Every once in a while there is a zealous group who will do nearly anything for their cause. Zeal is a wonderful thing. But, more often than not it's something that is fuled by the fires of an emotional reaction to some percieved evil. A deep pool of anger is unearthed by that percieved evil. This is good. Anger is an appropriate emotional response to injustice and other evils. The problem often occurs when that anger, that zeal, is misdirected or misused. A great example is the eco-terrorist who firebombs a parking lot of SUVs. He becomes the victor over something he believes is a large contributing factor to the harm of the earth's environment. However, by blowing up the SUVs he causes the release of more polluting toxins into the atmosphere than whould have been produced by those despised combustion engines.
Protecting the environment, good. Firebombing SUVs, bad.
Likewise, in the fight to save lives through the Pro-Life movement it is unacceptable to use immoral tactics to achieve the desired and laudable goal of saving innocent human life. If this is the first time you have heard this, I'm not surprised. You won't hear this from most people. In fact, sometimes the use of evil means to bring about a good is called heroic. This is because most of the English speaking world has been highly effected by the Philosophies of Utilitarianism and Consequentialism. And, in these philosophies all that really matters is the end result. People generally only want to know if some action worked to its desired end. The means used to achieve the desired end is either not considered or given only a passing consderation in the morality of an action. But, Catholics should not and cannot accept an "ends justifies the means" mentality. In fact, this is an ancient axiom held by many for good reason. It is not a uniquely Catholic notion but it is a deeply Catholic notion.
If we are escape the grasp of Utilitarian and Consequentialist ethics then we must take seriously the means that we use to achieve some laudable goal. So, contrary to common practice, if we want to catch a criminal we can't lie to him. The law allows this. But, just because something is legal doesn't make it morally acceptable. Waterboarding is legal. Is it morally acceptable? No. This is a very real and proximate example of doing evil to bring about some good. Likewise, if we want to expose the evil and sometimes illegal actions of the abortion industry we cannot expose them through evil actions. We cannot lie to them. Why?
Lying is always an evil. This is different than speaking a falsehood unintentionally. That should be clear. It is even different than speaking falsehood intentially. Few would argue that performing a dramatic play or doing a magic trick is evil. Lying has a very narrow definition. Lying is speaking a falsehood with the intention to deceive. According to this very concise definition lying doesn't pass the moral "smell test" in a number of ways.
- It violates the purpose of language
- It deprives the mind of truth
- It does violence to the dignity of things
- It is contrary to the common good
- Theologially speaking, Scripture tells lying doesn't please God
Now, I could unpack each of these and discuss all of the nuances. I won't. Instead, I will actually turn comments on for this post. I think that a firm understanding of this topic requires dialogue. So, take advantage of this opportunity. Comments will be a rare occurance on this blog.
But, I will say that all of the points that I listed are ways that lying is an action contrary to nature. This being the case, lying can never be a valid means to achieve a good end. An evil means pollutes the whole action no matter how good or noble an end.
We simply can't use the weapons of the enemy to fight in the cause of good. Every superhero story, every tale told to children to help build their moral character teaches us: It is harder to be good than bad. The hero follows rules that the villian can ignore.
Finally, Scripture warns us that we should never presume to do evil to bring about a good. Only God can bring good out of evil. The contrary would seem a great act of presumption.
God is the God of Truth, he is Truth itself, no falsehood can be found in Him. Likewise, in our conformity to Christ the same should be able to be said of each of us.