The comment by Ttony on my blog about lying to save lives, seems to me to be the nearest we have yet come to a solution to this dilemma. He uses the Just War argument as an analogy.
To tease that out a little further, it seems clear to me that just wars were possible before Just War theory was properly articulated.
By the same token, perhaps what we see in the exposure of Planned Parenthood's evil, by way of means involving subterfuge, is a just lie, even though we have not yet been able clearly to argue a Just Lie theory.
Just as it seems clear to most people that the war against the Nazis had to be fought, for to fail to do so would have been collusion with a great evil, so one could argue that exposing the deception of Planned Parenthood had to be done, to avoid colluding with a worse evil.
I'm nearly there.
But I'm not quite.
Interestingly, it seems that in the original draft of the recent Catechism of the Catholic Church, the version that was first published in French, it included in its definition of a lie that a lie was committed when one deceived someone who had a right to the truth. That would have settled it. However, when the official Latin text was released, that clause had been removed. Clearly, in the editing and checking process, it had been found that there was not a sufficient consensus that such a clause accurately reflected Catholic teaching.
So, perhaps a straw in the wind, but on the other hand, one that was rejected...
My moral intuition tells me that no sin was committed in the deception of Planned Parenthood staff to reveal the evil at the heart of the organisation, but my intellect still isn't sure. And taking the Just War argument a little further may help to explain why.
The Second World War, I think most would agree, met the criteria for a just war, from the point of view of the Allies. However, that does not mean that all that the Allies did was justified. I think the dropping of the atom bombs was morally illegitimate, as was the blanket bombing of Dresden.
Moreover, there is always the risk, inherent in war, I think, that we demonise the enemy, when our instructions are to love our enemies.
And I further believe that the Allies' damaged themselves by the way in which they conducted some aspects of the war; a moral compromise that has borne bad fruits in Western Europe and the USA ever since. But again, that is more an intuition than something I can make a strong rational case for.
So I remain conflicted: I still feel that lying in this case was probably justifiable, though I cannot quite see how to justify it, theologically. I remain deeply convinced that lying is dangerous and normally damaging to the one who lies, and that any sin, however trivial, is simply wrong. Further, I am very wary of the precedent we set when we lie for a good cause, and the risk of a slippery slope if we erode our fundamental understanding of the natural law. And there is that risk that in order to justify our actions we demonise Planned Parenthood as the enemy...
Let me be quite clear: I am not condemning the actions of those who made the films: I am exploring my own moral understanding and the limitations thereof - and anyone who can help me clarify it further will be very welcome!
Wherein Fr. Z muses about Lady Day, 25 March - Sometimes in the history of our salvation the stars line up to portend amazing events. These stellar alignments are sometimes literally stellar, as in the...
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