So spoke Shakespeare's Juliet to Romeo, but do we all agree?
Jill Stanek highlights two columns, one by Christopher Tollefson, and another co-authored by Dawn Eden and William Doino in which all three excoriate Lila Rose, a fresh convert to Catholicism, for lying in order to film her Live Action videos. Together, the three aver that the bloom is off this particular Rose, that her acting is not acting at all, but a lie, and therefore morally prohibited.
Tollefsen argues that Lila Rose and her friends are not actors, but liars; their work is not loving: "it is predicated on a form of falsity, which is exercised in an unloving way."
Eden and Doino highlight a different dilemma: before his fall, Father Euteneuer denounced a pro-choice film group that got pro-lifers at a CPC on film by telling them that the film-makers were interested in telling the pro-life story. Eden and Doino point out that this is not morally acceptable for pro-choicers, so why would it be for pro-lifers? Their argument is much more tightly reasoned than Tollefsen's and ultimately much more compelling.
Stanek, a non-Catholic, dismisses all three by bringing forward three examples of (presumably approved) prevarication in Scripture: the Hebrew midwives lied to Pharoah (Exodus 1:15-21), Rahab the prostitute, who lies to protect Israel's spies (Joshua 2, Matthew 1:5, Hebrews 2), and Michal and Jonathan lie to King Saul in order to save young David's life (1 Samuel 19 and 20).
Stanek also quotes the wise men disobeying King Herod as a form of lying, but that example is really not on point. They just refused to obey the king, they didn't lie to him.
Furthermore, all of Stanek's examples involve coercion - the Hebrew midwives, Rahab and Michal and Jonathan were all asked point-blank by a powerful man (or armed soldiers) to provide information that would prove fatal to someone if that information were revealed. The modern equivalent to this would be lying to a Nazi soldier about the disposition of Jews. There's quite a bit of Scriptural hay that could be made in the moral legitimacy of refusing to divulge information to someone who intends to use it to commit evil.
Lila Rose and company, on the other hand, are voluntarily walking into the clinics to tell false stories. No one asked them anything, and the information they reveal will not put anyone's life at danger since it is all manufactured.
In short, Lila Rose and company aren't lying in the same way Rahab and company lied.
A More Accurate Example
The example Stanek should have brought forward, for it is the closest to being on point, is that of Nathan before David:
The LORD sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, 3 but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.Here we have a prophet of God who tells a story that is literally false - there is no sheep, there is no traveler. Nathan tells the story in a way designed to make David believe it is true, and designed to provoke David's anger. David falls for the lie and condemns the man.
4 “Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”
5 David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this must die! 6 He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”7 Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!" (2 Samuel 12)
We cannot argue that Nathan was merely telling a parable.
King David's own response demonstrates that he thought Nathan was relating an actual event.
Indeed, it is only after Nathan's explanation of the lie that David discovers he has condemned not some unnamed rich man, but himself.
Differences to Note
Now, there are disparities between the two examples:
- Nathan is a prophet of God, Lila Rose and Live Action are not.
- Nathan was lying to one man (and, indeed, nearly all of the Scriptural examples brought forward involve mis-representing the facts to one powerful person), while Lila Rose is trying to expose an entire movement.
- The prophet clarified the story immediately after he got the response he wanted, and King David repented of his actions to boot. Lila Rose has gotten a response but no repentance from the group she and her friends lied to.
After all, as Eden and Doino point out, it is never the case that we can argue "the end justifies the means."
Furthermore, Old Testament examples such as those brought forward by Jill Stanek or myself, should always be treated with caution, because Jesus changed the rules on many Old Testament situations: "You were allowed writs of divorce because you were a stiff-necked people, but I say to you.... (and) Let your 'yes' mean 'yes' and your 'no' mean 'no'." Polygamy and divorce were allowed in the Old Testament, but aren't any more. The affirmation that we should speak clear "yes" and "no" is quite un-nuanced.
Christ did not abrogate the Ten Commandments, and there is a commandment against lying.
But the prophet Nathan has never been considered a liar, even though his story is at least as clearly a lie as the stories told by Michal, Jonathan and the Hebrew midwives (whose moral positions have never been as clear as Nathan's).
Nathan and Paul
Nathan clearly manufactured a story, told it to someone who had never asked for it, then hit that someone with the public "gotcha!" All of this bears close correspondence to Lila Rose's actions.
