Reluctantly, Mark Shea has written once again on the Controversy of the Day, and hit it out of the ball park:
Let me reiterate, first and foremost, that I think the reward of the Hebrew midwives will (and should) be the reward of Lila Rose and her companions. The big fact here, which must not get lost in all the hurly burly of argumentation, is that Lila Rose fears God and, like the Hebrew midwives, deserves the reward they received from God. I fear that in all my talk-the-hind-leg-off-a-donkey verbiage about the specific question of lying for Jesus, that will be obscured. Indeed, with the passage of the Planned Parenthood defunding bill, I feel gratitude, as much as anybody, for the well-timed blow that she landed against this monstrous organization. Who cannot rejoice when the evil are brought low?
So let me say it up front. My purpose is not to condemn Lila Rose (may God give us a million more like her) but rather to deal with (as my post tried to discuss on Friday) the many, many bad arguments swirling about the blogosphere which are being put forward to defend, not her fear of God, but lying.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the reason this is such a big debate. The defenders of Lila Rose want to say, “But Planned Parenthood is EVIL! They kill BABIES!” But that is far less the topic than even Lila Rose’s actions. The real debate is the debate. And the real reason so many people are fired up seems to be that they’re mad they’re being accused of making bad arguments, and they’re mad that anyone would say it’s always wrong to lie, which puts their own lies (and possibly their own careers, if they’re cops, soldiers or spies or even salespeople) into question.
Various stabs have been made at saying that since it’s not a lie to deflect, mislead, or evade when the Nazis show up looking for the Jews, it’s also not a lie to walk up to somebody you deem to be doing evil, and give a false name, occupation and purpose. According to this theory, you aren’t “leading people into error” (i.e. you aren’t lying to make money, gain power, take vengeance or teach a false conclusion like “Satan is God” but are instead trying to show that PP is evil and stop sex trafficking), so it’s not lying. But this is as persuasive as saying it’s not lying to falsely claim you were miraculously healed of cancer in order to lead a gullible occultist out of his error and to the ultimate good end: Jesus the Way, the Truth and the Life. Good ends don’t make lies into “not-lies” just because we are trying to do a good thing by lying. . . .
But these do not exhaust our options. For one can also note that, in our panic about being accused of idiotic callousness toward innocent victims we have failed to notice that the notion that lying will save the Jews from the Nazis is dubious to start with. In other words “Lie or die!” is a false dilemma. Does anybody think that if I lie, the Gestapo will say, “Oh! Okay! Sorry to bother you! Have a nice day!” and not look in the attic anyway? Clearly the *real* trick is not to lie well but to *hide your Jews well*. Then you can say, “Look for yourself”, offer the Nazi a nice cup of tea, and speed him on his way with a “Seig Heil” without rousing suspicion, looking sweaty and guilty, and having to remember what you said. In short, a little forethought about what is morally permissible can actually help you do a better job of protecting your wards than just seat-of-the-pants “Let’s lie!” gut responses. Does this cover every possible situation? I doubt it. But it tends to get overlooked in the rush to create the dilemma for the sake of defending Lying for Jesus.
If they suspect you, they suspect you. If you say “yes,” as the parable I heard years ago on EWTN suggested, they’ll think you’re lying, anyway. If you lie, they’ll be able to tell. I personally maintain that the best response is to refuse to answer at all and stand there in prayer–preferably loudly–or else start preaching Jesus to them.
On the charge that those who are questioning or criticizing Lila Rose’s actions are somehow damaging the pro-life movement or don’t care about the work, etc:
It’s a peculiar sort of courage to anonymize oneself for the purpose of recklessly calling others cowards. I hope my readers will do me the kindness of giving the names of the many Catholic theologians who possess their gift of clairvoyance by which they know the personal histories of the critics of Lying for Jesus? Please do tell me about how I, William Doino, Dawn Eden, the New Theological Movement bloggers, and the solidly orthodox priests and philosophers who have questioned LA’s tactics in these very comboxes and across St. Blog’s have “not taken any real action” against abortion. I would like to share the fruits of my readers’ soul-reading with the folks I have supported and stood with at abortion clinics during 40 Days for Life, not to mention the many prolifers troubled by Lying for Jesus who have made great sacrifices and worked for years on behalf of the unborn.
