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The Ethics of Lying: One Humanist’s View

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Filed under Morality

Anne Frank

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second of a three-part series on the morality of lying. Our first post came yesterday from Deacon Jim Russell. Today, we hear from atheist blogger James Croft. And tomorrow we'll hear from Patheos Catholic blogger Leah Libresco.


 
The UK's Guardian newspaper once relayed a well-known Broadway legend regarding a theatrical version of Anne Frank's diary:
 

"When the play was revived in New York some years back its lead actress, Pia Zadora, was frankly not adequate in the title role. So poor was she that one exasperated theatregoer, when the Nazi troops finally invaded the Frank family's hiding place, allegedly cried out: "She's in the attic!""

 
This legend—a favorite of my father, who joyfully retells it after almost every terrible theatrical performance we see—neatly highlights the difficulty of devising a simple rule to govern the ethics of lying. It seems intuitively clear that the audience member—however we might sympathize with their plight—were they in the position to actually reveal Anne Frank's location to the Nazi troops, would have done a clear moral wrong by condemning someone to death, even though they told the truth. In such a situation—when telling the truth to those who mean another harm would lead to terrible harm being caused—it seems obviously wicked to say that lying (in the commonly-used sense of "purposefully not telling the truth") would be morally wrong. The ethics of lying are complex, and the view of St. Augustine as glossed by Deacon Jim—that "all spoken falsehood with intention to deceive is immoral"—seems immediately inadequate.

Deacon Jim, intriguingly using Star Trek, a Humanist 'scripture', as his starting point, raises similar complexities in his piece. He points out that, "For two thousand years, the Catholic Church has left this question somewhat unsettled: whether or not all falsehoods spoken with the intention to deceive are immoral acts of "lying.""

Humanists are quite happy with "unsettled" questions of this sort. The Humanist approach to morals and ethics does not seek to offer a set of "settled" rules for conduct which will guide a person easily through every quandary. Recognizing the complexity of our moral lives, and the infinite potential situations which might be faced by any given person, or by a society, Humanists prefer to construct robust moral and ethical principles to guide action, and are quite unsurprised when these principles collide in interesting and challenging ways.

There are principled reasons to avoid ethical dictums which the idea of "settling" ethical questions brings to my mind: consider, for instance, the extraordinary harm which has been caused by the Catholic insistence that artificial forms contraception not be used. As our technology, our conceptions of human sexuality, and our knowledge regarding how diseases can be spread through sex have all advanced, this teaching should certainly be revised, but its status as a "settled" ethical issue prevents progress and causes significant suffering.

Seeking to "settle" the question of lying—by determining some fixed rubric by which we would decide whether, for instance, (to use Deacon Jim's example) "all falsehoods spoken with intention to deceive are immoral acts of “lying,” or not"—would, in a similar way, be to deny the inherent complexity of human relationships and to close down opportunities for future growth in our moral and ethical understanding.

The position of judgment Catholics are placed in by the "unsettled" nature of Catholic teaching regarding lying is a good position—it's the position we should be in regarding all judgments which affect others (I will leave aside the highly dubious claim that "The Church completely recognizes and respects the rights of conscience of its Catholic members").

Toward an Ethic of Goodwill

 
Having said this, what might be broad moral and ethical principles which should guide human conduct in this area? I think Deacon Jim gives us a way to approach this question when he raises what he calls "the 'societal' or 'common-good' aspect of truth-telling":
 

"The stability of human society really depends on the good will that ought to exist among individuals, and that common good can only be realized by truthfulness."

 
While I certainly agree that many other societal goods depend on good will between members of a community, there is good reason to doubt "that common good can only be realized by truthfulness." Indeed, the apocryphal anecdote with which I began speaks against this view: the audience member imagining themselves to be revealing Anne Frank's location, though speaking truthfully, is not promoting the common good or improving good will between members of the society. Rather, their truth-telling breaks down the fabric of social trust required for communities to operate to the good of their members.

How so? Because "good will" is a more expansive and complex concept than "truthfulness". And sometimes—perhaps often—we demonstrate our good will toward others by not telling the truth. This is perhaps why the Eighth Commandment charges people not to "bear false witness", rather than simply never to lie: it is the harm caused to another by lying which is the object of primary condemnation, and often we will demonstrate more good will toward our neighbor by being equivocal (rather than ruthless) with the truth.

Ultimately, to live happily in society among others, we do not want to live with ruthless truth-tellers who always tell the full truth regardless of any contextual factors. Rather, we want to live beside people who have our good in mind, and who act to maximize our good—even though this may lead them to be equivocal with the truth at times. Humanists accept the many ethical complexities such a position places us in, and recognize that all ethical reasoning—just like the Catholic position on lying—is "ultimately a work in progress." Felix Adler's ethical maxim should be the guiding principle, not some ossified rule regarding truth-telling:
 

“Act so as to elicit the best in others, and thereby in thyself.”

 
 
(Image credit: The Independent)

James Croft

Written by

James Croft is a candidate for an Ed.D in Human Development and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE). He works alongside Greg Epstein as Research and Education Fellow at the Humanist Community at Harvard, trying to create a true Humanist fellowship in Cambridge, Massachusetts. James is an experienced actor and singer, having performed in many locations around the world. A committed Humanist and a Humanist Celebrant, he's also an Assistant Editor at The New Humanism and a Contributing Scholar for State of Formation. His blog at Patheos is titled Temple of the Future.

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  • 42Oolon

    Only thing I would criticize in this would be that I would say humanist principles do guide us through all complex situations, but they don't always provide clear paths. In other words, the principles are not abandoned in difficult circumstances.

    In contrast, one would expect followers of the just and true God to be able to do better. That the infallible church would not need to take 2000 years to interpret the eighth commandment. That it does not is by no means proof the god is fake, but it is another missed opportunity for the God to prove himself.

    • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

      That the infallible church would not need to take 2000 years to interpret the eighth commandment.

      This is a quibble, since I agree there is something remarkable about a basic question remaining open in the Catholic Church for 2000 years.

      It seems to me pointless and wrongheaded to try to cram all moral precepts into the Ten Commandments. "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" did not prohibit all lying when it was promulgated, and it doesn't today.

      • 42Oolon

        You're right. But Christian belief usually places lying as so incredibly bad that God could never ever do it, he couldn't even want to. This is unlike killing in which God often does it and helps others in. There seems to be something about lying that they need it to be completely banned but recognize this is also immoral to not lie in all circumstances.

        • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

          In my opinion, in the story of Adam and Eve, God does not tell Adam the truth about eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The serpent tells the truth, and after Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit, God confirms what the serpent said word for word.

          • 42Oolon

            I agree and the equivocation from apologists on "death" is ridiculous. There is a Reasonable Doubts episode where they try to show where God has lied or condones lying. The response from theists is illuminating.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You're gonna have to explain this one.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            You're gonna have to explain this one.

            It is plain as day right there in Genesis 3.

            But the serpent said to the woman: "You certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is bad."

            Adam and Eve don't die. And God echoes the serpent's very words, saying, "See! The man has become like one of us, knowing what is good and what is bad!"

