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Many years ago at my college there was amongst the dorm residents a passel of men who would play the game Risk regularly. Single games, as anyone who’s played before knows, can last for hours. Emotions run high…which is why I’ve had to give the thing up myself. So it was that friends were at it once again, in the thick of things, and as happens in the game, an alliance was struck in order to attack a common enemy. However, with said enemy reduced to a pulp, one of the friends broke the alliance and attacked. The injured party lost the game and his wits. He would not speak to the offending party anymore. He would avoid him in the hallways and refuse to be in the same room with him. When asked why, he simply said, “I can’t trust you. If you lied in this, what else will you lie about?”

One strains to see the logic in his position. Once a liar always a liar. This seems reasonable enough. The injured fellow was simply being prudent. But then one is struck by the fact that IT’S A GAME, and thus not real life, and that the point is that someone win, and, well you get the point.

Lila Rose

Lila Rose

The ridiculous idea that allowing for deception in a game will inevitably result in deceptions amongst the people he loves is exactly the bad thinking that I think creeps into this whole debate around Live Action, Lila Rose, lying, and the rest. Somehow the argument has come about that allowing for deception in this case will lead to horrid crimes, terrible equivocations, and, to use a phrase from Mark Shea, “vigilante chaos.” I think this is bunk, hyperbolic bunk to boot.

Though it seems to have been a great deal of time since the videos by Live Action were taken and released, and thus a long time since questions about their tactics have been brought up, for me this question of deception for the sake of a greater good is very fresh. Over the last couple of days it has been the hot topic amongst friends of different ages and backgrounds. It was even the topic of a homily this past weekend. For this reason, and because of my honest befuddlement at some of the things that Mark Shea writes, I throw my hat into the ring.

I could start by playing up my dedication to civil debate. I’m sorry, but if you the reader don’t understand that people can have honest disagreements about this issue and that this is not an agree-with-me-or-you’re-going-to-hell deal, then just stop reading now, go have a beer or two, and relax. Then come back and read. Better yet, go pray. Then read a good book (P.G. Wodehouse is a good start). Watch a comedy with a Canadian in it. Do something other than sitting in front of the computer to fume. Okay? Okay.

Alright, so to brass tacks: what is lying? We’ve got the definition from St. Augustine quoted in the Catechism 2482 “A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving.” That helps. 2483 gives this in my English translation and from the Vatican website, “To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead into error someone who has the right to know the truth.” I’ve emphasized this last phrase because, though it is in my edition, it is not in the revised edition of the Catechism. Neither is this language in the official Latin translation which reads “Mentiri est contra veritatem loqui vel agree ad inducendum in errorem.” Nothing there about “someone who has the right to know the truth.”

Why this was taken out, I don’t know. What does it mean? Well while some would like to say that we ought to simply ignore it, like the Wizard of Oz asking Dorothy to forget she saw the man behind the curtain, I think we ought at least note that there is a tradition that includes “the right to know the truth.” For starters it made the cut into the Catechism. That’s not something to shake a stick at. Second, telling the truth falls under the virtue of justice according to St. Thomas. Justice is about giving someone what is due to them. So asking the questions, “Is this information due you? Do you have the right to this information?” seems legitimate.

This then begs the questions, “Are all men due the truth at all times? If not, under what occasions or conditions is their right to know nullified? If so, what are the ramifications?”

Isaac Blessing Jacob by Govert Flinck 1639

Isaac Blessing Jacob by Govert Flinck 1639

Some argue that all men have the right to the truth at all times. This certainly seems to be the argument of St. Augustine and St. Thomas. However, I just have to note the following: both saints allow for astounding exceptions with regard to the patriarchs because, hey, they’re the patriarchs. Take Abraham, for instance. He told his wife Sara to tell everyone she was his sister so that he wouldn’t be killed in their attempt to get at her – foxy lady that she was. She complied, was taken in by the Pharaoh as one of his concubines, then released when the Pharaoh, plagued by disaster, discovered the truth about her. He cursed Abraham for the deception. Still, St. Augustine and St. Thomas say this was not a lie.

As to Abraham “when he said that Sara was his sister, he wished to hide the truth, not to tell a lie, for she is called his sister since she was the daughter of his father,” Augustine says (QQ. Super. Gen. xxvi; Contra Mend. x; Contra Faust. xxii). Wherefore Abraham himself said (Genesis 20:12): “She is truly my sister, the daughter of my father, and not the daughter of my mother,” being related to him on his father’s side. (ST IIa IIae, q.110, a.3)

Since Hebrew does not make distinctions between cousins and sisters, he was not “lying.” He only “wished to hide the truth.” Well, maybe. He also let his wife be taken in by another man. One could say that Abraham was just being clever. She was technically his “sister.” So he wasn’t speaking a falsehood, he was merely deceiving, leading the Egyptians to believe something that wasn’t true. But then couldn’t one argue that the Pharaoh had the right to know that she was another man’s wife …not to mention the fact that Sara had the right to be protected by her husband? But wait, there’s more.

