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Can You Lie for a Good Cause?

Wednesday, February 09, 2011 3:00 AM Comments (154)

A reader writes:

I know that you regularly run moral issues on your blog, I thought you might be interested in this article from New Theological Movement: “It is a sin to lie, even to Planned Parenthood”.

Perhaps it would be something worth linking to?
In any case, I would be interested to here your take on the issue!

I hate to say it, because my loathing for Murder Inc. is so deep, but I basically tend to agree that it is wrong to take even a butcher down with lies.

That said, I wonder if some moral theologian could make a reasonable (as distinct from sophistical) case for videos like these under the same sort of logic that allows for feints, ruses and similar strategems in Just War theory.  We, for instance, misled the Nazis on our Sicilian invasion plans and they bought it.  We did not owe them the truth and it would have been foolish not to deceive them (see, for instance, The Man Who Never Was).  Can some similar logic be applied here?  Part of me wants to think so.  Part of me smelleth the scent of the familiar rat of “ends justifies the means” rationalization of evil.  After all, if it’s okay to lie for a good end here, why not millions of other lies too for all sorts of other good ends? That certainly worked well for that successful system dedicated to Future Good known as Communism.

All of which is to say, “I’m mostly opposed, but not enough of a moral theologian to say definitively what I think.” Had I been hiding Dutch Jews in my attic, I would have cheerfully lied to the Gestapo and figured out the fine moral issues later.  So if somebody could make a really good case for such deception that is not, in the end, just another consequentialist argument, I would be willing to listen. But I am frankly skeptical that such arguments are thick on the ground. Having watched for years now as Catholics eagerly throw themselves into ridiculous justifications of radical evil like abortion, torture and war crimes “for the Greater Good” I am extremely sensitive to “camel’s nose under the tent” justifications for arguments that boil down, in the end, to “Let us do evil that good may come of it.”  If you think you’ve got an argument for deceiving PP managers that is not, in the end, an argument that would not also authorize lying for any other good end, gimme your best shot.  But I’m not inclined to believe you.  After all, you are setting yourself the task of trying to get me to trust that somebody who approves of lying is not lying to me.

Filed under conundrums, mailbag

About Mark Shea

Mark Shea
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Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.