            To assume that what God meant was that Adam and Eve would die someday if they ate from the tree is necessarily to assume that Adam and Eve were either created immortal or were going to be allowed to eat from the Tree of Life. But that is nowhere in the text. The Christian interpretation is that the sin of Adam and Eve brought death into the world, but that is certainly not in Genesis.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Any person who reads Genesis 3 will have to interpret it. I have to reject any interpretation which attributes a lie to God and truth telling to the serpent.

          • Joseph R.

            ..necessarily to assume that Adam and Eve were either created immortal

            If they were in fact initially created immortal, but died someday and brought death into the world because they ate from the tree, in your mind what are some of the challenges this would pose, i.e. how would it show God to have lied?

  • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

    I think it is interesting to contrast the issue of lying as an open question in Catholicism with the issue of contraception, which many would consider to be settled and final (although I personally don't think Humanae Vitae comes close to being infallible by the criteria set by the Church for infallible pronouncements).

    The absolutist position on contraception seems to me to be very similar to the absolutist position on lying. The position on contraception is that sex is for reproduction and anything that gets in the way of its reproductive purpose renders it immoral. The absolutist position on lying is that speech is for communicating the truth, and anything that gets in the way of its purpose of communicating truth renders it immoral. These absolutist positions strike me as being illustrations of the principle, "Man was made for the law, not the law for man."

    • ziad

      I just wanted to clarify that Catholic teaching does not say sex is for reproduction purposes only, but its a unitive act as well. you cannot take one without distorting the other. This is why the church is against both in vitro fertilization and contraception. One tries to achieve reproduction without uniting the husband and wife in the sexual act, and the other tries to remove the gift of giving oneself to the other fully and be open to participating in God's creation in order to pleasure oneself.
      There is a difference in that matter, and that is the church gives us solutions to the problem of contraception. Abstinence is seen as impossible in today's culture, which is not true.

      • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

        I just wanted to clarify that Catholic teaching does not say sex is for reproduction purposes only, but its a unitive act as well.

        I agree that is what the Church teaches, which is why I said "sex is for reproduction," not sex is only for reproduction. For a very long time in the Church, the unitive purpose of sex was not recognized, and someone as influential as St. Augustine said

        It is one thing to lie together with the sole will of generating: this has no fault. It is another to seek the pleasure of flesh in lying, although within the limits of marriage, this has venial fault.

        To attempt to derive pleasure from sex, even for married people, was a sin. This is not, of course, the position of the Church today. Nevertheless, it seems to me that all the "rules" about sex in Catholicism are about sex within marriage being procreative. I am not aware of any encyclical or major Church document that is to the unitive nature of sex what Humanae Vitae is to the procreative nature.

        • Joseph R.

          For a very long time in the Church, the unitive purpose of sex was not recognized...To attempt to derive pleasure from sex, even for married people, was a sin.

          David, your interpretation of St. Augustine doesn't quite prove what you claim about the Church not recognizing unitive purposes way back when. His statement on the manner can be interpreted to be in accord with present Church teaching since intercourse cannot be unitive if one spouse were to merely "seek the pleasure of flesh" using the other. In other words, yes, it is still a sin to objectify anyone - even a spouse. St. Augustine seems to be making distinctions of culpability.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            His statement on the manner can be interpreted to be in accord with present Church teaching since intercourse cannot be unitive if one spouse were to merely "seek the pleasure of flesh" using the other.

            Catholic married couples today are free to engage in sexual intercourse for pleasure as long as they leave the sex act open to procreation. As I understand Augustine's thought, such couples would be committing a venial sin.

            There is nothing in the quote I reproduced to indicate that Augustine was talking of one partner seeking pleasure by using the other. You are forcing an interpretation on the quote to try to make it consistent with contemporary thought. I am not sure why you find that necessary. Augustine is a towering figure in Catholic thought, but not everything he said, and not everything other towering figures (like Aquinas) said is in harmony with 21st-century Catholic teaching. In defending the position that the Church has never taught error, it is completely unnecessary to harmonize everything Augustine or Aquinas ever said with Church teaching of today.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            "Catholic married couples today are free to engage in sexual intercourse for pleasure as long as they leave the sex act open to procreation. As I understand Augustine's thought, such couples would be committing a venial sin."

            ...in Augustine's opinion. But this has never been the official teaching of the Catholic Church.

            In an effort to accurately represent those you disagree with, please remember that the Catholic Church doesn't embrace every teaching of every major theologian, even her more gifted.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            In an effort to accurately represent those you disagree with, please remember that the Catholic Church doesn't embrace every teaching of every major theologian, even her more gifted ones.

            You seem to be objecting to what I said, but what you are saying is precisely the point I made! I said:

            Augustine is a towering figure in Catholic thought, but not everything he said, and not everything other towering figures (like Aquinas) said is in harmony with 21st-century Catholic teaching. In defending the position that the Church has never taught error, it is completely
            unnecessary to harmonize everything Augustine or Aquinas ever said with Church teaching of today.

          • Joseph R.

            Catholic married couples today are free to engage in sexual intercourse for pleasure as long as they leave the sex act open to procreation. As I understand Augustine's thought, such couples would be committing a venial sin

            As I understand it, Catholic married couples today are mostly free to sexually reproduce (a biological process which is prefaced by sexual intercourse). We know that sexual intercourse is sometimes (maybe rarely) pleasurable, and we also know that sometimes (maybe rarely) reproduction is achieved. The point is that the natural purpose of sexual intercourse is sexual reproduction - a purpose which is not to be severed from the act that achieves it.

            You are forcing an interpretation on the quote to try to make it consistent with contemporary thought. I am not sure why you find that necessary. Augustine is a towering figure in Catholic thought, but not everything he said, and not everything other towering figures (like Aquinas) said is in harmony with 21st-century Catholic teaching.

            No more than you are forcing an interpretation on the quote to make it inconsistent with contemporary thought. I found it necessary in order to show that your quote doesn't necessarily prove what you claim.

            I do agree about the harmony thing. So yes, it is completely unnecessary to harmonize everything some towering figure said.

            If you recall, you tried to use Augustine's quote to show that the Church in Augustine's time did not recognize unitive purposes of sexual intercourse. If we agree that not everything needs to be harmonized (and then you suggest that this statement by Augustine fits that condition), one cannot claim that the Church did not recognize unitive purposes in Augustine's time, only that Augustine did not: for Augustine is not the Church!

            In defending the position that the Church has never taught error, it is completely unnecessary to harmonize everything Augustine or Aquinas ever said with Church teaching of today.

            So without any further information, are we agreeing that St. Augustine may have been at odds with the Church's past recognition on this matter?

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            We know that sexual intercourse is sometimes (maybe rarely) pleasurable, and we also know that sometimes (maybe rarely) reproduction is achieved.

            Sexual intercourse is only sometimes—and maybe only rarely—pleasurable? Really?

            So without any further information, are we agreeing that St. Augustine may have been at odds with the Church's past recognition on the pleasure vs generation issue?