Jacob the liar. His very name means “usurper.” Jacob lied – and I mean lied – to his father Isaac in order to steal from him the blessing meant for Esau. It didn’t matter that Esau gave it up, it wasn’t his to give up because it still belonged to Isaac, and it was his right to dispense it as he desired. Jacob simply told his blind father that, yes, he was Esau. What do St. Augustine and St. Thomas have to say to this? It’s not a lie either.

Jacob’s assertion that he was Esau, Isaac’s first-born, was spoken in a mystical sense, because, to wit, the latter’s birthright was due to him by right: and he made use of this mode of speech being moved by the spirit of prophecy, in order to signify a mystery, namely, that the younger people, i.e. the Gentiles, should supplant the first-born, i.e. the Jews.

Aaaaah, the mystical sense. My point here is not that Abraham and Jacob were horrible persons or that St. Augustine and St. Thomas are dolts – yikes. No, my point is simply that what makes up a lie is not always so easy to detect. I mean that it is not always so simple to say that such and such a person has a right to know the truth about “x,” or that telling a falsehood is always a lie.

Which brings me, then, to the situation with Live Action and their operation against Planned Parenthood. Let me be clear about what my argument is not. It is not that we can lie to Planned Parenthood because they’re sinners. I get paragraph 1753 of the Catechism which says that “A good intention (for example, that of helping one’s neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just.” I also get 2485 that “by its very nature, lying is to be condemned.” My argument is not that an “ends justifies the means.” I too am concerned with the Pandora’s box that could be opened if we’re to start making such equivocations. Everyone got that? This is not a consequentialist argument.

My argument is that what Live Action did was not lying. My argument is that the workers at Planned Parenthood don’t have a right to know my real name. Their own policies admit total confidentiality. They presume and experience a lot of fake names from people looking just for information about embarrassing and personal topics. In other words, Live Action was not depriving them of anything which they deem necessary to their work. They don’t even think they have a right to real names. Anyway, Live Action was seeking from them nothing but information, which is what someone coming in for a consultation wants.

I will go further and say that the workers at Planned Parenthood don’t have a right to know that my occupation is not pimping but pro-life work. I say this not because they’re sinners and so don’t deserve the truth. I say this because, again, it’s not necessary to the service they provide to know my true identity. They don’t require it of potential clients and as no official documents are signed there is no expectation their part that the identities given are accurate. So why should Live Action proffer it when doing so would get in the way of getting the information they want and which Planned Parenthood says they exist to provide?

Mark Shea

Mark Shea

Let’s review the definition of lying. According to the Catechism “To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead into error.” The point of the Live Action operation was to get employees to admit to practices that are commonplace. Nothing was spoken “in order to lead into error.” No one was being asked to adhere to an erroneous faith or ideology or practice. No employee was invited to extend any sort of response they were not comfortable making. Planned Parenthood recognizes that the point of the conversation is not to who I say I am, but rather what services they can provide.

Do they have a right to have their conversations about illegal activity kept from the public which is, through tax dollars, funding them? No I don’t think they have that right either.

At this point let me address what may be Mr. Mark Shea’s response to my argument thus far. Mr. Shea is a well respected author and has been commenting quite a bit on this issue. I suppose it could be considered unfair to take his reactions to reader comments as responses to my argument, but I don’t pretend to be the only person coming up with similar arguments.  Here’s what he writes:

To be sure, some folk are trying to figure out a way to say that lying isn’t really lying when you lie to bad people for Jesus.  Various stabs have been made at saying that since it’s not a lie to deflect, mislead, or evade when the Nazis show up looking for the Jews, it’s also not a lie to walk up to somebody you deem to be doing evil, and give a false name, occupation and purpose. According to this theory, you aren’t “leading people into error” (i.e. you aren’t lying to make money, gain power, take vengeance or teach a false conclusion like “Satan is God” but are instead trying to show that PP is evil and stop sex trafficking), so it’s not lying.  But this is as persuasive as saying it’s not lying to falsely claim you were miraculously healed of cancer in order to lead a gullible occultist out of his error and to the ultimate good end: Jesus the Way, the Truth and the Life.  Good ends don’t make lies into “not-lies” just because we are trying to do a good thing by lying.

