June 5, 2012 by Mark Shea
When I criticize Live Action for lying to Planned Parenthood, I can typically be guaranteed that I will hear that I am
a) secretly supportive of Planned Parenthood because I am criticizing Catholic Folk Heros who have saved more lives with a single video than I have in my whole worthless life
b) I am, as one reader told me, “about one step removed from the Pharisees who were angry at the disciples for plucking the grains of wheat on the Sabbath”.
The notion, of course, is that I am majoring in minors, [getting a PhD in A-B-C,] straining at gnats and swallowing camels, fretting about trivial fibs while children are being slaughtered, etc. The implicit accusation that immediately comes up is that to oppose Live Actions lies for Jesus is to be in the exact same moral category as the kind of moral idiot who would rat out the Jews in the cellar to the Gestapo in order to keep one’s precious morality pure. And besides, the complaint goes, it’s not *really* lying. As my reader said, “Calling every falsehood “lying” is like calling every killing “murder.”
Ahem. Last things first. Let’s stop with the euphemisms and with the attempt to pretend that show up at somebody’s door with a fake name and a fake purpose is anything but lying. Trying to euphemize it by some other name is exactly like trying to euphemize torture as “enhanced interrogation” or abortion as “tissue extraction”. When even the *defenders* of Live Action call it lying (as my friend Peter Kreeft did), it’s lying.
That said, let’s make another distinction: plucking grain and eating it on the Sabbath is not intrinsically evil. Lying is. I’m perfectly aware of what the intention is: stopping abortion. And I applaud the intention. But lying is still lying. Now, I am perfectly aware that lying, while intrinsically immoral, is not always a grave sin. All sorts of things enter in. There are lies that are fibs. There is the matter of freedom and understanding and culpability. I get all that. And I get that the goal is a noble: hasten the day when salt is sowed on the ground where the last Planned Parenthood clinic has been razed and abortion is a thing of the past. I fully support that goal and praise Live Action for desiring to achieve it.
But here’s the problem: All sin consists of the attempt to achieve some good end by disordered means: and attempting to establish truth by lying is profoundly disordered and will only end in mischief and damage to the faith to the prolife cause.
So I think that before the discussion get too abstract it’s important to ask what real good is even being accomplished by Live Action’s lies. People immediately rush to the Nazis at the Door Scenario and fall into the delusion that lives are being saved by Live Action lies to Planned Parenthood employees.
Understand this: not one. single. life has been saved by Live Action’s lies. Not a single abortion has been prevented. All that happened is that PP is temporarily embarrassed and prolifers get a thrill for a day or two.
After that, PP fights back and says “Those videos were edited and LA is lying.” And right there is the problem: because Live Action has openly acknowledged that they *were* lying about their identity and purpose. So Planned Parenthood then appeals to people on the fence about abortion and says, “Why should you trust self-confessed liars?” And their supporters, who might include some future Bernard Nathanson or other troubled conscience, look at the spectacle and join the herd in the comboxes denouncing Christians as liars–a hard point to argue when they are in fact lying. Indeed, while Christians desperately want to tell themselves that Live Action’s “stings” have been devastating to Planned Parenthood, the reality is that flagscows of the Left like the Nation are *exulting* in Live Action’s tactics and celebrating “the genius of Cecile Richards” for taking this gold-engraved opportunity to shout “Look! Christianist liars are persecuting Planned Parenthood!” and driving donations way up.
More than that, though, you have the *deeply* corrupting reality that defenders of Live Action–Christian defenders!–spend massive amounts of energy, not asking “How can we act with integrity?” but “How can we justify lying? How can we figure out some way to tempt a Planned Parenthood clerk to commit a mortal sin?”
Saying “They were going to do it anyway” is morally insane. Saying “We must do evil that good may come of it” is morally insane. Indeed, even arguing that good has come of it is morally insane. Because at the end of the day, all we really have is some video footage which is being argued about by two groups of people who are documentably liars–and in this particular case, only one of those group specifically confessed to lying in order to make the video. People who think this is going to persuade fence sitter or persuade anybody outside the zealously prolife camp have simply lost touch with reality. People who think that a Christian message about the gospel as the Truth can be founded on lies are insane.
And that’s the most insane part of this: in the end, this tactic leaves the Christian community burning itself up in the insane pursuit of justification for lying and tempting people to grave sin that produced not *one* good outcome (unless prolife schadenfreude [Gr harm joy] over a minor PP embarrassment is now Priority One for the prolife movement), while Planned Parenthood is enjoying increased funding from donors by sending out fundraising letters saying, “Christianist Prolifers are Lying about Us”.
This is why I say consequentialism such as Lying for Jesus is a Faustian Bargain. You lose your soul and get *nothing* in return. Sorry, but Augustine, Aquinas and the Catechism are right. Lying is intrinsically immoral and fundamentally corrupting of human relationships. And before you try, yet again, to euphemize these lies as “acting” or “role playing” or “fiction”: no, this is not “acting” or “role playing” or “fiction”. Those speech acts involve the fundamental reality that the the audience is willingly and knowingly suspending disbelief and knows the actors are acting and the writer is telling a tale. This. was. *lying*. Christians are bloody fools to defend it.
And, by the way, they would be fools to defende it even *if* it had worked. But that they are wasting breath defending it when it is not just wrong but destructive of the prolife cause is double folly.
I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of acting in worldly fashion. For though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. – 2 Corinthians 10:2-5
By stupid questions I mean ones that have known answers that I might be expected to already know. Someone throws out an acronym and I have a blank stare and ask: what does that mean? Ten seconds on google would return the basic answer. To some, this is a stupid question—you might even say an “ignorant question.”
My change of heart came from developing a right view of “ignorance,” which I see as a “known lack of understanding.” For example, “I am ignorant of online payment protocols” means I have not spent time coming to understand them.
I am on a lifelong quest as a learner—it excites and challenges me. This passion comes from inspiration from Charles Eams, about whom this was written, “Sell your expertise and you have a limited repertoire. Sell your ignorance and you have an unlimited repertoire. He was selling his ignorance and his desire to learn about a subject. The journey of not knowing to knowing was his work.”
Traveling on a journey of not knowing used to be one of my greatest fears—I had an idol of wanting to appear to be “in the know.” Now I realize that was a wrong view of knowledge—and a wrong view of myself. Along this process I committed something even worse: pretending to know, an offense widely committed that carries huge costs: you undermine the intellectual integrity of the conversation by not knowing what is being said, you deceive others about yourself, and, worst of all, you fail to learn. I now have the courage to “sell my ignorance” and travel with excitement and courage along a journey of not knowing. If you have not already, I hope you, too, may find that courag