The Nazi at the door scenario nobody likes to discuss

The Nazi at the door scenario nobody likes to discuss August 27, 2013

There’s a knock at the door.  The Nazi demands to know if you are hiding a priest.  To save time, all you have do is tell him you deny Christ and he won’t tear your house apart, arrest your family and shoot your male children in the head.

The advocates of the “Hell yes, you should lie” school tell me I am an utter fool for saying that you cannot lie and deny Christ here.  As has been said countless times, “If it will save just one innocent life, of course you should lie to the Nazi.”

So if lying is just fine to save lives, what’s the difference between this little white lie and any other little white lie?  After all, we’ve been instructed that what matters is not the content or gravity of the lie that matters, but the fact that the person you are lying to has “no right to the truth.”  So if you deny Christ to a Nazi you are not, we are instructed, *really* lying.  So why not deny Jesus to the Nazi or  whoever else you decide has “no right to the truth”–you know, like the Christians whose burning bodies lit Nero’s gardens did.

In case you hadn’t noticed, “Nazi at the door” scenarios are emotionally manipulative games (just like “Ticking Time Bomb” yarns) constructed to force you to ignore the Church’s teaching, just as scenarios about horribly deformed children born of incest and rape and begging to be euthanized are likewise emotionally manipulative games constructed to get you to endorse abortion and euthanasia.  Any idiot can construct an extreme and desperate sob story in order to paint you into an emotional corner and portray you as a monster for disagreeing.

Meanwhile, our actual moral model is not some hypothesis, but Jesus–who never, ever lied and who never, ever tempted somebody to do evil.

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  • Newp Ort

    There was that story (since discredited) about that girl at Columbine who was asked if she believed in god or some such and she answered truthfully in the affirmative and was killed for it.

    Now this is not a joke. I always picture Jesus watching this thinking “Just lie to them! You and I know we’re good, just LIE!” That’s what I’d tell my daughter or sister or anyone I loved.

    • Marthe Lépine

      With that way of thinking, the early Christians might have had much fewer martyrs, by the way!

      • GodsGadfly

        Forget the early Church: the contemporary Church, as well.

    • chezami

      It turns your picture of Jesus is an idol:

      And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. * 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31* Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32* So every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

      • Newp Ort

        Well, yeah, that about says it. Plus Peter, etc.

        I know my conception isn’t biblical, but it still seems hard that way.

        Oh well, God’s ways vs our ways. Death is much less of a big deal than where you go after and all.

  • David

    It shows the weakness of their position that those who endorse the “it’s okay to lie” idea or discount the current Catechism’s definition of lying often and ultimately resort to examples, usually hypothetical, versus arguing on principle. They may also point to other practices- e.g., undercover police/government operations- as though because some practice exists, this must equal its legitimacy. Rather, certain of these practices may also be immoral and Christians should not engage in them! As a further flaw the validity of argument from example may not be universally applicable but only apply to the particular examples given. These folks should rather be able to argue, for example, why it could supposedly be good for the human person not to speak and/or know the truth? But one sees the difficulty in supporting this idea by way of principle.

  • missing

    Newp, that is a strange argument to make… that you “know you are good”, so you are going to lie. Good people don’t lie, because lying by its nature makes you worse…
    I’m not saying I wouldn’t lie either, but your rationalizing for lying just doesn’t make sense.

  • Patrick

    I think this post is a clear example of cruelty to hobby horses.

  • James_Locke

    So you have a problem with acting?

    • BigBlueWave

      With acting, everyone knows you’re acting. That’s not a lie.

      • James_Locke

        Knowledge of whether it is true or not does not fit into this box. If the Nazi is asking you when he knows full well what the Truth is, it is still wrong for Mark Shea’s hypothetical Christian to lie.

        example: surprise birthdays. You deceive the person in order to give them a real surprise.

        • GodsGadfly

          It is possible to surprise someone without engaging in deception: there is a difference between lying (“I’m sorry; I’m going to Tahiti on your birthday”) and misdirection (“I have other plans”–which is true; you do have “other plans”–the surprise party).
          However, as one who hates surprises, I have no problem with the notion that a lie to hide a surprise is still reprehensible.

          • James_Locke

            If someone asks you directly, are you planning a party for me, and you say no but you are in reality, you have no committed a sin. The circumstance and intention matters greatly.

            • Andy, Bad Person

              Circumstance and intention matters greatly when determining culpability, but not when categorizing an act as sin or not-sin. If someone asks you directly, “Are you planning a part for me,” and you say, “No,” you are intentionally speaking falsehood in order to deceive. It’s incredibly minor, quite the venial sin, but it is an offense against truth nonetheless.

              • James_Locke

                For an act to be evil, it must be replacing another act which is good. In the above case, your telling the truth is leading to evil–in fact, a greater evil than miming the some words– directly when you had the power to prevent it. If I were ot tell you that you must say cheese and by doing so you were denying Christ, are you denying Christ? No. Similarly, if you have a gun to your head and you are told that saying that Christ does not exist will save your life is a far from believing it.

                You cannot do the will of God and do evil at the same time for they are opposed in character. If it is in variance with he law of God to save another person, then I do not want to live on this planet anymore. In the above example where Mark carefully changes the wording to change the situation (rather dishonestly might I add), saving the life of another (the act), is not an evil act. It is ordered to the good, especially if it prevents another (the Nazi) form committing an evil act. (St John Chrysostom)

                • Andy, Bad Person

                  Would you rape a woman to save someone else’s life? Would you amputate her legs to save another person’s life? I would suspect not. Do you still stand by your statement:

                  If it is in variance with he law of God to save another person, then I do not want to live on this planet anymore.?

                  I suggest you rethink that before pursuing this line of reasoning any further.

                  • James_Locke

                    I am advancing the argument that if you lie to prevent grave evil, especially to prevent another person from committing a mortal sin, (and if they have no right to the truth etc) then you have not sinned. I am not talking about rape or forced dismemberment. I am talking about lying.

                    • chezami

                      Right. And I’m asking “Why not deny Christ if it will save lives?” And you are avoiding answering.

                    • James_Locke

                      I did answer it. I said if you pretend, then how can it be sinful. Words mean things. I get it. But if you were to say out loud, right now, Christ is not God, with no intent or belief behind those words, would they actually constitute and effective apostasy? Nope. The situation matters. Your lie about denying Christ (because it is a lie when you are forced to say something like the above situation) is not sinful because you are preventing moral sin from occurring. I recommend the book “Silence” for a very very very profound fictional discussion about this very topic.

                    • enness

                      But then there’s also the potential scandalous effect on anyone within earshot…no?

                    • Andy, Bad Person

                      So, in the Catechism According to James Locke, exactly what intrinsic evils are allowed to save a life?

                    • James_Locke

                      I reject your premise that lying or misdirection is an intrinsic evil. It can and usually is an evil but it is not intrinsically evil.

                    • Andy, Bad Person

                      “Lying, by its very nature [IOW, “intrinsically” – Andy], is to be condemned.” -CCC

                      You do not reject my premise. You reject the Church’s.

                    • chezami

                      Lying and misdirection are not the same thing.

          • James_Locke

            In fact, I think this situation is analogous.

            This priest did not apostatize because he put a toe on the image of the Virgin and Child. An act is not efficacious when forced on by someone else who lacks the authority to give such efficacy. A Nazi has no more authority to demand you to renounce Christ than a Christian does to demand belief from a non-believer at the point of a sword.

          • enness

            Sure it’s possible, but is it worth splitting hairs over a birthday surprise?

            My accomplice and I did make up a pretense to get the surprisee where we needed…

      • enness

        I could probably find a scenario here where “everyone” is not in the know:

        Considering there are people who don’t know the Onion isn’t a legitimate news site, and don’t bat an eye when Mark Dice asks if the significance of American independence from China is lost in all the revelry of July 4th…

        • The Onion ceased to be a joke yesterday when they successfully predicted the fall of Miley Cyrus.

          • enness

            Ha 🙂
            Well, supposedly Tom Lehrer quit satire when Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

    • chezami

      No. Acting is not lying. Do you think denying Christ is “acting”?

      • James_Locke

        Acting is, in a sense that is ian obfuscation of the reality of the person, a deception and thus a “lie” in Shea’s schema. And pretending to deny Christ is acting. Intention matters. So does circumstance. If you ignore these two factors in determining what is good and evil then you devolve into the legal absurdity that acting=lying.

        • chezami

          No. Acting is not lying. You can try to force that opinion into my mouth so you can make a strawman argument, but I will keep spitting it back out. Acting is not lying. Nor is fiction. Meanwhile, you avoid the point. Will you deny Christ and call it “acting”?

          • James_Locke

            “A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving” from the above linked article. If you are masquerading as someone else, trying to convince the audience that you are that person and that story as true, then how is that not “lying”? You are not saying “He is not what he is” but ”
            I am not what I am” (Iago in Othello). This is a very important distinction. It bridges the gap from storytelling into deception with the intent to communicate a falsehood for the purpose of storytelling. Acting only succeeds when the audience buys into the falsehood that the actor is not who he is, but who he says he is. Under Mark Shea’s rather strict definition, this is LYING and thus SINFUL.

            Edit: I already said. If I pretend to deny Christ, yes, I am acting. That is why it is called pretending. Like I said above, you succeed when the audience buys into your deception, that is when you have succeeded as an actor. Not all acting is in light, safe and happy situations.

            • Andy, Bad Person

              Your inability to make distinctions is ridiculous.

              • James_Locke

                I am making distinctions. I am attacking Mark’s definition as lacking the capacity to make the distinction.

                • chezami

                  Please document for me the definition I offered that make lying and acting identical. The only definition I’ve ever offered is the one in the Catechism. Do you seriously think the Church teaches acting and fiction (including Jesus’ parables) are lies?

            • chezami

              Because the audience knows you are an actor. Being over clever like this just make your argument fatuous.

              • James_Locke

                Yet this is the argument that Mark Shea makes. So I guess he is being fatuous

                • chezami

                  No. It’s not. Acting and fiction are not the same speech acts as lying. Only you say they are. I don’t.

              • enness

                It is the norm for the audience to be aware. I wouldn’t assume there are never exceptions.

          • enness

            Where do you think the line is? Is this at all like trying to define obscenity at the Supreme Court (“I know it when I see it”)?

  • Mariana Baca

    I don’t disagree with any of your posts on lying, btw, but, in this scenario, my devil’s advocate response is that all people have the right to the truth that Jesus Christ is Lord.

    Still leaves the question on whether you should lie about the priest, but given he is going to search your house anyway for being a believer, it is better to tell him he is welcome to search and hope you hid the priest well.

  • CattleCorn

    I reject the premise. The correct way to handle a Nazi at the door is to pop a cap in his ass.

    • Martial Artist

      Mark Duch, I only see three things obviously wrong with your solution:
      [1] We aren’t commanded to kill our enemies, but rather to pray for them. Of course, depending upon the specific details of the proffered situation, if you know, or have strong reason to believe that the Nazi intends to effect the taking of the life of the priest, a case might possibly be made for defense of the innocent.
      [2] The proposed target location is unlikely to be fatal, except possibly to the shooter (assuming the Nazi to be armed, or accompanied by armed companions).
      [3] If you meant some other body location but hit the Nazi where you suggest, you probably need serious work on your marksmanship skills before you even contemplate obtaining the requisite instrument in which to pop the cap.
      Pax et bonum,
      Keith Töpfer

    • Dan

      Although I think this was a bit tongue-in-cheek, there’s a point here. If defense of others is a moral justification for homicide then why isn’t defense of others a moral justification for lying? And if we’re harming a person when we lie to them, we certainly are harming them more by killing them.

      I can understand the argument that lying is always wrong. But I can’t reconcile that with the arguments supporting self-defense, defense of others, and the just war doctrine.

      Anyway, in that situation I’d hope I’d lie.

      • meunke

        “If defense of others is a moral justification for homicide then why isn’t defense of others a moral justification for lying?”
        – Lying is always evil. We may not do evil in order that good may come of it. Catechism says it better.

        The act of murder is evil. Self defense is not murder by definition.

        • Dan

          So you would rather kill than lie?

          And the Catechism lists many situations where sin is mitigated and sometimes even excused because of the circumstances. For example, the sin of theft can be excused if there is necessity. The sin of prostitution can be attenuated if the prostitute is destitute, blackmailed, or under social pressure.

          As for lying, “The gravity of a lie is measured against the nature of the truth it deforms, the circumstances, the intentions of the one who lies, and the harm suffered by its victims. (Catechism of the Catholic Church para. 2484).” My intention would be to save life and the victim is prevented from being an accomplice in the sin of murder.