            St. Augustine died in 430 A.D. I think it probably wouldn't even make sense to claim that the Church in the 5th century had an official position on the relationship between the unitive and procreative purposes of sex. I think it is fair to say (and universally acknowledged) that St. Augustine's views on sex were very influential, and that Augustine believed that sex for pleasure, even for married couples, was sinful (but not seriously so—that is, not a mortal sin). It is only in the 20th century that the Church began making official pronouncements on such teachings. Pius XII in Casti Connubii officially recognized a unitive purpose for marital sex, and he regarded it as secondary to procreation. Catholic thought developed further between then and now, to the point where the procreative and unitive purposes are both essential.

            So, in brief, I would say no, St. Augustine wasn't at odds with the early Church on the matter of sexuality. He was "in on the ground floor" in shaping the Church's view on sexuality. But his idea that in marriage, sex for pleasure (but open to procreation) is sinful is against Catholic teaching.

          • Joseph R.

            Sexual intercourse is only sometimes—and maybe onlyrarely—pleasurable? Really?

            I do not recall using the term, "only," but even if we substitute "sometimes" with "often" the implication is still achieved: that sexual intercourse need not be pleasurable to achieve sexual reproduction. I'm sorry if I wasn't clear. Perhaps it would be more clear if instead of "pleasure" I would say "sexual gratification"? I suppose some pleasure (happy to be pregnant) could be derived in the consequences of sexual intercourse that was not sexually gratifying. I'm trying not to equivocate so bear with me.

            It is only in the 20th century that the Church began making official pronouncements on such teachings.

            I appreciate you sharing your historical knowledge. I now understand that by sharing what St. Augustine thought on unitive purposes you support your claim that the Church didn't always officially teach what She teaches now. (Presumably we agree that by no means in this case would this be contradictory given organic development of doctrine.)

            But his idea that in marriage, sex for pleasure (but open to procreation) is sinful is against Catholic teaching.

            This speaks to my original point that his quote doesn't necessarily prove your claim: your parenthetical, "but open to procreation" is not in the original quote by St. Augustine. I maintain there is exegetical cushion to harmonize his ideas with ~20th century teachings, even if the harmonization isn't completely necessary. This isn't to deny your interpretation that it could be opposed to ~20th century teaching, only that it could go both ways without affecting the development of the current teaching as you stated it.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            I maintain there is exegetical cushion to harmonize his ideas with ~20th century teachings, even if the harmonization isn't completely necessary.

            I think what you are saying is that if someone is clever enough and works at it long enough, they can make an argument that, despite what Augustine appeared to say about the sinfulness of deliberately deriving pleasure from sex in marriage, he really didn't mean it the way he sounds, and that his views are fully consistent with the view that developed in the 20th century that the procreative and unitive purposes of sex are co-equal.

            I don't doubt that people have already made such attempts at harmonization, although it bewilders me that anybody thinks it is necessary to try to demonstrate someone from the fifth century, because he is a great saint, had a 21st-century view of sex and marriage. The Church has never claimed the infallibility of the saints, and I think such exercises in trying to make long-dead saints in the Catholic Church appear correct in all their views undermines rather than helps Catholicism. It is one thing to claim that Catholic dogma never changes. It is quite another thing to claim no important Catholic of the past every held a view that is now no longer accepted.

          • Joseph R.

            I think what you are saying is that if someone is clever enough and works at it long enough, they can make an argument that, despite what Augustine appeared to say about the sinfulness of deliberately deriving pleasure from sex in marriage, he really didn't mean it the way he sounds...

            David, the issue between us is that you are convinced you are interpreting him correctly and then accuse me of interpreting him as though it's some huge stretch to interpret him in harmony with current Church teaching. The fact that St. Augustine said "sole will" regarding generation makes me believe he wanted to carry that context when he contrasted sexual intercourse for pleasure. The way it sounds to me is obviously not the way it sounds to you; the difference is that you think you interpret him correctly, and I think either of our interpretations are reasonable.

            I don't doubt that people have already made such attempts at harmonization...

            I didn't know we were talking about the attempts of others.

            ... although it bewilders me that anybody thinks it is necessary to try to demonstrate someone from the fifth century, because he is a great saint, had a 21st-century view of sex and marriage.

            Although it bewilders me that anybody thinks it is necessary to demonstrate that someone from the fifth century had a 5th century view of sex and marriage.

            Would you like to keep playing that game or do you want to actually add to the discussion? Please refrain from assuming that you know what my intentions are.

            The Church has never claimed the infallibility of the saints...

            Agreed.

            and I think such exercises in trying to make long-dead saints in the Catholic Church appear correct in all their views undermines rather than helps Catholicism.

            Ok, but weren't we simply talking about one view of one saint? Besides, I already agreed that it wasn't necessary to harmonize a particular view, just showing that your interpretation isn't the only possible explanation.

            It is one thing to claim that Catholic dogma never changes. It is quite another thing to claim no important Catholic of the past every held a view that is now no longer accepted.

            Are you attributing these claims to me? I deny that I have made or hold to such claims.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Are you attributing these claims to me?

            No, I am not attributing any particular claims to you. But there is among some Catholics a tendency to want to "homogenize" the complete history of the Church and argue that there have never been changes of any significance from the time of the apostles to the present. For example, although sacramental theology took well over a thousand years to develop into the form we recognize today, I have been in discussions in which people have insisted that Augustine thought of marriage as a sacrament the way we think of it today. That is simply not true. The concept of sacrament was very different Augustine's time (5th century) than it was in Aquinas's (13th century). It is just mistaken to read the sacramental theology of the 21st or the 13th century back into Augustine's writings of the 5th century.

            I don't think it makes much sense to continue this without going much more deeply into Augustine's thoughts on sex and marriage than plucking a few quotes here and there. I do not pretend to be an expert on the life and thought of Aquinas, but it is my opinion that if we could send, say, Benedict XVI back to the 5th century in a time machine to discuss marriage and sexuality, there would be some rather fundamental disagreements between them. As you say, it should be no surprise that even one of the greatest minds in the Church who lived in the 5th century would have a 5th century understanding of marriage and sex.

          • Joseph R.

            Befitting of a positive note on which we end this discussion:

            St. Augustine, pray for us.

  • 42Oolon

    I cannot help but bring up Jacob and Esau. Jacob clearly lies to Isaac in order for personal gain. This deception is rewarded and Jacob goes on to be immensely rewarded. What possible good moral point could there be in this story? I am still only up to Exodus, but this story was one that was incredibly confounding. Was lying for personal gain okay then?

    • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

      Both you and St. Augustine have had to struggle with the Jacob/Esau story. Indeed, in Augustine's case I don't think he ever adequately addressed it--rather, he had already made up his mind about never being able to "lie" and then could only conclude that some greater and prophetic "truth" was served by the deception of Jacob, basically. I don't think Augustine ever fully resolved this example.
      Jacob as "supplanter" and a deceiver and one full of guile and cunning certainly remained a running theme in the nation of Israel--but the circumstances were such that his deception was seen as justifiable since the birthright was technically "owed" to him. Even in John's Gospel, in the first chapter, Jesus says, with ironic humor, of Nathanael, "Behold an Israelite in whom there is no guile" ....

      • 42Oolon

        I just think we need to try and look at this objectively. Lot's wife gets turned into salt for looking at God's work. This is immediate punishment for violating what seems to me to be an arbitrary command and brutal punishment.