Again, my point here is not ends-justifies-means. I’m not saying, “It’s not a lie because Live Action loves the baby Jesus.” The point is that Planned Parenthood doesn’t require that I give them my real name, occupation, or purpose to get from them their list of services. By “leading people into error” I don’t mean what Mr. Shea means. My argument is not that it’s not lying because they’re not leading them to error, because they’re not trying to make money, because they love the baby Jesus. The argument is that Live Action is not leading the employees to do or say or believe anything they don’t want to. A confidential consult does not require complete honesty about identity. They know this.

Live Action was not asking employees to do anything but their jobs, what they advertise themselves to be. Nothing was designed to convince them to believe in anything or sign up for anything they did not want to. No question was rigged to make them leave the clinic and join the “right side.” There was no attempt to allure them into doing anything they don’t already do. So no, the argument is not that it’s okay to lie because Live Action is trying to do a good thing. The point is that they’re not lying because they’re not trying to lead anyone into error about anything they have a right to know.

I fail to see why this is so very different from an undercover cop doing the work that saves and protects millions of people from horrid crimes. Does the pederast have the right to know that the child he is trying to seduce via internet is not actually a child but a cop? There seems to be very little objection to what the police do in their work. So why is what Live Action did immoral? Again, Mr. Shea addresses this argument too,

Fourth, comparisons of Lila Rose’s sting to war or police work break down because, well, this is not war or police work. It’s not war because you are not authorized to spray your local Planned Parenthood center with machine gun fire, shoot bazookas into the offices of their national headquarters, or bomb the government institutions that fund them.  You are a citizen.  So are they.  Your government has not declared war on them.  No troops have been drafted to fight them.  If you do take it upon yourself to shoot one of them, you will rightly and properly be arrested, charged with murder in the first degree, and jailed.  Do not mistake metaphor for reality.  For the same reason, comparisons with the cops don’t fly.  The state had a right to arrest, detain, try and even execute Lee Harvey Oswald.  That doesn’t mean that Jack Ruby does.

Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald

Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald

When did we jump from keeping my real identity from Planned Parenthood to grainy, black-and-white films of assassinations and lounge owners with revolvers? What disturbs me about Mr. Shea’s reactions is his regular habit of saying that if we can withhold our identity – he says lie – to Planned Parenthood then that means we can go around and shoot people we consider sinners. “Vigilante chaos.” But Mr. Shea is begging the question. He makes his leap because he has already presumed that we agree that what Live Action did was a lie and thus intrinsically evil. Thus goes the rest of his argument repeated time and again: once one intrinsic evil is allow for, then all hell will break loose. Granted, he’s probably responding to readers who are saying it’s okay to engage in an intrinsic evil. But this whole time he just seems to assume we agree with him that it’s a lie.

Again, for the record, I agree with him that intrinsic evils are not to be toyed with no matter the warm fuzzies we feel. But what if, just what if what Live Action did is not a lie because a) the employees are not being lead into error and b) because they don’t have a right to my identity if my only desire is that they answer my questions in as honest and professional a manner as possible, a service for which they themselves admit one doesn’t have to provide one’s true identity? Mr. Shea makes the grand leap to shooting people through vigilantism because he has already presumed he’s correct about the nature of the act.

Dr. Janet Smith has a good piece on this too...

Dr. Janet Smith has a good piece on this too…

Despite his insistence on using vigorous language, no one is talking here about arresting, detaining, trying, or executing anyone. Those are specific actions deputed to police officers. So, yes, Mr. Shea is right that if Live Action tried to do any of those things they would be arrested immediately, which is why they’re not doing those things. They are doing something very legal, namely asking Planned Parenthood staff for information regarding a particular situation. They do not have a right to the true identity of the inquisitors and neither are they being led into error. What’s the problem?

The facts are that Planned Parenthood murders people – which is horrifically legal right now – and it also aides and abets in the trafficking of minors – which is illegal – and systematically covers up statutory rape – also illegal – while regularly instructing vulnerable and adolescent citizens how to get around the laws voted on by the citizenry – illegal as well. The state does not enforce these laws against Planned Parenthood. Reason? Planned Parenthood has a lot of money, some of it our tax money, which is then used to lobby law makers and enforcers. Why is it so outrageous to suggest that citizens take matters into their own hands by safe and legal activity involving withholding their identities from criminals in order to have the criminal admit what they normally do? Isn’t this EXACTLY what undercover cops do? Isn’t this what the state should be doing to enforce its own laws? Is it lying simply because Live Action is a private organization and is not the state?