          So, I posit that it would be a venial sin, in the same manner that telling your significant other that she looks nice in that dress (when she doesn’t) is a venial sin (the sin of adulation).

          Also, the “denying Christ” statement, while factual in that all sins are “denying Christ,” is a tad hyperbolic for this discussion.

          • meunke

            False choice. If it becomes required to use force in valid defense of my life or that of my family from unjust attack, that is not a sin at all.

            And you admit that it is sin. Good.

        • Alexander

          That begs the question. The issue is whether every intentional untruth should be defined as evil, or whether the act of lying should be defined to reflect circumstances (in the same way that murder is defined to not include self-defense and stealing is defined to not include the taking of property in extreme cases of poverty).
          I know what the Catechism says about lying, but the Catechism was meant only as a short and handy compilation of prior Catholic teaching, not as an exhaustive moral theology textbook that should be read as literally as a fundamentalist reads the Bible. If all intentional untruths are sinful, then you would expecte there to be a much more developed teaching from the Magisterium today prohibiting Catholics from working in the many areas of life that routinely use intentional untruths — police officers in sting operations, intelligence officers living under false identies, scientific researchers who conduct experiments that present subjects with misinformation to test their responses, and miltary personnel who engage in misinformation directed at the enemy. (And we should all condemn the movie “Argo” for glamorizing and celebrating doing evil that good may come of it.)

          • meunke

            The Catechism does not beg the question.

            2482 “A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving.”281 The Lord denounces lying as the work of the devil: “You are of your father the devil, . . . there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”282

            2483 Lying is the most direct offense against the truth. To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error. By injuring man’s relation to truth and to his neighbor, a lie offends against the fundamental relation of man and of his word to the Lord.

            2484 The gravity of a lie is measured against the nature of the truth it deforms, the circumstances, the intentions of the one who lies, and the harm suffered by its victims. If a lie in itself only constitutes a venial sin, it becomes mortal when it does grave injury to the virtues of justice and charity.

            2485 By its very nature, lying is to be condemned. It is a profanation of speech, whereas the purpose of speech is to communicate known truth to others. The deliberate intention of leading a neighbor into error by saying things contrary to the truth constitutes a failure in justice and charity. The culpability is greater when the intention of deceiving entails the risk of deadly consequences for those who are led astray.

            2486 Since it violates the virtue of truthfulness, a lie does real violence to another. It affects his ability to know, which is a condition of every judgment and decision. It contains the seed of discord and all consequent evils. Lying is destructive of society; it undermines trust among men and tears apart the fabric of social relationships.

            2487 Every offense committed against justice and truth entails the duty of reparation, even if its author has been forgiven. When it is impossible publicly to make reparation for a wrong, it must be made secretly. If someone who has suffered harm cannot be directly compensated, he must be given moral satisfaction in the name of charity. This duty of reparation also concerns offenses against another’s reputation. This reparation, moral and sometimes material, must be evaluated in terms of the extent of the damage inflicted. It obliges in conscience.


            What exactly is hard to understand about that?

          • David

            You’re on thin ice when you resort to claims that the CCC does not have to be followed because of XYZ, and that it is not be interpreted literally?!? A statement of doctrine such as a catechism is not to be read as the text says? And how is it to be read? Allegorically? Mystically? Read the constitution by which the catechism was promulgated and you will find something very different stated there. And who are you to resort to interpreting it? That is the same protestant error you complain of- private interpretation. It is also fallacious reasoning to say that because some particular activity has not been condemned/prohibited by the Magisterium then therefore it must be licit.

      • CattleCorn

        Thanks, that’s precisely my point, and one that I’ve pointed out to Mr. Shea before. Telling an untruth does not amount to lying if it is done in self-defense or defense of another. If I am entitled to use violence, even to kill, if it is reasonable, in order to save a life, then I am entitled to tell an untruth in order to accomplish the same goal. Not all killing is murder, and not all untruths are lies. You are a good man, Dan.

        The Greek Fathers, for example, thought that, when there was a justa causa, an untruth need not be a lie. And as Bl. John Henry Newman stated, “if all killing be not murder, nor all taking from another stealing, why must all untruths be lies?” Speaking of Newman, here’s his take on armchair theologians such as Shea, who wish to bind Catholic consciences based upon their strict interpretations, specifically within the context of telling untruths:

        “A theologian draws out a system; he does it partly as a scientific speculation: but much more for the sake of others. He is lax for the sake of others, not of himself. His own standard of action is much higher than that which he imposes upon men in general. One special reason why religious men, after drawing out a theory, are unwilling to act upon it themselves, is this: that they practically acknowledge a broad distinction between their reason and their conscience; and that they feel the latter to be the safer guide, though the former may be the clearer, nay even though it be the truer. They would rather be in error with the sanction of their conscience, than be right with the mere judgment of their reason. And again here is this more tangible difficulty in the case of exceptions to the rule of Veracity, that so very little external help is given us in drawing the line, as to when untruths are allowable and when not; whereas that sort of killing which is not murder, is most definitely marked off by legal enactments, so that it cannot possibly be mistaken for such killing as is murder.”

        I’ll stick with Bl. Newman, the Greek Fathers, and my conscience, over Mr. Shea.

        • David

          However, this is not Shea’s opinion but the teaching of the Catechism which states: “A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving” (#2482) and “By its very nature, lying is to be condemned” (#2485). Newman’s opinion has not been adopted/included in any such authoritative documents, so you cannot claim that his opinion outweighs that of a universal catechism. You are engaging in consequentialism- claiming that in certain circumstances a lie magically ceases to become a lie. Imagine all the other circumstances people could use to invoke lying if they think it is worthy.

          • CattleCorn

            We’re discussing Mr. Shea’s views about what the Catechism implies by what it says. The Catechism, like the Bible, does not interpret itself.

            One likely cannot form the mental state “intention of deceiving” while he or a friend is at gunpoint. You’re forgetting that the Catechism also defines mortal sin. Lying is a mortal sin. Untruths are not always lies.

            A necessary untruth is not a lie, as it lacks intent just as killing in self-defense is not murder, as it lacks the requisite intent of committing the mortal sin. This is basic Catechism 101.

            • Andy, Bad Person

              Who said Lying is a mortal sin? In most cases, it is likely venial. The Catechism, along with countless saints, doctors of the Church, and popes, have defined lying as always wrong. Do you accept the Church’s teaching or do you play word games to avoid it?

            • David

              So, now when it is pointed out that Mark is relaying what is in the CCC, you now resort to saying he is not interpreting it correctly?! Strange how you mentioned none of this earlier when you were citing Newman as your authority.

              And who are you to interpret the Catechism if you claim it is being misread? We are not protestants who privately interpret. At least go to the sources cited in the CCC and don’t use your own opinion. These sources, such as St. Thomas would not support your view. Furthermore, the point is to avoid all sin, not merely mortal sin. This is one of the other problems with the pro-lying crowd: “Oh, it’s just a venial sin.” Far different from the saints who would have even died rather than commit a deliberate venial sin.

              • enness

                It certainly is the idea. Still…I am far from a saint, and I don’t know for sure which ones you have in mind, but when we’re talking venial, I imagine it would be easier to give my own life than insist on principle that someone else of unlike mind give his or hers. I’m just saying I think my best laid theories might go out the window if I could, say, picture the fear and betrayal in their eyes.

          • Alexander

            I don’t think anyone is saying that lying should be OK anytime anyone “thinks it is worthy.” The same “consequentliast” argument that you are making could be made against the definitons of murder and theft.

        • chezami

          So you are saying “Go ahead and deny Christ since its done in self-defense or in defense of another.”

          • Dan

            It’s rather rude to keep on stating “Go ahead and deny Christ.” In your hypothetical, the Nazi asks, “Is there a priest in the house?” Lying, in this scenario, is no different than any other sin when it comes to that matter of denying Christ.

            And, yes, I am advocating lying in that scenario. If you want to call it “denying Christ” (and yes, I do concede that it would be a venial sin) then so be it.

            • chezami

              so this is no big deal:

              And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. * 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31* Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32* So every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

              • Dan

                So are you saying that people who commit any sin (i.e., you are defining “denying Christ” as any sin) will automatically go to hell? Or that St. Peter is in hell?

                Because in your scenario, I wouldn’t be committing St. Peter’s sin but rather the sin of bearing false witness (the Nazi isn’t asking me to literally deny Christ, only if there is a priest inside). Now ,granted, all sins are “denying Christ.” But, it seems that you are equating all sins with the gravity of St. Peter’s sin.

          • I do not understand how saying “piss off, I’m not talking to you” as a consistent policy for nazi inquiries is lying or denying Christ. It’s like you’ve never heard of the non-sequitur.

  • Maybe we could start referring to these scenarios as “Landshark at the door” scenarios. That way we’d all be thinking of Chevy Chase’s hilarious turn at that character during the early days of SNL and we’d have more fun debating these things. It’s just a thought.

    • Stu

      Cannndy Gram.

  • meunke

    I would hope I’d have the moral courage and grace to do what it right in that case.

    Then again… There is a Nazi at my door threatening to murder me and my family. Perhaps like another poster suggested, think giving said Nazi/murderer six in the belly would be a good default to start with. In that case, perhaps the entire temptation to lie could be avoided. Which, now that I think about it, avoiding the occasion of sin is what we’re supposed to do, right?

    I also dislike these scenarios. I prefer to call them ’30 ninjas’ scenarios. I help teach basic instruction in handling firearms and regularly get asked by people who find this out “what would you do when xyz”. The answer is usually not what they want to hear, as it involves an easily avoidable situation or a situation where deescalation should always be exhausted first. That’s when they pull something that is the equivalent of “Well, what if 30 ninjas jumped out of the trees to attack you?” I agree, it’s dumb.

  • Colin Corcoran

    Jesus died. Follow his example, not doing so has consequences I would not want to face when judged.

  • Alexander

    Since Mark just started this new thread, I’m copying over a comment I posted today on Friday’s related thread about lying.



    I think your post from Friday is very helpful because it really gets to the heart of the disagreement between you and those (like me) who don’t think all intentional untruths are lies. And I think it shows we’re not ultimately 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 suggest and God will really say “well done, good and faithful servant,” then I really don’t have a problem with your position. But I 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.

  • Rock

    Godwin’s Law! (just kidding)

  • sd

    I have never understood why it
    would be a sin to lie in this circumstance. Catholic teaching is clear that in
    order for a sin to be mortal, there must be full consent of the will. If
    someone demands that you deny Christ or they will kill you and your family, you
    obviously do not have full consent of the will. By that logic, a rape victim
    who had a gun pointed at her head is guilty of the sin of fornication.

    • CattleCorn

      Well, that’s because you’re a reasonable person.

      • data_file_7


    • Alexander

      If you read the Catechism’s defintion of lying as a final, universal, literal, and exceptionless defintion, then the situation you posit would still be a venial sin, which should always be avoided and which merits temporal punishment. 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.”).

      I don’t think think the Catechism’s definition of lying is meant to be a a final, universal, literal, and exceptionless defintion. I’m just pointing out the consequences of thinking it is.

    • Dan

      Mark isn’t using “deny Christ” in the sense that St. Peter literally denied Christ. Rather, he is stating:that lies are sins and all sins deny Christ. While true, it is a bit inflammatory and a little akin to me saying that a person eating an extra bowl of ice cream (a venial sin of gluttony) denies Christ.

      My mother once told me, which she attributed to St. Augustine or maybe Aquinas, that a very good man only sins seven times a day. The takeaway is that we sin a lot–my immature rule of thumb used to be that if it was fun then it must be a sin–and hyping up venial sins doesn’t serve anyone. And potentially inflammatory posts can raise up people’s emotions and lead them into sin.

      • enness

        Why don’t you let Mark explain what Mark really means, if it is not what he wrote. He’s an articulate person and it looks straightforward enough to me.
        Otherwise, you force me to get out my BS-to-English dictionary.

        • Dan

          I’m sorry that I interpreted “deny Christ” in the metaphorical rather than the literal sense. However, if it was a mistake; it was an honest mistake.

          • enness

            I am sorry too, I was a little harsh. All too often, self-appointed translators have their own agenda. Having read your other comments, you seem fair, for what it is worth.

            • Dan

              It’s fine, don’t worry about it.

    • data_file_7

      Have you never understood it, or do you not agree with it? If you’ve never understood it, then that is your problem and you need to do more research. It seems that you do understand it, but disagree. You claim if someone threatens to kill you, you don’t have full consent of the will, just as someone isn’t guilty of fornication if threatened.