On the point that Lila Rose’s actions aren’t going to do that much good in the long run, anyway:
C.S. Lewis once remarked that the devil is quite happy to concede a little ground if he can win the battle, to cure our chillblains if he can give us cancer. Embarrassing PP for a few days—indeed, passing a defunding bill (good as that is)—is curing chillblains (for, of course, the bill will either die in the Senate or most certainly be vetoed by Obama) and our feel-good moment will pass. Embracing the notion that ordinary resistance to abortion is “not taking any real action” and that the prolife movement can only survive by Lying for Jesus is cancer.
One last point. Passions tend to run high on this and it’s easy for people to break into factions. I’ve watched in horror on Facebook and in comboxes as some people who agree with me have adopted the pose of the prophet Elijah and stridently denounced anybody who even slightly disagrees as a “cafeteria Catholic” and worse. I’ve seen people say absurd things of Peter Kreeft (whose sandals I am unworthy to untie) like “I’ve read some of his books with what I thought was profit to myself and have used one of them as instructional material in RCIA instruction. Now I wonder if I can trust anything he says.” And, conversely, I’ve gotten hate mail from folks suggesting or saying that I am not merely mistaken, but an evil Pharisee and legalist secretly bent on supporting Planned Parenthood, destroying the Church, and killing the unborn. And so forth.
Some perspective. Everybody involved in this discussion—Lila Rose, Peter Kreeft, Dawn Eden, William Doino, The New Theological Movement, Frank Beckwith, Fr. Pavone, John Zmirak, Christopher Tollefson and the host of prolife Catholics chewing over this problem—are friends of the unborn, serious disciples of Jesus Christ and lovers of the Catholic Faith. We all want what’s best for both the Church and the unborn. Hurling epithets like “Pharisee” and “Cafeteria Catholic” or presuming malice instead of honest moral disagreement is destructive. So: a word to those who agree with me: These matters are *hard*. Everything is *not* cut and dried. Those with grave misgivings about my points are good people, not fifth columnists bent on subverting the Church. Peter Kreeft ended his essay (which I urge you to read) by saying, “I could be wrong.” Permit me to say the same. I could be wrong. But I don’t think I am and I am therefore obliged to speak my conscience as best I can just as those who disagree with me are. For that reason, I also ask those who disagree with me: cut some slack to those with moral qualms about lying and don’t presume we are stupid or evil. . . .
But (mark this) though I think Drs. Kreeft and Zmirak make bad arguments in this case, I think they are—like St. Thomas rejecting the Immaculate Conception—great men making bad arguments. Indeed, I think all the people I mention above are great people in whose company I am not worthy to sit. I also think several of them are wrong on this point. It does not follow that they are wrong about everything, untrustworthy, bad, etc. I love them as brothers and, particularly in Dr. Kreeft’s case, as mentors—and I remain the loyal opposition who pledges them my prayers and beseeches theirs and the prayers of all people of good will.
This brings me to the fantastic piece by my friend Chris Tollefson. One of my own attempted arguments in favor of Lila Rose is that, perhaps, completely adopting a false identity does not constitute lying. However, Tollefson argues this is the worst kind of lie, because, as Shakespeare said, “to thine own self be true”:
In so presenting himself, the “pimp,” and all those who abetted him, did damage to his own integrity, creating for himself an appearance in the world deliberately at odds with his inner self. But integrity—a unity of one’s acting self in all its aspects—is a great good, and we destroy that unity in a lie only at a great cost to our wellbeing (this cost is recognized in feelings of guilt and in our attempts to ensure that we do not present a false face to the world).
Chris’s piece is fantastic, but too brainy for short snippets. However, his summary, like Mark’s piece, hits the nail on the head:
So, while the increased scrutiny of Planned Parenthood is a good thing, and will conceivably lead to the even greater good of a general defunding of this morally bankrupt organization, I can take no joy in Live Action’s approach. They seem to have “fought fire with fire,” combating deceit and lack of charity with more of the same. The pro-life movement must be better than that, always, and it must be willing to engage in self-criticism when it fails to meet its own exacting standards.
Now, to some interesting points. Last summer, Matt C. Abbott interviewed Fr. Thomas Euteneuer about a movie called 12th and Delaware, which is apparently a pro-choice “documentary” and hit piece on crisis pregnancy centers.
Fr. Euteneuer applied a very baffling double standard:
“The tactics [of Ewing and Grady] are different from Lila Rose’s investigative work,” said Father Euteneuer in an e-mail. “Heidi and Rachel said directly that they would not film the abortion industry. Their stated intent was to create a documentary on the ‘untold story’ of crisis pregnancy centers, and it was only under that rubric that the Pregnancy Care Center entered into an agreement to film with them.”