        On the other had Jacob intentionally lies and deceives his father violating at least 2 commandments and acting utterly contrary to god's morality. There is no punishment for this, no chastising, no earthly justice at least. Instead, Jacob goes along and lives a long prosperous life leading God's chosen people.

        What is the difference? Jacob while immoral, did not disobey any direct command of god. Lot's wife, did disobey a command. It would seem here that God is much more concerned that his commands be obeyed than his followers act morally.

        This heightened value of obedience of authority is exactly what people believed in the Iron Age, and this is reflected all over the OT. I think it is all fables, myths and tales. The God you believe in would have done better.

        • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

          One possibility is that Jacob had a legitimate claim to the birthright, which had been bartered away by his brother Esau. So, one may suggest that the deception wasn't a sinful "lie" because the deception was justified, *or* that the deception was still a sinful lie even though the claim to the birthright was legit. Either way, the episode's inclusion in Scripture is not there to resolve the morality of lying and deception. Its purpose as Scripture is more "big picture". Further, the Church is also very aware that the *human* authors of the texts themselves express the truths that the Holy Spirit wants asserted in obviously human fashion. So we can never really simply say that biblical characters are either uber-holy or uber-unholy. Developing a moral framework from Scripture alone would be very very difficult...

    • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

      "This deception is rewarded and Jacob goes on to be immensely rewarded. What possible good moral point could there be in this story?"

      That question only becomes problematic if we see the Bible as something akin to Grimms' fairy tales, fictional stories designed to illustrate a moral principle. But the Scriptures aren't like that. They record history as it was. Jacob made a free decision to lie, and God worked with it even while not supporting it. In a sense, this is the overarching theme of the entire Old Testament: God working with the free choices of his sinful people to bring about his purposes.

      • John Bell

        "But the Scriptures aren't like that. They record history as it was."

        Does this mean you believe the flood story is true?

        • ziad

          John,

          There was an archaeological study done not long ago that showed a big (local) flood did in fact happen in the region. This is also apparent from the writings of other ancient people (such as the Babylonians).

          See the following link

          http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2012/12/11/noahs-biblical-flood-actually-happened-says-famed-archeologist-who-found-the-titanic/

          • John Bell

            The study is not conclusive. There was flooding activity but the size and timing are unknown. Regardless, the story is not about a big local flood. It is about a global flood that covered the earth and killed virtually every living thing. And, it's about a family which managed to collect an astonishing variety of animals and survive this incredible catastrophe. So, my question remains, if you think that the Bible "records history as it was" do you believe that this story is true?

          • ziad

            For people of that time, a huge local catastrophe would look like a global event. We as Catholics are not obliged to take everything in a literal sense. We try to understand the authors and where they are coming from. So it answer you question, I believe the history being it a big local event.

          • John Bell

            Seems odd that a god couldn't be more clear in his book. I guess it's just more evidence that your god is an incompetent buffoon.

          • Joseph R.

            ...Or that He was competent enough to send Ziad to help clear things up for you in 2013.

          • John Bell

            He hasn't cleared anything up. Just offered the same old excuses.

          • Joseph R.

            How else do you expect someone to respond to the same old objections?

          • ziad

            John,

            Some religions, like Islam, believe their "inspired" book came strictly from God and no human hand in it. Christianity is very different. Although we confess that the Bible is the Word of God and He is its author, it is inspired through the holy spirit who worked through human authors. So we confess also that there are human elements in it and that the Holy Spirit did not invade the mind of the authors, but rather worked through them. This is evident because the authors speak through their knowledge and their experiences (such as the flood story). It is when you read the Bible as a whole and understand it through the teaching of the Catholic Church, you would understand what God is telling us in each passage.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            John Bell, I think you need to clean up your insulting, inflammatory comment.

          • John Bell

            I disagree. If anything, I should pick up the pace. Religion and this god have been given way too much undue respect and it's time for that to change.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            This is supposed to be a place of dialogue, not disrespect.

          • John Bell

            Those aren't mutually exclusive.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            They are if you expect anyone to dialogue with you.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            "I disagree. If anything, I should pick up the pace. Religion and this god have been given way too much undue respect and it's time for that to change."

            Then this isn't the place for you, John. Thanks for stopping by.

          • 42Oolon

            Then why tell Noah to get all these animals on the boat? It doesn't make sense unless God is killing all other humans and animals. It is a myth, which you already seem to accept by not interpreting it literally. Not to mention what exactly are the authors on about in the Noah story? God knew all along that he was going to send his son to redeem humanity. Why bother killing all but one family generations earlier? Did God not know that humanity was going to keep on sinning anyway? Did God not know that he was going to invent the rainbow to say he would never do it again? Why do it in the first place. It doesn't even make sense as fiction. Its a myth, like Gilgamesh and Beowulf. It reflects a human impression of gods as rash, and toying with humanity.

          • ziad

            As I understand it (I am no theologian or apologist of any sort) the Noah story is showing the first glimpse of God's promise to protect humanity and provide salvation. Bringing all the animals and saving them is a sign of new creation, new beginning where man is not left alone to meet his doom.

      • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

        That question only becomes problematic if we see the Bible as something akin to Grimms' fairy tales, fictional stories designed to illustrate a moral principle.

        But it is not uncommon to hear the argument that the Bible teaches us that polygamy is wrong because very often there is some kind of strife depicted in Old Testament stories in which polygamy plays a part. I think that argument is an example of the same kind of approach to the Bible as you are criticizing here. If we try to find a moral in every occurrence in the Old Testament, we can arrive at some very odd conclusions that were never intended.

        • Randy Gritter

          You are right. Bible interpreters call this the prescriptive/descriptive problem. When is the bible telling us a story to prescribe behavior and when is it just describing events. As Catholics we have sacred tradition and the church to clarify things. Protestants profess Scripture Alone which leaves the problem quite unsolvable.

      • 42Oolon

        So how did God "work with" Jacob? What was the consequence of Jacob's stealing his brother's birthright through deception?

        • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

          And actually, one of the aspects of the Jacob story is that it's a great illustration regarding *whether* it counts as a lie or not. Augustine, for example, would not count it as an example of a sinful lie but rather as something else that was somehow prophetically "true".
          The odd thing is that, even though I defend the right to form conscience apart from the common teaching on lying, I'm more inclined to agree with Brandon (and against Augustine's excusing of Jacob) that Jacob's falsehood was a lie (and sinful) because of its selfishness. Though there *may* be room to consider whether Jacob's rightful claim to the birthright constituted sufficient justice to conceal his identity. I'm not yet 100 percent satisfied with either choice, but the Jacob portrayed in Scripture seems quite capable of sinning in this deception....

      • Kevin Aldrich

        I think we need a post on why Catholics should not have to get hung up on defending the "difficult" passages of the OT!

      • picklefactory

        But the Scriptures aren't like that. They record history as it was.

        I LOL'd.

  • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

    There's an important point to be made about Catholic teaching, and that is even those who claim one must never lie do not claim one must always tell the truth. For example, the audience member in the very funny story about the Anne Frank play volunteers the truth, which is quite different from lying when asked a direct question. Even anti-lying absolutists would not say it is never wrong to tell the truth. Gossip, for example, can be true. Libelous statements can be true. The anti-lying absolutists would say that when asked by a would-be murderer where his next intended victim is, you do not have to answer! And if you answer, you do not have to respond with the truth. You can say, for example, "How in the world would I know where she is?" Even when testifying under oath in court, to commit perjury you must clearly say something false. If a witness is clever enough to throw the questioning off track and leave the impression he has been responsive, he is not committing perjury.

    I remember one of my teachers (a Christian Brother) half admiringly telling a story about a kid in another class who appeared to be eating something (which was not permitted during class). He saw the kid chewing and said, "Are you eating candy?" The kid replied, "No!" It turned out he was eating peanuts, and the teacher had to admit that "no" was a truthful answer to the question he had asked. Technically, the kid was not required to say, "No, I am not eating candy. I am eating peanuts."

    • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

      Yes, and the theological tradition of "mental reservation" is also associated with this--we don't have to speak the truth, we can remain silent. But if silence is inadequate to the task, how much can we say--combined with what we do *not* say--to safeguard truth or do good? Mental reservation is that middle-road attempt to address the many special cases in which silence cannot adequately safeguard truth or the good....

  • Kevin Aldrich

    Since Croft has devoted a whole paragraph of a brief OP to a side issue, contraception, with the claim that the teachings of Humanae Vitae have caused "extraordinary harm," I'd like to see him back up that claim with evidence. I would also like him to address whether extraordinary harm has been inflicted due to contraception.

    • Randy Gritter

      He is actually making an argument for the other side without knowing it. Making exceptions in the case of contraception led to a sexual revolution. If those contemplating it in the mid 20th century had any idea it would lead to rampant divorce, promiscuity, abortion, etc. then very few would have supported it. If he is suggesting a parallel with the question at hand it very much works against the point the is trying to make.

      • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

        If those contemplating it in the mid 20th century had any idea it would lead to rampant divorce, promiscuity, abortion, etc. then very few would have supported it.

        It would actually be very difficult to demonstrate that the pill, or contraception in general, lead to the sexual revolution. I certainly don't think it did. Nor do I think Humanae Vitae was "prophetic."

        • Randy Gritter

          That is confusing to me. Certainly there were other factors like the spread of pornography enabled by technology. Still denying the importance of the pill just seems weird. If sex does not lead to children then why wait for marriage? The kind of relationship required for sex then got to be less and less serious until it was accepted with no relationship at all. Is any of this controversial?

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            I don't think this is the right place to debate what caused the "sexual revolution" (I am not even sure the name is apt), but if you google DID THE PILL CAUSE THE SEXUAL REVOLUTION you will find plenty of good arguments that it did not.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            "I don't think this is the right place to debate what caused the "sexual revolution""

            I agree and this is why I cautioned James to use the "condom" example in his original post. As you can see, it has already de-railed this entire comment thread.

          • jflcroft

            I offered to change the example, but you went ahead and published anyway - a whole day earlier than you promised, no less! What is an author to do? ;)

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            "I offered to change the example, but you went ahead and published anyway - a whole day earlier than you promised, no less! What is an author to do? ;)"

            This is simply not true, James. As I explain above, on Monday, August 19, I sent you an email saying "I'm planning to launch the three-part series [on lying] tomorrow (8/20). Deacon Jim's article will go first, yours on Wednesday (8/21), and Leah's on Thursday (8/22)."

            I posted it on Wednesday, just as promised.

          • Randy Gritter

            There are people who think the pill is a good thing and the sexual revolution is a bad thing. I saw some things by people in that category trying to make that case. I would not call them good arguments. It seems most who say both of them are good or both of them are bad take for granted a significant cause and effect.

            But when you say artificial contraception you don't just mean the pill. Casti Connubii was published in 1930. That was in response to a mini sexual revolution in the early 1900's.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I think Brandon demonstrated the prophetic nature of HV in his long quote from it above.

      • josh

        Would love to hear how contraception leads to abortion and divorce.

        • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

          Contraception has a failure rate.
          What happens next?
          Contraception facilitates fornication and adultery.
          What happens next?

          • josh

            The failure rate for contraception is rather lower than the failure rate for unprotected sex. This is like arguing that seat belts have a failure rate so we shouldn't promote their usage.

            Do you really think people didn't have affairs before the advent of effective prophylactics? I'll tell you, a bastard breaks up a marriage faster than most things. Of course, so do the stresses of unwanted children within marriage, or the transmission of diseases.

          • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

            Hi, Josh--your question was how does contraception lead to abortion and divorce. I think I just answered it.
            Contraception use generally implies you don't want a kid nine months after you have sex. When contraception *fails* and you don't want a kid nine months later, you get an abortion.
            This is all particularly true in cases of fornication and adultery.

          • josh

            Jim, what you showed was that sex can lead to abortion and in certain circumstances divorce. Contraception reduces the chance of those possible outcomes of sex. C.f. the seatbelts example I gave you above.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Nope. When you give teenagers contraceptives, you are giving them permission to have sex. Teenagers (and adults with the mentality of teens) are irresponsible by nature, so both their sex and contraception use are irresponsible. This means contraception failure. This means pregnancy. Then comes abortion or children without fathers.

          • josh

            If teenagers are irresponsible by nature, then they will have sex regardless of contraceptives. Contraceptives would then only reduce pregnancies. Let's have some evidence for your claims.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            In the 1950s, teenage sex was the exception. Now, it is much more the norm. Why the change?

            You've been thoroughly indoctrinated by Planned Parenthood.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            "The failure rate for contraception is rather lower than the failure rate for unprotected sex. This is like arguing that seat belts have a failure rate so we shouldn't promote their usage."

            But you're presenting a false dichotomy. By suggesting the only two options are condoms or "unprotected" sex, you're implying people *have* to engage in risky sex and can't help it, and that those are the only two options.

            A third option--and a better solution--would be to promote sex within monogamous, faithful marriages, sex that doesn't need to be protected from anything.

          • josh

            No dichotomy, I was just pointing out that Jim's analysis was wrong. People can have sex or not have sex. The former leads to babies. (Excepting anal, oral, etc. which clearly don't lead to abortions and divorces.) Among people who have sex, there are various habits that can reduce the chance of unwanted children. Contraceptives are essentially the best. They are a form of non-risky sex.

            Lot's of monogamous, faithfully married couples use protection. People who want to be monogamous partners inside marriage are fine. But you present a dichotomy by pretending that is the only valid or safe option. It's simply not.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            "Lot's of monogamous, faithfully married couples use protection."

            What are they protecting themselves from?

          • josh

            Mostly from unwanted pregnancies. I.e. both from unwanted children and from abortions. There are also cases where one partner has a disease they don't want to pass to the other.

          • 42Oolon

            Facilitating fornication is a good thing.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            "Facilitating fornication is a good thing."

            Out of curiosity, do you have a young daughter?

          • jflcroft

            "fornication". I have to laugh. It's like we're in the middle ages!

        • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

          "Would love to hear how contraception leads to abortion and divorce."