      That may or may not be, depending on the person’s particular mental state. It’s certainly possible for some to make the choice to say, no, I will not deny Christ, and, with freedom of the will, choose to die instead. That is what the glorious martyrs chose. It’s just as possible that someone may resist rape and instead choose to die with their chastity intact. Many martyrdoms involved this choice, too.

      It’s not an easy choice, but it is a possible choice. Is it necessarily a mortal sin to deny Christ in such a stressful situation? Probably not. Is it nevertheless a sin? Probably yes, perhaps a venial one. Are we called to become martyrs for our Faith, rather than live? Yes, that is what Jesus and the Church calls us to do. That is the example of the countless martyrs over the ages. Perhaps more to the point, it is the example of Jesus Himself, on the cross.

      • sd

        The idea that rape has anything to do with “chastity” makes my skin crawl. Even the idea that it’s a venial sin to be raped rather than die is reprehensible.

  • CattleCorn

    What a reasonable, thoughtful discussion of this matter might look like:

  • Patrick D. Hamilton

    Considering a wargaming scenario has often helped me to understand why it would not be a sin. If you decieve your opponent to believe you are somewhere else in order to protect your own people/assests this is a noble action, part of the jus in bellum of Just War (just action). Particularly in the case of the Nazi, as emotionally manipulative as the scenario may be, the Nazi does not have any right to the truth in this instance, because the Jus in Bello and Jus in Bellum (just cause and just action) of the Nazi is not present. In otherwords, the Nazi has no just cause nor is acting justly which therefore means they can be deceieved in order to protect innocents. It’s worth noting that deception is not identical to lying though it CAN be the equivalent.

    A problem I do have is that we seem to be narrowed in our response to the Nazi. As I stated, one could decieve the Nazi without necessarily lying.

    • Dave G.

      I’m always bothered by that, because it’s more or less saying one can violate the heart of the law, as long as one doesn’t violate the letter.

    • Zac

      A deception in warfare is more like a feint in boxing – even if the opponent knows you may be deceiving them, they must still take into account the possibility you are not. ie. whether a true punch or a feint, the opponent has to be prepared to block or avoid it.

  • vito

    There is nothing hypothetical about this situation. it is very real-life. During World War II this happened every day, expecially in in Eastern Europe, like Poland, Lithuania etc., when good people were trying to help persecuted Jews from the Nazis and hid them in their homes and saved hundreds of thousands. If you think this Nazi at the door scenario is hypothetical, educate yourself in elementary history. And yes, in order for them to save those Jews, they had to lie – constantly, to the Nazis, to the neighbours, sometimes to everyone they knew. Yes, shame on them. Instead, they should have been worried about the eternal comforts of their own cowardly ass.

    • Andy, Bad Person

      In other words, this is how it should have played out.

      Sanhedrin: Are you the Son of God.
      Jesus: Hell no! Let me go.

      *Jesus leaves, having done nothing wrong.*

      • enness

        Small detail: none of us is the Son of God.

        • Andy, Bad Person

          Oh, did moral truth just not exist in His case?

          • enness

            It is not my mission to die on a cross to save mankind. A bit of a unique position.

            • Dan F.

              actually no, “take up your cross and follow me” directly links our own sacrifice and suffering to the Cross and we thereby partake in the salvation of mankind.

              • enness

                None of which would be possible if there wasn’t a divine savior who did it first…

                I didn’t think this would be a controversial issue.

            • Andy, Bad Person

              Not an answer to the question. Was moral law different for Jesus than it is for the rest of us? Did a sin become not-a-sin just because Jesus did it?

              • enness

                If I didn’t answer your question, it’s because you are missing my point. You seem to be working hard at it, too.

                • Andy, Bad Person

                  What, exactly, is your point? I asked if moral law is different for Christ than for everyone else, and you responded that you are not Christ. That’s not an answer. If you would like me to catch your point, then please have a point.

                  • enness

                    “In other words, this is how it should have played out.

                    Sanhedrin: Are you the Son of God.
                    Jesus: Hell no! Let me go.

                    *Jesus leaves, having done nothing wrong.*”

                    You started this thing about Jesus. It’s a very specific and unique example. The divine plan was contingent upon his being put to death, granted that he did so cooperatively. I am sorry but I’m not sure how I can make myself any clearer.

  • vito

    Just out of curiousity, how anyone of you radical anti-liers would work for any kind secret service, police undercover or armed forces, which in their operations always put every effort to pureposusefully DECEIVE the enemy. The same is in most competitive sports.

    • chezami

      Just out of curiosity, since when are spies and cops the gold standard for Catholic moral teaching?

    • chezami

      Fascinating to watch the gyrations to avoid answering my question about “Why not lie and deny Christ?”

    • Mariana Baca

      I was not aware much talking goes on in competitive sports.

  • Catholic Combox

    You really need to get that philosophy degree. Listening to you pontificate on this issue is like listening to an atheist and a Unitarian discuss priestly celibacy. They may have a working knowledge of the issue, but lack the depth to handle it properly. The fact that you always end in a false dichotomy is really frustrating.

  • Robin E

    The sin in Mark’s scenario would be apostasy, not lying. If the Nazi at the door asked me to deny Christ, I could not justify doing so. If he asked me whether I have seen Father So-and-so, I would hope I would lie like a rug.

  • enness

    I personally have never heard the story go like that. There are two components to your version (1: are you hiding a priest; 2: do you deny your faith) that cannot be addressed as if they were one and the same.

  • Stu

    Generally on Mark’s side on this but this comparison just misses the mark.

  • Stu

    I’d rather see someone tackle the question if it is permissible to tell a falsehood in order to get a torturer to stop water-boarding you.

    • Dan F.

      false question, if he’s just water-boarding you he’s not a torturer. 😉 /sarc

      • Stu

        Well played.

  • Hugh Miller

    Pius XII and John XXIII both lied to Nazis in the form of false baptismal certificates. I think that should be enough to preclude their canonisations

    • Andy, Bad Person

      The “popes lied to Nazis” story has been discredited multiple times. Furthermore, even if they did, all it does is prove that they sinned. Peter denied Jesus 3 times, and he’s still a saint.

      • Imp the Vladaler

        Wait a second, did Peter actually deny Christ? Under Mark’s “evade/dodge/equivocate/dissemble… but don’t lie” standard, when Peter said “I do not know him,” perhaps Peter was using “know” in the sense of carnal knowledge. It’s the woman’s fault that she didn’t understand the meaning of “know” that Peter was using, right?