Father says that if the filmmakers had been “forthright about their intentions from the beginning, we would never have worked with them because, as everyone in the pro-life movement knows, there is never a ‘fair’ presentation of our work. That is exactly what happened.”
Wait. So a documentary crew comes in and says, “We’re doing a documentary on CPCs.” You let them in the door, and then say, “If we knew it was a hit piece, we never would have let them in. They came in under false pretenses.” Yet it’s OK for Lila Rose, who is under a legal trespass ban from Planned Parenthood, to sneak in in disguise and illegally videotape conversations *without* presenting herself as a filmmaker, and that is somehow *not* false pretenses?
;He calls them “liars and deceivers” and says it confirms “everything that we know about pro-aborts,” whereas Lila Rose “is looking at one side only and exposing something categorically evil. There is no comparison.”
Guy definitely needed a break.
Abbott has also posted some commentary from Dawn Eden. Apparently, some young activist named James O’Keefe used similar tactics to Lila Rose’s Live Action to help “bring down” ACORN –indeed, like Lila Rose and her partner, O’Keefe and his dressed up as a pimp and a prostitute. O’Keefe was explicitly playing from the book of Obama mentor Saul Alinsky. Initially, Eden said that Live Action’s work was different in part because they did not specifically evoke Alinksy. Yet then she corrected herself after finding this speech, in which Lila (I’m never sure if “Rose” is her last name or she goes by first and middle to stay “anonymous”) specifically quotes Alinsky (albeit claiming he’s “right about a few things”):
Further, in a rather long piece called “Building a Culture of Lie,” Eden and collaborator William Doino, Jr. argue that Lila Rose also misunderstands Martin Luther King, Jr.:
Lila Rose’s public statements show her to be a highly gifted young woman of sincere Catholic faith. In interviews and speeches , she often cites Martin Luther King’s promotion of “creative extremists” in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail ” as an inspiration for her undercover work. We laud her desire to use her gifts to defend the unborn — but would invite her and her supporters to delve deeper into the quotation’s context.
Before using the term “creative extremists,” King specifies that he is not referring to extreme sin, but, rather, extreme goodness: “So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?”
The extension of justice, for the Church as well as for King, is an extension of Christ’s kingdom — a kingdom founded not on lies, but on the highest truth. Pope Benedict has written that “missionary work” — like that of building a culture of life — “requires, first and foremost, being prepared for martyrdom, a willingness to lose oneself for the sake of the truth and for the sake of others.” If workers for life are truly to extend the kingdom of Christ, such willingness to suffer temporary defeat or even death, rather than sin, is — or, rather, should be — the true live action.
This debate has been compared to the debate on torture, with many of the battle lines being the same. However, with Eden’s participation, and a few others, it makes me think of another debate: the debate a couple years ago over Christopher West’s interpretations of the Theology of the Body.
It is noteworthy that West, like Lila Rose, is hugely popular. In the case of Lila Rose, we have a debate over whether a particular practice (undercover work) that the Church has never directly addressed is either moral or immoral: in other words, an undefined issue. In the case of Christopher West, it’s debate over interpretation and teaching of John Paul II’s teachings on human sexuality. Both are the kinds of things well open to interpretation, and the debates among the “big names” mostly remained scholarly (though the West debates between the scholars were actually a bit more bitter), while the combox wars in both cases are extremely heated.
Last year, West went on a sabbatical for 6 months to consider the criticisms and make revisions to his course curriculum. That’s humility.
Other than guidance on whether it’s OK to support her work or use her videos, and other than clarity on the morality of some kinds of acts that all of us do from time to time (such as in my old job, where I was asked at times to pretend to be a college student and call around to other colleges), the most any of Lila Rose’s “critics” have said is that they hope she shows some humility and introspection and considers the ethics of her actions, and perhaps makes some changes about how she does things. Why people are getting so worked up about this, accusing Shea, Tollefson, Hargrave, Eden, etc., of being agents of Satan and so on, is beyond me. If Lila Rose can show the same amount of humility that Christopher West did, I think that’s all anyone’s asking for.
Having shared these quotations, which nicely sum up many of my thoughts on this admittedly complex issue, I’m going to await the response from the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith.