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.
Long ago, back when I used to have a real job instead of being a blathering pundit, I worked at the University of Washington. One day, my old boss got a promotion and it became necessary to replace him. The guy they hired turned out to have some baggage. It seemed that, a physiologist with a specialization in hypothermia, he had come across the medical research done at Dachau by Nazi physicians who were eager to find some way of keeping their flyers from freezing to death in the waters of the English Channel when they had to ditch their planes. Their solution: experiment on prisoners by, among other things, freezing them to death and then perform autopsies on the corpses they created with cool scientific efficiency. My boss raised the question, “Since the research was, apart from its immorality, scientifically sound, should we go ahead and use the data collected by the Nazis? After all, it could save a lot of lives.” As you might expect, there was some controversy surrounding him.
What struck me about the fracas was that it soon became apparent to me that people could arrive at the same conclusion by radically different routes. So, for me, it seemed pretty clear that there was no point in making the deaths of these victims utterly pointless by refusing to use the data in order to save lives. Obviously, that did not mean we should ever again permit such monstrous research. Merely that now that the research was a fait accompli, we could not change history, but we could take a step to redeem it.
My boss, however, had a different (and I think deeply sinister) approach to the same question. “Who are we,” he said, “to say that the scientists who did this were wrong? In their minds, they were doing what was necessary to win the war.” We wound up at the same basic conclusion—use the data—but he got there by denying that there was any wrongdoing possible in the means by which the end was achieved.
I think of this incident as I continue to ponder the problem of the Lila Rose sting videos. Once again, we are faced with the question of an urgent threat to human life. Once again, we are faced with the problem of what are legitimate means to save lives and souls from destruction. And much as I want to cheer for the idea of tricking Planned Parenthood into exposure as the evil organization they truly are, still try as I might, I find it impossible to disagree with Dawn Eden’s and William Doino, Jr.‘s assessment of the morality of lying to Planned Parenthood. Founding a culture of life on a culture of lies is just bound to come to grief no matter what the short term gains may be.
Not that I’m not delighted to see Planned Parenthood exposed for the despicable organization it is. I hope very much that more states and, indeed, the Feds, finally stop funding their evil and destructive mission. But try as I might, I can’t bring myself to agree that lying, which the Church calls intrinsically evil, stops being intrinsically evil when done for a good end. I therefore conclude there must be *some* other way of exposing this evil that doesn’t have to involve us in the project of lying for Jesus.
So does that mean I think the videos, having been made, should not be used? No. What’s done is done. The videos exist and show what they show and I hope they are seen far and wide, not least because they clearly demonstrate the fact that the evils they expose are not isolated lapses by individual clinics, but the obvious policy of Murder Inc. as a whole.
But that does not make right the means by which the data on PP was obtained, for it was obtained by the intrinsically evil means of lying just as the Dachau data (also valuable and lifesaving) was obtained by the intrinsically evil means of murder. So I also am persuaded that good as the redemption of God can be, it is a dangerous game to go on saying, “Let us do evil that good may come of it.” The words of St. Paul stand for all time as warning to Christians who think this an advisable course:
But if through my falsehood God’s truthfulness abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just. (Romans 3:7-8)
Lying, even to glorify God, is evil. Paul points in a different direction. Let Planned Parenthood defend themselves with lies, but let us not adopt their tactics, lest we adopt their philosophy that the ends justify the means. For as Paul says:
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, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. (2 Corinthians 10:3-6)
Some of the more excitable voices in this debate have said, “If we are allowed to kill in warfare, why not lie too?” The problem with this sort of talk is that it mistakes metaphor for reality. Because, in fact, this is not a literal war and the obvious proof of that is that the Church is in the forefront of opposing those who take it upon themselves to commit murder to stop abortion. As Cardinal O’Connor famously said, “If anyone has an urge to kill someone at an abortion clinic, they should shoot me. ... It discredits the right-to-life movement. Murder is murder. It’s madness. You cannot prevent killing by killing.”
Nor can you prevent lying by lying. Much as I hate to say it, because of my delight at seeing Planned Parenthood take serious body blows to their credibility, I think this approach has to stop and something else be done to defeat them.