Friday, February 18, 2011

John Zmirak on Lying and Mental Reservation

I think this is one of the best posts of all on the Lila Rose/Live Action story over which Catholics are picking each other apart. To quote:
 When we speak to each other, conveying accurate information back and forth is one legitimate goal, but it is neither exhaustive nor absolute. When a wife asks her husband, "Do you think I look fat?" she isn't always even asking for a literal answer to her question. What she wants to know is often, "Do you still love me? Am I still attractive?" A puritanical, legalistic answer to such a question is often an act of cruelty, masked by self-righteous "honesty."

If we viewed information as a good, one that must be traded fairly like any other, we would see that a question asked by someone with no right to the truth -- like a Nazi murderer, or a professional abortionist -- is like a demand made at gunpoint by a robber. If someone holding a gun in your face insists you write him a check for your life savings, is it wrong for you to sign the check "Mick E. Mouse"? He has no right to your money, so you've no business signing it over to him. There is no legitimate expectation of honesty in that context, so telling the truth in fact is a violation of justice on your part. A sin. If silence isn't an option, you have an active duty to confuse, mislead, or say something untrue. It doesn't amount to lying, any more than killing a robber in self-defense amounts to murder. Such literalism is as much, and the same kind, of heresy as pacifism.

So police officers interrogating criminals, spies infiltrating conspiracies to fly airplanes into skyscrapers, soldiers using deception (rather than torture -- which Aquinas, alas, allowed) need not emulate the subtlety of the Serpent in the Garden in order to deny the truth to those who don't deserve it. We don't need to pervert our image of God such that we believe He is pleased at our Pharisaical observance of the law, even when it results in the death of the innocent. To picture God that way really is a lie, of the kind that kills the soul.


Anonymous said...

That IS a great article on the matter! I especially like his point warning us not to take the Pharisaical observance of the Law. As Jesus told His disciples, we must keep the spirit of the law, rather than the letter of it. What is in keeping with the spirit of God's law more than to defend innocent life? After all, we're not talking about rising up in murder against these murderers, but about simply setting a trap to expose their murderous conspiracies?

elena maria vidal said...

I suppose if one wants to be legalistic then Catholics would be forbidden from doing undercover police work or any covert operations We could not use pseudonyms. Puritans forbade novels and plays because they were "lies."

Christina said...

I trust my comment won't be inappropriate, as it isn't meant to be and is just my thought.

I don't think that there is anything in the least legalistic about God. (It seems like that is a hang-over of the Feudal times of Anselm and Augustine who started the theories of atonement and ransom etc. which are so abhorrent and contradict the truth of a Loving God). I don't think God ever even notices sin. In the story of the Prodigal Son, when the son returns home with his repentent, "Father, I have sinned..." the Father doesn't even hear that and certainly pays no attention to it. He is too overjoyed that the boy is safe and happy again.

The Law - and even the idea of sin - is man-made, surely? Why else, when Jesus healed people, did he first have to say, "Your sins are forgiven..." ? To me it seems he was saying, "Forget that sin stuff, drop the guilt, be as wonderful as you can be...Be how God sees you..."

People interrogating others, trying to get at 'the truth'...well, I think that honest and truth cannot be forced out of anyone else. The answers we give are always honest in that they express the state we are in at the time they are given (e.g. do I look fat? The honest answer to give is the answer to the the real question which is being asked...yes I love you).

Your blog is very beautiful - thank you :-)

Anonymous said...

You're right, Elena. Lila Rose's work comes under investigative journalism. There has never been, to my knowledge, any decree that such reporting is forbidden or sinful --unless it is for dirty political or financial gain. Some people in their judgments cross the line over into the realm of the pharisees, without even taking notice.