          Assuming your question is genuine and not facetious, you'll find the first part of your answer here: A Deeper Look at Contraception and Abortion.

    • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

      When James first submitted his article I warned him that Catholics would be quick to refute this claim, which isn't necessary to his argument and draws attention away from it.

      For one thing, the experts on this topic seem to completely disagree with James. The non-Catholic, pro-condom, senior Harvard researched Edward C. Green, director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, says:

      "The pope is correct [about condoms']....or to put it a better way, the best evidence we have supports the pope’s comments. He stresses that “condoms have been proven to not be effective at the level of population." There is a consistent association shown by our best studies, including the U.S.-funded ‘Demographic Health Surveys, between greater availability and use of condoms and higher (not lower) HIV-infection rates. This may be due in part to a phenomenon known as risk compensation, meaning that when one uses a risk-reduction ‘technology’ such as condoms, one often loses the benefit (reduction in risk) by ‘compensating’ or taking greater chances than one would take without the risk-reduction technology.”

      Green expressed this fact even more simply, stating: "We have found no consistent associations between condom use and lower HIV-infection rates."

      Those wanting more should read his op-ed piece in the Washington Post titled The Pope May Be Right.

      • jakael02

        "The Pope May Be Right"... something about that Washington Post title made me chuckle.

      • josh

        Brandon, this is disingenuous to the point of dishonesty. From the article you linked:

        "In a 2008 article in Science called "Reassessing HIV Prevention"
        10 AIDS experts concluded that "consistent condom use has not reached a
        sufficiently high level, even after many years of widespread and often
        aggressive promotion, to produce a measurable slowing of new infections
        in the generalized epidemics of Sub-Saharan Africa." "

        i.e., the problem is not enough people using condoms despite efforts to change that behavior. Could the Pope have anything to do with that?

        Also note: "... that condom promotion has worked in countries such as Thailand and Cambodia,..."

        • John Bell

          "disingenuous to the point of dishonesty"

          The unofficial motto of Strange Notions!

        • Joseph R.

          i.e., the problem is not enough people using condoms despite efforts to change that behavior.

          The article says, "consistent condom use has not reached a sufficiently high level, even after many years of widespread and often aggressive promotion." Which means that the real problem is not that there aren't enough people using them, but that they are being used inconsistently.

          Could the Pope have anything to do with that?

          Sure! Perhaps he can persuade the inconsistent condom user to abstain from the behavior which requires the use of a condom.

          • 42Oolon

            The Pope should stay out of public health advice.

          • Joseph R.

            Why should one assume that the pope couldn't do it in private?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The pope has the right to speak on matters of faith and morals. "Public health" often has a moral dimension, so he has a prefect right, in fact an obligation, to speak. He is also informed.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            I have a right to speak on matters of faith and morals. I don't know why someone should pay more attention to the pope than to me. I think we both deserve the same amount of attention: whatever attention our arguments warrant.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Not quite. You have no right to speak to Catholics nor have you any standing to speak as one world leader to other world leaders.

            On the other hand, neither you nor I have thirteen years of formation in faith and morals, a doctorate in theology, thousands of hours of experience dealing with people on these matters, many learned advisers, and two thousand years of experience to draw from.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            I may not have "standing" but I definitely have a right to speak to Catholics and everyone else in the public square about anything I like, at least in this country (the UK). Hopefully in your country, too.

            They likewise have a right to pay attention to me or to ignore me.

            Frankly, I don't care much about the credentials of the thirteen years of formation plus doctorates, etc., if the arguments are bad. Just listing credentials isn't an argument at all.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Humility is truth.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

            Well, the current pope used to ride the bus to work. I have a lot of respect for that.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Here's the question. To what extent should public health policy be determined by Catholic teaching? Dr. Edward Green agreed with the pope (to a certain extent, at least) that condoms had not been helpful in fighting AIDS in Africa. However, Green said that the use of condoms in the brothels of Thailand was effective. Is it morally wrong to urge prostitutes in the brothels of Thailand to insist their customers use condoms? If there is really no hope of eliminating the brothels of Thailand, is it morally wrong to urge those who run and work in the brothels to do something that will save the lives of the prostitutes, their customers, and their customers' wives? Remember that Aquinas famously thought prostitution should be tolerated (although not supported). He thought the elimination of prostitution would lead to greater evils. Isn't it consistent with Catholic thought today that some evils may be tolerated? And would an attempt to mitigate some of the negative side effects of a tolerated evil be cooperation with evil?

            The problem with backing the pope in his comments about condoms not being effective in certain situations is that the pope would (it seems) object to the use of condoms even if they would stop the AIDS epidemic dead in its tracks.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            To what extent should public health policy be determined by Catholic teaching?

            In my opinion, if properly understood, completely. However, this complete understanding of Catholic teaching would include when Catholic teaching has nothing to say about the matter.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          The argument is not dishonest at all. In Africa, HIV is spread through high-risk promiscuous relations in which the partners refuse to use condoms on principle. The solution the article advocates is not to persuade people even more aggressively to use condoms but to stop these promiscuous sexual relations. Thailand and Cambodia are irrelevant since the condom use in regulated brothels, not among the general population.

          • josh

            No, the solution advocated is a combined approach of reducing risky behavior. That includes using condoms consistently when having sex. Now, an honest presentation of the argument would be that condom advocacy has had limited effectiveness in Africa. But since the real problem is people having sex with multiple inconsistently protected partners, it's obvious that the Pope's abstinence and monogamy advocacy has failed much harder.

            Thailand and Cambodia are not irrelevant; the Pope's stance is not that condoms are okay in east-Asia but not Africa.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            "Now, an honest presentation of the argument would be that condom advocacy has had limited effectiveness in Africa."

            This is not true. As Green notes, "consistent condom use has not reached a sufficiently high level, even after many years of widespread and often aggressive promotion, to produce a measurable slowing of new infections in the generalized epidemics of Sub-Saharan Africa."

            Also, you say condom advocacy has had "limited effectiveness" in Africa. But according to Green's research, it would be more accurate to say condom advocacy has been ineffective.

          • josh

            Brandon, read what I wrote again and then modify your comment above to reflect that what I said is exactly true according to the quote you pulled.

            Also, to judge if advocacy was ineffective we would want to know what happens in the absence of advocacy.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            "Brandon, read what I wrote again and then modify your comment above to reflect that what I said is exactly true according to the quote you pulled."

            You're right. Mea culpa. I misunderstood your point. It seems we agree that spreading and advocating condoms in Africa has not reduced the spread of disease. This has been my main contention since the beginning of this thread.

            "Also, to judge if advocacy was ineffective we would want to know what happens in the absence of advocacy."

            Ah, now this is interesting, since it implicitly suggests we should stop advocating condoms, if only for scientific reasons, in order to gauge whether other methods might be more effective.

            Fine by me. Condoms don't seem to be working, so we should try something else. Again, this is precisely what the Pope said about the Africa situation.

          • josh

            I appreciate the correction.

            Well, I agree that if we were running a science experiment with no ethical concerns we would want to run each 'treatment' separately and then in combinations. Obviously that's not something I suggest we do though.

            We actually do have evidence that condom's work well when used properly. So of course does abstinence, although I think the evidence that we can get people to be consistently abstinent is rather worse than that we can get them to use condoms.

            So, again, the evidence isn't that condoms don't seem to be working, it's that in one region of the world people aren't using them consistently enough to offset the risky behavior that abounds. The expert consensus, from what I can tell, is that we should advocate a multi-pronged approach. People need comprehensive education, they should be encouraged to limit partners if they aren't going to use condoms, they should have condoms widely available and their usage should be properly understood and promoted when people do have sex.

            Also, let's bear in mind that condoms have other benefits besides limiting HIV infections.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            "Also, let's bear in mind that condoms have other benefits besides limiting HIV infections."

            They have other dangers besides limiting the spread of HIV. These were outlined clearly way back in 1968 by Pope Paul VI:

            "Let [us] first consider how easily [contraception] could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.

            Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife."

            All of this has proved true over the last fifty years.

        • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

          "This is disingenuous to the point of dishonesty"

          Really? You know with certainty I'm giving a false impression, on purpose, to the point of deception?

          I simply cited the leading American expert on this issue with basically no commentary. Next time, please focus on the quote instead of my motives.

          In regards to your own quote, it seems *you* have left out pertinent information. Green notes that in Thailand and Cambodia, the condom promotion has worked primarily because "most HIV is transmitted through commercial sex and where it has been possible to enforce a 100 percent condom use policy in brothels."

          The problem is that this is a rare and isolated situation. Most STDs spread in Africa the the West are not shared through brothels.

          Also, even while aware of those two exceptions, Green still maintains that condoms are not the best solution. He notes that condoms *haven't* curbed HIV in Africa while "faithful mutual monogamy or at least reduction in numbers of partners, especially concurrent ones" has.

          Finally, Green's point in saying "consistent condom use has not reached a sufficiently high level, even after many years of widespread and often aggressive promotion" was to prove his thesis. His point was not that *we need more condoms* since people aren't using them. It's that even after dumping boatlods of condoms into Africa, and doing everything possible to encourage their use, they still do not curb HIV because of risk compensation, relational dynamics, and other factors.

          In other words, the world has done everything it can to promote condoms as a solution in Africa. But it's inadequate. It doesn't work. While attractive on paper, it fails in practice. This is exactly what Pope Benedict suggested and Edward Green agrees.

          • josh

            Your motive is to support the Church's position. You are disingenuous for leaving out important context.

            "Also, even while aware of those two exceptions, Green still maintains that condoms are not the best solution."

            "Don't misunderstand me; I am not anti-condom."-Green
            Again, you are being disingenuous. Green supports condom usage. His view is that it is part of a combined effort to reduce risky behavior. Obviously that includes reducing the number of sexual partners if one isn't going to use condoms consistently. (Even if you are, reducing partners helps the odds of course.) Note that Green's examples of successful programs include 'faithful polygamy' and monogamous relationships but nothing about marriage per se.

            Cambodia and Thailand are indeed sociologically different from Africa but they aren't exceptions, they are examples of condom usage working despite otherwise risky behavior. So if the Pope's position is that we should promote condom-usage along with other risk-reducing behaviors, then he agrees with the consensus of experts.

      • 42Oolon

        Here's a thought. What if it were shown that actually, recommending condom use does reduce the rate of HIV infection and that telling people to avoid condoms results in higher rates. But also that the use of contraception is a sin. What would you say then about the morality of the Pope's actions?

        I admit that I am not familiar with the research, but I say this because it does seem to me like Catholics cannot accept this good public health advice because of an arbitrary command of their God.

        The Centre for Disease Control says 'Latex condoms, when used consistently and correctly, are highly effective in preventing the sexual transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS." If anyone feels the need to talk about the issue of HIV and condoms, the only moral thing to say is that, if used properly, they can be very effective in preventing the spread. That is my moral position.

      • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

        The problem with touting Edward C. Green as an authority who backs the pope is that Green fully supports the use of condoms where they have been shown to be effective, for example, in the brothels of Thailand. Green is making an argument based on what works, and he supports the use of condoms where they work. He fully supports the "ABC approach" (abstain, be faithful, use condoms). The pope and the Catholic Church do not support condom use even when and where it is effective and can save lives.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          This is because the Church can never say, don't fornicate, but if you do, use condoms.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            I don't see why not. Can't the Church say, "Don't sin, but if you do, go to confession"? That is not an endorsement of sinning. Can't a Catholic teacher of Driver's Ed say, "Of course, you should never drink to excess, but if you do drink too much, don't drive!" Is that a mixed message? Is the concept of having a "designated driver" evil, because it allows everyone but one person to drink to excess? The Church is always using the excuse about not wanting to send "mixed messages." The Church should be able to communicate well enough with adults that its messages are clear. Why can't it say, "Sex outside of marriage is a sin, but having sex outside of marriage that risks transmitting a deadly virus is two sins."

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            "Why can't it say, "Sex outside of marriage is a sin, but having sex outside of marriage that risks transmitting a deadly virus is two sins."

            Ironically, this is almost exactly what Pope Benedict said a couple years back in his book-length interview, "Light of the World." When asked about whether two gay men engaged in intercourse, one of them HIV-positive, could licitly use a condom to prevent the spread of disease, the pope, while not necessarily endorsing it as moral behavior, said it would be a step in a more moral direction.

            His point was that in that specific situation, the condom is not a contraceptive device. Therefore it doesn't commit the sin of distorting the sexual act. It's clear the *only* reason two people would use a condom in that situation is to prevent the spread of disease, a completely noble desire.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think your analogy breaks down at the very beginning. The parallel to "Don't fornicate, but if you do, use a condom" is not "Don't sin, but if you do, go to confession" because going to confession is not a further sin but condom use is. Also, consider, "Sex outside of marriage is a sin, but having sex outside of marriage with a condom is two sins."

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            . . . . because going to confession is not a further sin but condom use is.

            Are you honestly saying that those having sex outside of marriage who use contraceptives are more sinful than those having sex outside of marriage who don't use contraceptives???

          • Kevin Aldrich

            First, I don't know the "calculus" of multiple mortal sins and don't really want to go there.

            I also don't know that it is a sin to conceive a child outside of wedlock. The act that causes the conception certainly is a sin, but I don't know that actually getting pregnant is another sin. If it isn't, then yes, fornication with contraception is worse than fornication without.

      • stanz2reason

        Brandon... you're ignoring important points of that Washington Post Article.

        (Green's) comments are only about the question of condoms working to stem the spread of AIDS in Africa's generalized epidemics -- nowhere else.

        ie. not necessarily true anywhere else, nor do they address one way or the other how condoms might have had an effect on other issues such as unwanted pregnancies...

        or

        In a 2008 article in Science called "Reassessing HIV Prevention" 10 AIDS experts concluded that "consistent condom use has not reached a sufficiently high level, even after many years of widespread and often aggressive promotion, to produce a measurable slowing of new infections in the generalized epidemics of Sub-Saharan Africa."

