Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Eighth Commandment and Consequentialism

Christine of Laudem Gloriae reflects upon the gravity of keeping the Eighth Commandment as well as the necessity of prudence and discernment when dealing with criminality. To quote:
Be cunning as serpents and innocent as doves. -Matt. 10:16
The thing about armchair theologians (particularly if they are recent converts) who pontificate in absolute terms over moral issues so nuanced even the saints couldn't agree on them is that they are usually wrong. Would that some of these people had the humility to recognize this--or at least refrain from their vociferous opining in order to spend more time contemplating the issue.

I refer in particular to the lively debate over Lila Rose's sting operation exposing Planned Parenthood's illegal practices. There is a group of Catholics who have criticized her for using deception in her undercover work, and since a lie is always sinful, her actions were not ideal. The other group, proponents of common sense, argue that her actions do not fall within the Church's definition of a lie, and therefore she was justified in deceiving PP. The former accuse the latter of consequentialism, whereas the latter accuse the former of committing a category mistake.

Dr. Peter Kreeft, Catholic philosopher and advocate of common sense, writes about Lila Rose:
I want to say...about Live Action: not only (1) that its actions were right but (2) that they were very clearly right.
I think they [critics] are so (rightly) afraid of moral relativism that they have (wrongly) fallen into moral legalism.
If anyone is more certain of his philosophical principles than he is that this deception is good [the Dutch lying to the Nazis about the Jews' whereabouts], I say he is not functioning as a human being but as a computer, an angel, a Gnostic, or a Kantian.
Thomas Aquinas argued, when confronted with the deceptive actions of Rahab, Judith, and the Egyptian midwives, that God did not reward their mendacity, but rather their good intentions. That may or may not be; Aquinas also argued in favor of torture in some circumstances, so he is no infallible authority. In any case, it's very difficult to square his reasoning with the Book of Judith, which hinges entirely on the widow's deception of the Assyrian king to bring about Israel's victory. She doesn't simply lie to get through the gate--she lies abundantly to King Holofernes, promising to lead him to the Israelites, promising that the Israelites will be gathered under him as their new leader, that they will gladly submit, etc. And once she gets him drunk, she cuts off his head. What's more, before she embarks on her adventure, she fasts in sackcloth and ashes, and prays to the Lord,
Let my guileful speech bring wound and wale on those who have planned dire things against your covenant, your holy temple, Mount Zion, and the homes your children have inherited. Let your whole nation and all the tribes know clearly that you are the God of all power and might, and that there is no other who protects the people of Israel but you alone. -Jud. 9:13-14
For all this, she is considered a heroine to the Hebrews, an instrument raised up by the hand of God Himself to deliver them--but it was entirely accomplished through her deceit! Aquinas simply does not deal with this, and Catholics are left to wonder whether maybe, just maybe, it's not as black and white as some would make it.
He said to him, "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments."
In other words, the law can only be understood, can only be interpreted in the light of love--love of God, and love of neighbor. If we are more concerned about technically fulfilling a narrow definition of lying than we are about protecting our neighbor, then we have missed the point altogether. And even if this moral issue is far from crystal clear, one thing I do know--God is far more pleased with Lila Rose's sincere efforts to stop the abortion industry than he is with the self-righteous proclamations of these self-appointed moral ethicists, no matter how well-intentioned they may be.

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