        • Mariana Baca

          His intent was to lie, not to dissemble. Intent is part of the objective morality of the act, plus part of how we interpret all speech.

  • RoxanneRoxanadana

    Consider a less dramatic, far more likely scenario. Your neighbor’s wife walks over to your house, tells you her husband is drunk & wants to beat the heck out of her, & asks if she can stay at your place for a few hours until he falls asleep. So you say yes. Sure enough the drunk comes to your door asking about his wife.

    Is there really anything wrong under that circumstance with saying “she’s not here” & letting him go elsewhere? In the meantime, you help your neighbor get ready to go to the women’s shelter, to which you will drive her after the drunk goes away.

    Just as the Nazi does not have a right to know you are hiding Roma, Jews or a priest, so the man intent on harming his wife does not have a right to know the woman he wants to beat the heck out of is in your house.

    • Dan F.

      How about: “Oh no, she’s missing? What happened? hold on, let me put my shoes on and I’ll help you go look for her. Hunny, i’m going out with our neighbor because his wife is missing. ::back to the neighbor:: Do you think it’s serious? Should we call the police?”

      No lie, treats the drunk like a human being, protects the woman (at least for tonight).

      Drunks are like 3 year olds: Re-direct, re-direct, re-direct.

      • enness

        I hope you understand if this seems like a distinction without a difference (why would you need to help him look if you know exactly where she is, right?).
        Suppose he agrees to call the police, because after all, he hasn’t done any beating yet…they find her in your house…now what?

        • Dan F.

          Not all deception is lying but *lying* is always going to be lying no matter which way you cut it.

          That’s why the catechism still permits *deception* in war time (for example, the legions of fake tanks parked where German spies could see them prior to D-Day).

          And if he agrees to call the police then they are now involved and will start to ask some tough questions about why she felt the need to hide from her husband. That’s in fact why I would suggest it.

          • enness

            Yeah, there’s a lot of that, I know. Maybe this is my shot to look at it the way a non-Catholic or Catholic dissenter looks at something like ectopic pregnancy or Pauline privilege.

            Re: the police: or they declare it case closed and leave pissed off at all of you for the apparent waste of time, he beats the crap out of her later and never trusts you again. Call me cynical. But this is all hypothetical, anyway.

            • RoxanneRoxanadana

              Better than calling the cops, to me, is taking her to a safe house & then letting them ask the appropriate questions. This has two advantages. 1) They cannot get sued if they are wrong because they are acting in an official capacity that requires them to inform law enforcement. 2) Because they are not neighbors & because they have far more experience than a mere neighbor has with spousal abuse, they are better judges at whether or not it actually occurred.

              The first thing is safety for the woman. If you send her back to the house & call the cops, by the time the cops get there, the drunk may well have hit her a few times.

    • How about “sober up. She’ll probably come back.” and then close the door. What makes the nazis at the door different is that the nazis have guns and a demonstrated propensity for violence. Generally drunk husbands looking for their wives aren’t looking for them with a gun in their hand and if they are, you have bigger problems.

      • RoxanneRoxanadana

        Well, that’s still a lie. It’s also something you would do instantly, as would everyone else here. Why? Well, likely this conversation would go through your head

        “I don’t really want to get involved.”

        “But she looks like she’s been beaten.”

        “I’ve known these two for years. No real problem.”

        “Except when we’ve heard the yelling.”

        . . .

        The final clinker would be:

        “OK. Granted all that. Let’s say I send her back & find out she’s in the hospital tomorrow? How would I feel?”

        Since the answer to that is:

        “Lower than scum water”

        for anyone interested enough in morals to post here, you can bet all of us, for all our devotion to honesty, would lie & do what we could for this poor woman. You know that & I know that. The reason is that “love thy neighbor” & “do unto others” takes precedence. Now how a priest gets there from the catechism . . . we’d have to ask one. But we know he would.

        The Nazi’s have one other distinction that you should consider in this discussion. A papal letter, which would be an instruction to you were you unlucky enough to be alive at that monstrous time. If you read it, you will see another reason (namely that the Pope did not like the fascists) for telling the Nazi at the door you know nothing, giving him a small bottle of Schnapps, & bidding him good night.

        Here’s that famed letter:

        • Sorry, not a lie. It would simply not answer the drunk husband’s question while giving pertinent and charitable advice. If the door would be banged on after that, I would call the police and ask the neighbor be removed. If you still think this is a lie, please explain how it is because I simply do not understand.

          I do not believe we know each other so let’s ask instead of stuffing our own imaginings in the other’s head. The mental conversation you placed in my head did not resemble my own thought process the few times the subject has come up.

          • RoxanneRoxanadana

            Fascinating. It would be interesting to find out what mental conversation you had. For one thing, then everyone gets a chance to talk about a huge moral issue that many of us (you & I anyways) have to deal with, namely alcoholism.

            Language used to deceive is a lie to me. For example, if you asked Nadal Hassan “Did you kill anyone?” & he answered “I did not shoot a single person”, he would not, by definitions of lawyers be lying (he actually killed many people, not just one), but he would still be a deceptive use of words, a lie to me. Since the situation assumes that you are going to drive the woman to a safe place, you are actually telling a falsehood by saying she’ll probably be back soon (the context would, to me, imply you are saying to him she’ll be back in a couple of hours).

            In any case, what went through your head?

            • The castle doctrine is what goes through my head but that is settled the moment she crosses the threshold of my door. I defend guests and prefer them over those who seek entrance. The husband has no warrant and no right to cross my threshold or find out private information such as who is in my house. The proper answer to him is the same as the proper answer to any other impertinent question. You ignore it. He literally has no right to an answer and so I give the drunk none.

              If a drunk asked you the contents of your underwear drawer from your front door, it would be no less improper and legitimately ignored as well.

              • RoxanneRoxanadana

                In ignoring the drunk, you can say “have not seen her”. A doctor is perfectly within his or her rights when asked if a patient saw him or her to say “NO”, precisely because no one has the right to that information. When asked about how a pregnancy went, an obstetrician is perfectly within his or her rights to say “all went fine” even when there were major disastrous threats, again because of the right to privacy.

                In asking for your thoughts about when a person comes to your door seeking refuge from a drunk, that’s a real question. It so happens the hypothetical event never occurred in my experience. Although my advice is based on what others tell me, I cannot say I have ever done that, although I have experience with family drunks.

                Now there are also issues of simple politeness here. What advice would you give this cook to say, who has been asked his opinion of the quality of a recipe?


    • Mariana Baca

      You are right, he doesn’t have the right to know. You don’t have to answer the door at all if a drunk man comes knocking at your door in the middle of the night. You can call the cops if he persists. Why would you open the door to a drunk violent man in the middle of the night?? It risks him pushing you aside and searching for her at best, assaulting you at worst. Regardless of what lies you tell.

      • RoxanneRoxanadana

        Exactly. & a very powerful point is next. Whenever the terms “marital problems” & “booze” occur in a sentence, first control the hooch, then work on everything else. You would try to persuade the woman to get to the shelter & then get the husband, if at all possible, to control his drinking, using the reward of the wife’s return as bait (dishonest that is indeed). This is from family experience, as you might imagine (not threat of violence, but that “other” marital issues got resolved once the alcohol was controlled).

        By doing this, with every weapon you have in hand, especially a strong family, a priest or other cleric if you have it, you can actually win. Not only will you save the marriage, you will also save the drunk’s life. Since this is something that someone reading this must be experiencing, it is a good thing to discuss.

        With Nazi Germany, that’s really incredibly different. The State had been elevated to the level of God. A man, namely Hitler, had been declared God. Those are two fundamental aspects of fascism: 1) the state is an organic entity, 2) this organic entity can be embodied in a single person. This had never been seen before or since.

  • Third Amigo

    It’s O.K. for someone of another country to break the law coming here, but not OK to protect a priest from a Nazi?

    • enness

      I see where this came from now and I am also looking forward to hearing the answer…

    • chezami

      Sigh. Can nobody read?

    • Please tell me where in the Catechism it says it is intrinsically evil to enter another country without the proper paperwork.

      • enness

        Right where it says that immigration restrictions set by a lawful authority are inherently unjust, I would think (do correct me if I’m wrong).

        • I’ve never once said restrictions are *inherently* unjust. Which reinforces why Third Amigo’s attempt to compare the morality of violating immigration laws to the morality of lying fails — because the Catechism has, in fact, only condemned the latter “by its very nature.”

  • Paul Connors

    As for denying Christ to the Nazis, for any reason: A believer cannot deny Christ, because that is a blasphemy, and thus an intrinsic evil.

    As for the more general case of telling falsehoods to (e.g.) Nazis: Anyone interested in what the Catholic Church has taught in this area would do well to look at two particular links, taken from books written over a century ago.

    The first link is to a answer in a book (published with the Imprimatur of the then Archbishop of New York) written to give advice to priests hearing confessions. Is it ever permitted to tell a lie? It gives some guidance as to when telling falsehoods may be permitted, and provides an expansion of teaching still contained in the current Catechism.

    A second link is to a section of a book of Catholic Moral Philosophy, exploring under what conditions one might legitimately utter a falsehood to someone, in order to keep a secret. It explains the difference between a lie (never ever permitted) and a broad mental reservation (permitted under some circumstances).

    As far as I can tell, Mark Shea (in his various posts on lying and Nazis) would flatly contradict some things in both of these links, but I am not sure why. It’s unclear to me if he has ever even seen such teaching.

    • chezami

      No. Blasphemy is insulting God. But the apologists for lying say that the *true* insult is being prissy perfectionist who will not tell a lie to save innocent lives. In fact, they insist that when you lie to somebody with no right to the truth, it’s not a lie at all. Ergo, why not deny Christ to the Nazis since it’s not a lie and therefore not blasphemy.

      • Paul Connors

        Aquinas says: “blasphemy is the opposite of confession of the faith”. Insulting God is certainly an example of such a thing. But it is not the definition.

        Also, one should note that for a believer to deny Christ may (however false) not qualify as a lie, because in some circumstances there may be no intention to deceive.

        And I suggest again that you look up those two links.

  • Dave G.

    The problem I have? How many people saying “I would never lie to save Jews from Nazis” would have the balls to be in a position to lie to save Jews from Nazis in the first place? I mean, really? Come on people. This is *not* some ticking time bomb scenario either. It’s based on very real stories told by those who had the stones to put their lives on the line, and sometimes lose their lives, to save their fellow man, as opposed to settling for risking a bad case of carpal tunnel on the blogosphere comment threads. So please. For me, if you are of the opinion that you wouldn’t lie even to save a baby from certain death, then first sell everything you have, give it to the poor and follow Christ. I know, technically Christ never said we have to, and the Church affirms that we don’t have to. But there’s something about an approach to following Christ that is willing to let the innocent die but not give up that bank account that seems like it’s woefully missing a major make that needs hit. My two cents.

    • Zac

      Blessed are the ballsy, for they shall show up the moral posturing of unworldly hypocrites.

    • Mariana Baca

      Whether *I* would lie or not, or would hide jews from nazis or not is a statement about my own personal morality and virtue — which is frankly, very poor. I lie for less noble a cause because I am fallen and weak. However, whether it is *wrong* to lie is a statement of objective morality, regardless of my personal cowardice, prudence or fortitude.

      • Dave G.

        Of course there is a valid discussion. And it’s valid when kept in the context of our overall pilgrimage. Life isn’t an ethics exam to be passed. As a priest said to me, what is wrong with you – when I asked if a person would need confession if they lied to save Jews. In that case, he explained, my first thought was ‘how do I save an innocent person at risk of myself’, that alone is worth so much. Sometimes I think us Catholics – especially amateurs on the Internet – spend too much time arguing over the leaves on the trees, much less the trees themselves. Sometimes it’s worth stepping back and looking at the whole forest.

    • RoxanneRoxanadana

      Having the courage to do so also requires the wisdom to do so. If you believed Nazi propaganda, you would not hide Jews: you might honestly believe Jews biologic enemies of Poland & turn them in. Difficult is assigning blame for an act resulting from honestly held mistaken belief.

  • Randal Murphy

    Cardinal Newman vs. Mark Shea? I think I’ll go with Shea and say this is really cinchy stuff.

  • Alexander

    It still amazes me that everyone here who thinks Mark is mightily upholding Catholic Doctrine because he is reading the Catechism’s definition of lying as a literal, final, exceptionless definition is ignoring the distortion to Catholic doctrine Mark is promulgating when he says that he would, if pressed, commit the sin of lying to the Nazi at the door, and then expect God to later tell him, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” That pride in sin (even if venial) hardly jibes with the Catechism’s teaching. See my post below.

