.” I’ve got Newman on my side. You’ve got Hitchens. But you know what you’re talking about. Right.

            I nowhere said “lying is morally good.” Until your reading comprehension improves, I’m not going to jump at your commands.

            • chezami

              Gee. And here I thought you could say Newman was not infallible *without* calling him hysterical, totalitarian, and fanatical. But you do seem to be staking out the overwrought claims today.

              • Imp the Vladaler

                And I thought that you could point out that fidelity to Church teaching sometimes takes us to unpleasant places without being accused of “creat[ing] emotional fictions specifically and carefully designed to attach the Church’s teaching.”

                Whoopsie daisy!

            • wineinthewater

              Aquinas explains how he is in error. As does Augustin. As does JPII through the catechism. As does most moral theologians in the history of the Church.

            • David

              You are the one who claims the Catholic position as taught by the Catechism is warped, not me: “The Church prefers a world where an innocent boy is cut into cubes with an ax to a world where a lie is told to a homicidal maniac and the boy lives.” If you were being sarcastic or hyperbolic, you did a poor job. So Hitchens agrees with you, not me. You are also now trying to distance yourself from your original comments. You stated that the position on condemning all lying is questionable as it supposedly would lead to the slaughter of innocent children; which means you are, in fact, claiming that lying is the good or morally better thing to do at least on some occasions.(this also leads to the errors of consequentialism/end justifies the means & proportionalism and their accompanying problems).

              You have not presented any argument for why this is so, and one which argues on principle, not by way of hypothetical example; for then your reasoning only applies to that particular example and is not universally valid. How can not speaking and/or knowing the truth supposedly be good for the human person, again in itself, not in relation to some hypothetical example? One can notice that those who argue lying can be justified always resort to examples, because they are unable to do so on principle. Instead you present a ridiculous hypothetical example set up as a straw man, to allegedly embarrass the Catholic position. You also erroneously cite Newman’s private opinion as though it outweighs or is equal to a universal Catechism, two actually, including that of Trent, which also labels “lies of every sort,” and even dissimulation, as impermissible.

        • Marthe Lépine

          Also, I would suggest that this quote from Newman seems to have been taken out of context, ans also precedes by a long shot the writing of the CCC that clarifies that lying is fundamentally wrong, if there was any question about it at the time Newman wrote (about something else, it seems).

    • wineinthewater

      There’s a huge difference between our obligation not to lie and an obligation to divulge the truth. Just because we cannot lie does not mean that we have to divulge the truth. We can answer vaguely. We can be silent. We can respond with a question. We can clonk the maniac over the head with a shovel.

  • Kevin Aldrich

    How does Shea know the reason that the editors of the CCC changed the point on lying?

    Mark Shea, have you banned my from posting more comments on this thread? I tried to reply to you below and am told in red “You do not have permission to post on this thread.”

    • Marthe Lépine

      Maybe, just maybe, because he has a keen interest, and pays close attention to Church teaching? Actually, he might have been able to read each one of the 2 editions of the CCC and noticed that there was a loophole in the first and that the loophole had disappeared when the 2nd edition came out? After all, it is only natural that he would do so, since he makes his living writing about Catholic things…

    • chezami

      Because I can read the edits and see the effects those edits have.

  • Paul H

    I haven’t read the comments on those articles at Strange Notions, but I did read Deacon Russell’s article. In the article, he basically presented the two sides of the Catholic blogosphere “lying” debate, without saying which side is right or wrong. At least that is how I understood it. Mark, you seem to say that he has clearly picked a side (the side that you disagree with), but I just didn’t see that in the article. Maybe he did pick a side in the comments though; as I say, I haven’t read the comments.

    • chezami

      Correct. He did so in much the same manner that pro-abort Catholic offer “two sides” of the question in order to say, “Feel free to blow off the Church’s clear teaching”. In short, he is arguing for dissent from the Church’s clear, obvious, and authoritative teaching which is that “By its very nature, lying is to be condemned.”

      • Andy

        I’m not sure I see what all the hand-wrangling is about:

        >If you are a dirtbag with a gun who is trying to kill my students and I >can’t think of anything else to say, I expect I would lie because I’d >be panicked and couldn’t think of anything else to do. I expect God >would forgive such a lie and say, “Well done, thou good and >faithful” as I expect he said it to the teacher of blessed memory >who lied at Sandy Hook. But I don’t expect God would say, “You >didn’t lie.”

