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."Share
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.