    • HornOrSilk

      Well, if you read Augustine, Lombard, and others on lying, they all say it is an intrinsic evil, but they also note that the intention and circumstance can make it the slightest of sins, the most venial of venial sins, and the person doing them can still be heroic. Proof is in the Bible. A famous prostitute. Know her?

  • The Deuce

    I’m still undecided on the permissibility of lying in Nazi-at-the-door situations myself, and I see a lot of difficult issues either way. However, I’m not really sure about this particular situation, because I think that in this case, the primary sin committed isn’t lying, but rather denying the Lordship of Christ, which would be just as sinful if you meant it.

  • Zeke

    Why quibble about concocted Nazi-at-the-door scenarios when the Church has a real life example? Seems to me that young Ratzinger must have bent the truth here and there to save his own skin (despite conscientious objectors being sent to die in Dachau) and they made him Pope.

    • chezami

      Well, if it “seems to you” that a 13 year old was a liar and a coward, what further proof do we need?

    • It seems to me that the first pope denied Christ before the cock crowed three times and they not only made him Pope but put the episode in the Bible some years later for us all to read about it forever. Your gotcha doesn’t prove what you think it proves.

  • I think that John 7 gives a good example of how tricky it’s ok to get with the truth. Can we discuss that next time and skip the nazis?

  • HornOrSilk

    I like the Nazi at the abortion clinic question: what if a Nazi officer took you to an abortion clinic, where a pregnant Jewish woman was being held. He said if you abort her child, he will save 1000 Jews. What would you do? Of course, I know the answer, but the consequentialist on the other hand….

  • Sus_1

    The post and comments here give the impression that God is using an abacus to count and keep track of all our sins.

    I don’t need to think of pretend scenarios to analyze whether I’d sin or not. I’m too worried about whether I’m sinning in situations that actually happen.

  • quasimodo

    The church teaches that you are culpable for the sin if you act freely. Like Love, Sin must be freely chosen. If there is a Nazi at your door, by definition, your freedom is restricted. The very purpose of Nazis is to restrict freedom.

    • Sean P. Dailey

      “The very purpose of Nazis is to restrict freedom.”
      Thanks for clarifying.

    • Eve Fisher

      I agree wholeheartedly. I think of the Jewish mothers in WW2 who managed to dress their children up like Christians, handed them over to willing Christian families, and told them to lie to the Nazis about being Christian; I think of the people who housed Jewish children and lied about them to the Nazis. I think of the children – pitifully few, but some – who survived.


    I think he would say render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and render unto God what is God’s. The priest belngs to God and not to Nazis.

  • Eve Fisher

    Great. Tell the Nazis the truth. Let me know how you feel afterwards. (Hint: you can check out post-WW2 interviews with “normal” Germans, French, etc., who watched the Jews being shipped off and are now suffering from acute buyers’ remorse, to put it mildly.)

    I may never have to face that one, but when Mother asks, after chemotherapy has left her looking like Frankenstein’s grandmother, how she looks, I’ll tell her, “You look beautiful to me.” She doesn’t; physically she’s hideous; but I’m just glad she’s alive.

    You can quote St. Thomas Aquinas all you want, but I prefer Jesus, who said the two greatest commandments were “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

  • Imp the Vladaler

    Confessing Christ to all, no matter the harmful consequences that may come to the evangelist, is a foundational principle of Christianity. It’s a primary duty of all Christians, and Jesus is explicit about it. From Day 1, Christians knew that they had to confess Christ, even if it lead to their deaths. “No lying, ever” is a piece of doctrine that – even Mark will admit- developed over centuries and was not always stringent.

    Even under the prior edition of the Catechism, which seemed to contain a “no-right-to-the-truth” exception to a general prohibition of lying, you couldn’t deny Christ. (Did the woman at the campfire have a right to know if Peter was with Jesus?**) Put Mark in a time machine and send him back to A.D. 350. There’s no Augustine or Thomas to tell him not to lie. The support just isn’t there for a strict, unambiguous, Catechism-as-proof-text no-lying rule. And yet he wouldn’t think it’s okay to deny Christ.

    Bonus exercise for Mark: if someone asks you if you are a Christian, is it okay to dodge? “Why would you ask me that?” “Do you really think someone who calls himself a Christian would have this many material possessions and vices?” Would staying silent be okay?

    I suspect that the answer will be “no,” or at best “maybe, if it’s the only option, but you can’t outright deny Christ.” And there’s your answer: although being evasive about some topics may be permissible, denying Christ is in a different category.

    **The answer to this question might be “yes,” in the sense that all are called to Christ. And if so, that defeats Mark’s hypothetical.

    • Guest

      One of the problems with your claims is that the CCC, in stating that lying is by its nature is to be condemned, is indicating it is an intrinsic evil(by its nature.) This is to say that lying was always an evil before and indeed apart from any explicit statement of such by the Church, and did not only become an inherent evil at some later time. This is the case with other immoral acts to, and it would be erroneous and shameful to say that euthanasia or abortion, for example, were licit at one time, before the Church made pronouncements. This is also why someone cannot claim that lying is okay in some circumstances.

      • Imp the Vladaler

        “This is to say that lying was always an evil before and indeed apart
        from any explicit statement of such by the Church, and did not only
        become an inherent evil at some later time.”

        Sure, if something is evil now, it always was. That’s correct. But it’s a doctrine that has developed – hence the references to the previous edition of the Catechism, which seemed to tolerate lies under certain circumstances. Even back when the Catechism wasn’t as strict about lying, denial of Christ was a big no-no.

        The point here is that for Mark’s argument to work, denying Christ has to be wrong only because it’s a lie. Sure, it’s wrong because it’s a lie. But it’s also – and primarily – wrong because denying Christ is always wrong. Things can be wrong for multiple reasons (murdering your mother is wrong because it’s murder AND because it dishonors your mother), but Mark’s example ignores that.

  • Mark, you’re completing missing the point. When the Nazi comes to your door, shoot the Nazi. Good grief.

  • Peter M.

    Its ok to lie to Nazi’s. They don’t deserve the truth.

  • Laurie

    Bonhoeffer, while not a Catholic, actually lived under the reality of Hitler. He said the “the sin of respectable people lies in a flight from responsibility”. Good grief, the Nazis were one of the few groups of people in human history that might have been close to completely evil. Take responsibility for guilt and lie to people if you believe its truly necessary. There are no holy points for respectability, otherwise what did Jesus die for?