Indeed, if we were to take a New Testament example, one could be found, although it is not as on-point as Nathan's story. In Acts 23:6, Paul claims he is being put on trial because he has hope in the resurrection of the dead - a claim he knows will cause dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. In fact, as Acts 21:27ff demonstrates, he was on trial to discover if he had brought Greek Gentiles into the Temple.
Indeed, Paul was taken into protective custody precisely because his speech to the Jewish crowd about his mission to the Gentiles caused that same Jewish crowd to believe he had actually brought unclean Greeks into the Temple (Acts 21:27-Acts 22:22). So Paul clearly and deliberately mis-represented the facts in order to cause dissension amongst his enemies.
Live Action videos has done no less to the pro-abort movement.
What Is A Lie?
So, what is the status of Lila Rose and Live Action?
Several CCC articles have been brought into play on both sides, but the one that is most on point has been ignored by everyone.
Let's look at the definition:
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. [emphasis added]There are two parts to a lie:
1) speaking or acting against the truth
2) in order to lead someone into error.
Both parts must obtain in order for the speech or action to be morally illicit.
This is why acting is not a sin (although actors are frequently publicly implicated in sin).
Everyone knows the movie is just a movie.
Similarly, undercover agents and spies may only act as such as long as they don't lead anyone into error. Even an undercover agent may not participate in a gangland "hit" in order to protect his cover - if he does, he is charged with murder along with the rest.
These are not minor points.
For those of us with long memories, it should be recalled that the original CCC had its wording revised in several sections, including the section on what constitutes a lie. The original wording (I'm going from memory here, since I no longer have one of the original brown cover CCCs) said something like "It is permissible to withhold the truth from those who would mis-use it." That wording was considered problematic, and was replaced (whether with this exact article or not, I cannot recall).
The point is, we should remember that the CCC's phrasing on lies and lying received unusual care, since it even required the publication of a little pamphlet revising the text in this (and a few other areas), and eventually brought about a whole new edition (the current "green" cover CCC available in the US).
So, when we examine the CCC articles on lying, we must examine every word.
Nuance and careful reading is key here.
Did Lila Rose and company:
(a) misrepresent the truth simply (in which case they have not lied in a morally culpable way),
(b) did they misrepresent the truth in order to lead someone into error? (in which case, they have).
It is certainly not the case that they misrepresented the truth in order to bring about the immediate conversion of the people to whom they lied. So, they didn't lie about the Faith, about God's love or the works of salvation. They didn't misrepresent the truth of God's life or our relationship to Him.
In charity, I think we can say they also didn't misrepresent the truth in order to intentionally cause someone to sin.
Rather, they suspected that a group of people were already sinning and they presented themselves as co-sinners in this same area in order to draw out the nature of those who were sinning.
Now, Lila Rose and company hadn't committed the precise sins they presented themselves as having committed (and in this way, their story also differs from the prophet Nathan's story, although it is not so clearly different from the apostle Paul's story) but that is the only part of Lila's conversation that wasn't true.
So, now we reach a very fine point indeed.
Is the sin committed by the Planned Parenthood people as a result of the conversation a new instance of sin for them?
If it is, then Lila Rose and company are guilty as charged by Tollefsen, Eden and Doino. After all, just as each new abortion takes a human life, each new sin is an offense against God.
Or, is the sin committed by the Planned Parenthood people part of an already-established habit of sin that has infected and infused their thoughts and lifestyles?
If this latter is the case, Lila Rose and company's lie was neither designed to, nor did it, lead the Planned Parenthood employees into a new sin.
Here are a few additional CCC articles which seem to have bearing on the problem:
If I haven't reached a firm and vociferous conclusion in this column, it is because I can see the force of the arguments on both sides, and it is not entirely clear to me that I have reached a correct conclusion. Eden's and Doino's argument and evidence is strong (Tollefsen's not so much).
1790 A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.
1791 This ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility. This is the case when a man "takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin."59 In such cases, the person is culpable for the evil he commits.
1792 Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one's passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church's authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct.
1793 If - on the contrary - the ignorance is invincible, or the moral subject is not responsible for his erroneous judgment, the evil committed by the person cannot be imputed to him. It remains no less an evil, a privation, a disorder. One must therefore work to correct the errors of moral conscience.
However, I lean towards thinking Lila Rose is not misrepresenting the truth in a morally culpable way. Rather, she is acting in the tradition of the prophet Nathan and the apostle Paul to expose the thinking of the people involved even to themselves, as Nathan did to King David.
And insofar as that is her motive, insofar as her actions conform to accomplishing that motive, then I endorse them.
Whether or not these actions actually do conform to that motive, I leave up to you, O Gentle Reader.