Like Mr. Shea and Mr. Richart, whom the former quotes regarding the article by Dr. Peter Kreeft that I so enjoyed, I believe the central question here is whether or not Live Action lied. The rest is, to borrow Mr. Richart’s phrase, “essentially irrelevant.” When I see that the Catechism used the phrase, “someone who has the right to know,” when I see that the Vatican website still uses the phrase, when I see that a lie includes the intention to lead someone “into error,” when I see that Abraham merely hid the truth instead of lying and that Jacob prophesied, when I see all these things then I am inclined to believe that Live Action didn’t lie. Period. Of course, I could be wrong too.

Who’s up for a game of Risk?

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This article from Slate magazine, discovered at New Advent, includes some disturbing information which I cannot recommend for the squeamish. However, what struck me more was the serial obtuseness of its author.

Ron Rosenbaum

Ron Rosenbaum

Ron Rosenbaum writes in response to a recent work by historian Timothy Snyder about the deep horror of Stalin’s Soviet Union and the famine imposed by him on the Ukraine from 1932-1933 known today as the Holodomor. Mr. Rosenbaum enters into this topic by rightly noting the rather odd tolerance that exists for the former USSR while intolerance of the Nazi dystopia is pretty much universal. The point is made well, I think, that our youth view Soviet paraphernalia as quaint kitsch. We have all seen the hero-making images of Ernesto Che Guevera everywhere. There is apparently a nightclub in New York called “KGB.” American figure skater Jonny Weir wore a warm-up jacket with CCCP on it. Rosenbaum’s point is that the Soviet Union was responsible for the mass murder of millions, indeed far more millions than Hitler’s regime was, yet naming a pub “KGB” is okay while naming one “Gestapo” would probably have you run out of town.

In Snyder’s book to which Rosenbaum refers, we are told just how intentional the Ukrainian famine actually was. This was not just bad policy on the part of Stalin’s team, not just incompetent husbandry. This was a concerted effort to destroy the will of the Ukrainian people, a people Russians had abused for millennia. The six to seven million deaths during that time is just part of the total Soviet guilt. All told, the regime could have murdered tens upon tens of millions of souls, reduced many millions more to brutal subjugation, and touched off a world-wide revolution of Marxist-Leninist ideology that exported death and violence and saw millions more lives snuffed out. To this, our youth have only to respond that the hammer and sickle on red field looks cool.

Rosenbaum attempts to try to explain this discrepancy between society’s reaction to the Nazis and the Soviets this way:

But quantity [of genocidal deaths] probably shouldn’t be the only measure. There is also intent. To some, Stalin’s murders are not on the same plane (or at the same depth), because he may have believed however dementedly that he was acting in the service of the higher goal of class warfare and the universal aspirations of the oppressed working class. As opposed to Hitler, who killed in the service of a base, indefensible racial hatred.

Sadly, I think Rosenbaum is right. We have as a society largely accepted the strange calculus that says killing in the name of racial purity is the highest kind of evil, “indefensible” even, but killing in the name of socio-economic purity is just misapplied zeal. I’ve simply never understood why blindly violent hatred towards the rich is any more justifiable than hatred against the black or the Latino or the Jew.

All of that said, however, Rosenbaum’s reaction to reading the gut-wrenching details of cannibalism in the Ukraine during the famine and his struggle to make sense of it all has struck me as ridiculous bordering on irresponsible. He writes the following:

I’ve read things as horrifying, but never more horrifying than the four pages in Snyder’s book devoted to cannibalism. In a way I’d like to warn you not to read it; it is, unfortunately, unforgettable. On the other hand, not to read it is a refusal to be fully aware of what kind of world we live in, what human nature is capable of. The Holocaust taught us much on these questions, but alas, there is more to learn. Maybe it’s better to live in denial. Better to think of human history Pollyanna-like, as an evolution upward, although sometimes I feel Darwin spoke more truly than he knew when he titled his book The Descent of Man. Certainly one’s understanding of both Stalinism and human nature will be woefully incomplete until one does read Snyder’s pages.

To not read these pages is to refuse “to be fully aware” of what mankind is capable of. I’m sorry, but that’s just assinine. I know from personal experience and the gift of a liberal arts education of what man is capable. I can see into my own soul with clarity and enough sobriety to know the corrupt nature of the human condition, and I can see in it the elephantine fact that man is indeed capable of anything and everything. I’ve also been treated to the writings of Neitzsche, Marx, Hume, Rousseau, et alia, as well as the accounts of the ancient wars and atrocities of history. Why should I need to read the details of horrific acts by this starving people in order to truly understand the stakes?