        As I understand it then, the ideal is to avoid lying at all costs (which seems sensible by many different measures, Biblical, Tradition, CCC, Church Fathers). In the event that it’s the best that could be thought of in this scenario, the fact that it’s being used to prevent a murder might mean that no sin has been committed at all, but still doesn’t mean that lying isn’t wrong, it just means in this case, it wasn’t sinful.

        Am I stating this all correctly? I ask that in all sincerity not trying to be sarcastic to anyone in this thread.

        • Paul H

          I think you might be on the right track there. Possibly a lie in that type of situation could be considered coerced in some sense, because the guy who is threatening your students’ lives is putting you in an untenable situation. Just my opinion though.

          • Andy

            Thanks for the reply Paul. And yikes, trying to put quotations around Mark’s original text didn’t work out so well.

        • wineinthewater

          Not quite. The ideal (ie Catholic teaching) is to avoid lying at all costs. The fact that the lie is the best the person can come up with considering the stakes and the stress of the situation and that the lie is being used to prevent a murder does not mean that the lie is not a sin, but that the liar’s culpability for the sin is little to nothing.

          Our culture seems to be allergic to culpability. But culpability is an important aspect of sin in Catholic moral theology.

          • Andy

            Good point, and I agree. We would agree in this scenario, that such a lie would likely not be under the stain of mortal sin.

            Again, not being legalistic or anything, I just wanted to make sure I understood the original content.

      • Paul H

        It seems that we interpreted the article a bit differently. I just didn’t read it as “arguing for dissent.” I read it as, “here are the two sides of the debate, and I’ll keep my opinion to myself about which side is correct.” I didn’t interpret that as encouraging people to accept one side of the argument (the side that you call the dissenting side).

        I guess you are saying that by even presenting both sides he is legitimizing the dissenting side. I do see your point, but I don’t entirely agree because I don’t see this as a clear divide between orthodoxy and dissent as you do. (However, I do think that your viewpoint on lying is probably right, and I do agree with Deacon Russell’s characterization of your viewpoint as the “‘safe’ opinion upon which Catholics may form their consciences.”)

        I was just taken aback by your post, because I thought of you when I initially read Deacon Russell’s article, and I remember thinking that he was very fair to your point of view (which again tend to agree with).

        • wineinthewater

          I interpreted the article as him saying that the Catechism is not a reliable record of Catholic teaching and that it contains error. To me, that is a much larger issue because he is casting doubt on one the Church’s primary ways of transmitting Catholic teaching to the faithful.

        • Marthe Lépine

          It could be that Mark’s comment here is informed by other posts and/or comments by Deacon Russell that he has had an opportunity to see over a period of several months. And I agree that to just describe the to sides of the argument without commenting on which side was the “correct” one does not seem like the proper way to present the question by an ordained Deacon who should normally agree with the Catholic church teaching.

  • Marthe Lépine

    This may be a little late in the discussion, but I would like to say that I really appreciate Mark’s summary of the various arguments in this blog. Over the years, I can say that my head sometimes spins when I read some of those discussions, on this and other “controversial” subjects, and I find Mark’s point of view very helpful because it balanced, as well as consistently leaning towards the Magisterium. Reading Mark, it sometimes feels like I am finding my way back from some confusing labyrinth. Thanks, Mark. And I copied this particular blog entry (without the comments) in my computer to get back to it once in a while.

  • mephis

    I’d have a question: I was discussing these post of yours on lying with a friend. I brought up, concerning the usual nazi-at-your-door, jews-in-your-attic scenario, that you needn’t lie, just hide the jews well and then evade the question (“Hiding jews? No German loyal to the Fuhrer would do that. Why don’t you come and take a look?” (since the nazi will come in no matter what you say)). But she had some problems with this: sure, you aren’t *lying* lying, but you’re still phrasing things such that the other person will most probably interpret your statement a certain way. While technically it’s not called a lie, the difference (my friend thought) seems incredibly small. She felt that splitting hairs in such a way was pharisaic and against the spirit of the strict law “don’t lie”.

    I couldn’t really think of what to say to this. Obviously neither of us think that one should tell the nazi where the jews are hiding, but it wasn’t clear to us what options there were which would definitely not be lying. Can anyone throw some light on this for us?

    • Stu

      I agree that use of equivocation seems to get glossed over in this debate as if inflection and tone are not every bit a means of communication as the actual words used.

  • Marthe Lépine

    I have a problem: Coming back to this post to see what new comments were added, I decided to go back to the post and click on “Definition game” to follow the link, but I get an error message that this page is “Not found”. Is there another way to get to the definition of that “Definition game”?

  • Marthe Lépine

    By the way, all the other links worked correctly.

  • I would like to take this opportunity to publicly declare:

    To all and sundry political powers under whose regime I may have the fortune or misfortune to live during my life,

    If you are a Nazi (or the equivalent) and you are persecuting Jews (or the equivalent), and you come to my door asking whether I am hiding said Jews (or the equivalent), I will not tell you what I am doing, whether I am hiding Jews or not. You can expect to get no cooperation from me at all, whether my house is a pristine paradise of political respectability or whether there are 50 Anne Franks biting their nails in my cellar. In either case I will tell you politely to go f*** yourself.

    So please don’t ask, as it will be more trouble than your time is worth, no matter what’s going on.

    Sincerely yours,
    Jon W
    “Viva la evolucion!”

    If we all take this pledge (or the equivalent) and stick to it, then at least they’ll have to round us up all at once. I mean, we wouldn’t have to worry about them torturing us. Who does that?

  • Alexander


    I think this post is very helpful because it really gets to the heart of the disagreement between you and those (like me) who don’t think. And I think it shows we’re not utlimately that far apart.

    You say that those who disagree with you are pretending a lie isn’t a lie, but I think you’re pretending that a sin isn’t a sin. When you say that God would forgive a pacnicked lie to save lives and would say “Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” you’re undermining your whole argument and not being consistent with Catholic doctrine. I know that God would forgive the sin (like all other sins) if repented of. But if you really think that any intentional untruth is inherently wrong and cannot be justified by the consequences, why would God say “well done, thou good and faithful servant”? To paraphrase you, I don’t expect God would say, “You done good.” Wouldn’t He say, “I understand you were panicked and your moral culpability is small, but I wish you never would have lied. You violated the moral law. It would have been better for you to have stayed silent or told the truth, even if that would have meant children’s certain death. Even a venial sin, or a sin for which you have limited culpability, is something I wish you had never done.” See CCC 1862-63 (“1862 One commits venial sin when, in a less serious matter, he does not observe the standard prescribed by the moral law, or when he disobeys the moral law in a grave matter, but without full knowledge or without complete consent. 1863 Venial sin weakens charity; it manifests a disordered affection for created goods; it impedes the soul’s progress in the exercise of the virtues and the practice of the moral good; it merits temporal punishment.”).

    In other words, I think you and I both end up reaching the same place — we both think it ultimately would be “good” for a panicked person to speak an untruth to the Nazi to save a life. We just reach that conclusion by different paths. You get there by classifying the untruth as a sin but then concluding that God wouldn’t care about it. I get there by saying that it wasn’t a sin in the first place.

    If lying under those cirumstances is as inconsequental as you say and God will really say “well done, good and faithful servant,” then I really don’t have a problem with your position. But I just think your position ultimately does more harm to Catholic doctrine, which is unequivocal that even venial sin is wrong but which has conflicting traditions about what constitutes a lie. See, e.g., Newman on the issue.

    One final note: you used to say that the Nazi hypothetical was an extreme situation (like the “24” ticking nuclear bomb hypothetical in the torture debate). I’m glad you’ve recognized that it’s not nearly so remote, as shown by Sandy Hook and as I’m sure is being experienced now by persecuted Christians everyday in places like Egypt and Syria.

    • enness

      Yes, I appreciate the overall tone of the post, but I think it concedes a lot.

  • enness

    “…if I lie to you in order to try to get you to be an even worse dirtbag than you already are…”
    It’s kind of hard to prove that, if the dirtbag is none the wiser.