Joseph Stalin and Vladimir Lenin 1919

Joseph Stalin and Vladimir Lenin 1919

Mr. Rosenbaum is correct that the Holocaust and the crimes of the Soviet Union ought to dispel from us any notion of an automatic human progress, of “an evolution upward.” But this is just what I mean. I would argue that any well educated person tempted to think mankind to be misunderstood angels hasn’t been paying attention to history or themselves. After reeling from the revelations of cannibalism in the Ukraine, Rosenbaum writes:

Must we readjust radically downward our vision of human nature? That any human could cause or carry out such acts must mean many are capable of it.

Ummm, well yes. Exactly. This is news to you? Did you read Dante? Have you not read Dostoevsky? Has the story of mankind in Sacred Scripture never passed your purview? Heck, didn’t you ever see the movie “Se7en”?  This is precisely what the Church has been saying for centuries. Any one of us is capable of radical sin. Not even the baptized are totally free from corruption. This is why St. Paul warns us to work out our salvation in fear and trembling. This is why St. Francis said, as the criminal was led past him, “There but for the grace of God go I.” This is why the Church exists, to mollify and heal the broken and base spirits within us. Again, this is news to you?

Rosenbaum’s analysis gets worse though. He ends his article with some “very preliminary thoughts”:

—There are some distinctions, but no real difference, between Hitler’s and Stalin’s genocides. Once you get over 5 million, it’s fair to say all genocidal monsters are alike.

Finally, the only other conclusion one can draw is that “European civilization” is an oxymoron. These horrors, Nazi and Communist, all arose out of European ideas, political and philosophical, being put into practice. Even the Cambodian genocide had its genesis in the cafes of Paris where Pol Pot got his ideas. Hitler got his ideas in the cafes of Vienna.

Okay, so the first thought here could be tongue and cheek in which case it’s horribly inappropriate. If it’s meant seriously it’s idiotic. The fact that he characterizes this as a “very preliminary thought” is astounding. Why, exactly, is he so tentative about asserting that those responsible for millions of deaths are equally monstrous? Was this in doubt? Are these the sorts of debates that are had at liberal, New York cocktail parties? Do they argue about the number of millions dead necessary for the title “genocidal monster,” or are they, while sipping manhattans, debating the use of a whole ranking system for such monsters? Perhaps this is why murder for class warfare is politically correct, while murder over race is “evil.”

Statue commemorating the Holodomor

Statue commemorating the Holodomor

The second thought is so steeped in ignorance – perhaps intentional – it should be included in one of those anthologies of the worst things ever written. While he is absolutely correct that the ideologies that drove Nazism and Communism were born of European minds, what he totally ignores is that these ideologies were crafted by Europeans who had actively rejected the patrimony of the Christian European civilization dominant for a thousand years but now referred to as the Dark Ages. Rousseau, Diderot, Montesquieu, Hume, Kant, Voltaire, Hobbes, Hegel, Darwin, Feuerbach, Marx, Sartre, Nietzsche all of them, and I mean all of them, vociferously rejected the Western, Christian tradition. All of them taught and believed in the natural evolution or progress of mankind to higher states of being. All of them taught that the only measure of truth was one’s own experience and mind. All of them reviled Christianity in general and the Catholic Church in particular and along with us the civilizing tenets of Christian doctrine, tenets such as that every human person is made in the image and likeness of God.

European civilization is not an oxymoron. What is oxymoronic, or just plain moronic, is the notion that Mr. Rosenbaum and the post-modern mass of mankind that rejects objective truth can believably object to horrors like the Nazis and the Communists. The Enlightenment and its ideas of near-total moral relativism created the stuff of Hitler and Stalin. At one point Rosenbaum writes “[C]an one really separate an ideology from the genocides repeatedly committed in its name?” Mr. Rosenbaum would seem to say no. I would agree, which is why we ought to note the culpability of the Enlightenment and ought to reject its worst presumptions. This is also why the salve that is the Christian ethos ought to be reaffirmed. Christ is still the answer.

Reestablishing this ethos has been the project of Pope Benedict XVI. So in closing, let me quote from his glorious encyclical Caritas in veritate:

Truth opens and unites our minds in the lógos of love: this is the Christian proclamation and testimony of charity. In the present social and cultural context, where there is a widespread tendency to relativize truth, practicing charity in truth helps people to understand that adhering to the values of Christianity is not merely useful but essential for building a good society and for true integral human development. A Christianity of charity without truth would be more or less interchangeable with a pool of good sentiments, helpful for social cohesion, but of little relevance. In other words, there would no longer be any real place for God in the world.

And “Without God,” as Dostoevsky wrote, “all things are permitted.” Long live Christ the King.

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