        Which seems to imply that access to the physical condom alone without the proper efforts to educate people about using them consistently might be the problem. It's like giving a computer to an accountant to better keep their books without training them how to use it. Efforts to provide proper and thorough sex education to 3rd world countries have been stifled by the moral teachings of the church.

        True that in this very specific instance the lack of education combined with risk compensation & social stigmata that a condom represents a lack of trust have shown that the availability of condoms alone appears to not have had the positive effects seen elsewhere, so in a sense the church can claim a truth victory or sorts in a very narrow sense. But one sample, one that has a variety of additional contributing factors and is specific to simply HIV infection rates, is not indicative of a trend, especially in light of the many examples where contraception & proper education have helped lower rates. To ignore the effects elsewhere or leave out points that provide a more thorough picture via proper context is deceptive, dishonest and ironic in a conversation about the ethics of lying.

    • jflcroft

      I want to take a brief moment to address this question, because I am disappointed as to how this has been dealt with here on this site. Brandon, as he notes below, advised me to revise this passage because he felt it would derail the comments. I trusted the intelligence and good will of the audience, and the skill of the moderators of this site, to redirect people to the purpose of the piece, but also agreed to revise the passage if Brandon thought it would derail the conversation on lying.

      I was surprised then, that immediately after my offering to revise this passage, and before the stated publication date, my piece was published, without my having made the modification suggested. I am further surprised to see Brandon not encourage commenters to stay on topic, and rather to see him perpetuate the discussion here by selectively quoting some articles relevant to a small subset of the contraception issue. This has led, as he predicted, to a fruitless side discussion in which quotes from scientists are mined by Catholic apologists to support their pre-conceived conclusion (for instance, I can find no non-Catholic source whatsoever for the quote, attributed to Edward C Green, that "We have found no consistent associations between condom use and lower HIV-infection rates.").

      Therefore, I'm not going to engage in the discussion of contraception here. I will, however, make a statement relevant to my argument regarding lying:

      Note that my analogy was intended to demonstrate the weaknesses of a rules-based morality when compared with one which recognizes moral complexity and is open to renegotiation in the light of new evidence. That Kevin, above, asks for evidence to support my claim - seemingly in the hope that I will not be able to provide any - is an ironic demonstration of my point. If he accepts that we should make our judgment regarding the ethics of contraception based on evidence as to whether a given approach is harming people or not, he has already accepted my main point: that ethics should be based on the welfare of persons, and not on preconceived ethical rules. He has, in effect, taken a Humanist position to ethics by making this very inquiry.

      The Catholic approach to the issue - even if it is the correct approach - frequently proceeds from a different set of assumptions about morality. Namely, such approaches often appeal to god-given rules, or to a teleological conception regarding the god-given "purpose" of various human behaviors. Note, for instance, that some of the comments below from Catholic apologists turn on some conception of what sex is "for", rather than whether it is beneficial to people.

      This is not a question which has any relevance to the Humanist: behaviors do not have a "purpose" in that sense, and the only questions which are relevant relate, ethically speaking, are whether the behaviors promote welfare or not. To ask whether a more permissive attitude toward contraception has increased or decreased human welfare is to ask a Humanist question - one very much in line with the ethical approach I outline in my piece above.

      • Randy Gritter

        I guess you assume the two will give different answers. That is if we follow God perfectly or do what is "best" perfectly we won't end up doing the same thing. My feeling is that what God wants and what is best are the same thing.

        Now a humanist has a huge problem is defining human welfare. It is a word with embedded morality. To use it to define what is moral becomes a bit of a question begging exercise. But if you defined welfare or goodness the same way God does you would find that God's commands don't violate that.

        The question then becomes which system is likely to do better. That is are we likely to get closer to the ideal by discerning what is good for human welfare or are we likely to get closer to that same ideal by asking what would be pleasing to God? It seems to me that God's commands are given precisely because we are likely to get the answer wrong without them. We are told not to lie because we tend to lie. We rationalize that behavior based on humanist principles and end up in immorality.

        Rationalization seem like it kills humanism. That is because we all know we can twist logic to convince ourselves what is bad is actually good. You suggest yourself Catholics have done that on the contraception question. The point is that humanism fails unless you are above that sort of thing. I don't think any human is.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        I think you might be misunderstanding Catholic moral theology. Natural law moral principles are based on human nature. Acting against human nature will harm human beings. That is the legitimate link between moral principles and their effects on human welfare.

        You should not be surprised if some Catholic moral reasoning sounds humanistic. We have been humanists since the Incarnation.

        Pope Paul VII pointed out the harm that would come to society if the natural law truth about human sexuality was violated. Principles and their effects go hand in hand.

        • jflcroft

          No, I think I understand it quite well. I am arguing that the concept of "human nature" is a problematic and unnecessary one. Welfare should be the guide. We need not appeal to a teleological conception of "human nature" - which is almost always highly selective in its description of humanity - to make ethical judgments. "Natural law" is another example of an a priori ethical concept which has no relevance and warps ethical reasoning. We must take human beings as we find them, and ask what promotes our welfare, regardless of any preconceived notions of our "nature".

          • Kevin Aldrich

            So you are another one of these "throw everything out and start over with an untested theory" which will lead to who knows what horrors?

            How will you know what is "welfare" and what is a crime against humanity unless you have an adequate idea of what a human being is?

          • jflcroft

            I'm not sure where you got that from my response. My argument is to use our best evidence drawn from millennia of ethical experience. Far from "throwing everything out" we must use everything we have learnt throughout a history of oppression and the struggle for greater freedom.

            As for determining what promotes human welfare, one of the great things about people is that they are able to articulate what they desire, and we are able to think through many of the factors which may be shaping their desires.

            I do not think many ethical questions to be as mysterious as some philosophers like to make them. Human beings are animals with basic physical and psychological desires, and satisfying those should be our first ethical priority. After that, we must seek to create societies which maximize each individual's opportunity to flourish while minimizing the potential for the actions of one to harm another. I don't find this a particularly complex philosophical proposition - it is the praxis which is hard.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            So what's your problem with natural law?

            Here's a practical problem. Is it moral for a woman to terminate the life of her unborn child who has Down Syndrome?

          • jflcroft

            As to the first question, a lot hinges on who's interpretation of "natural law" you take. Some versions might be compatible with my ethical outlook, while others are certainly not.

            As for your second question, I think that depends on a lot of contextual factors: most significantly the age of the developing human. No fixed rule is going to be able to give an answer which is generalizable to all situations.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Like I said,

            How will you know what is "welfare" and what is a crime against humanity unless you have an adequate idea of what a human being is?

          • jflcroft

            I'm not sure of the force of the question. Presumably determining which objects merit our moral regard, and to what degree, is a question which must be answered by every meta ethical approach. My response is that evidence and reason is the only way to come to a defensible answer to those questions.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I read your answer as "It depends."

            To defend the human being against raw power (in this case a defenseless unborn "defective" child), we need a foundation for human dignity. Can your "meta ethic" come up with one?

      • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

        "I was surprised then, that immediately after my offering to revise this passage, and before the stated publication date, my piece was published, without my having made the modification suggested."

        To be clear, James, this is somewhat misleading. You sent me the article on July 11. I emailed you three days later about the contraception line, noting that many Catholics would disagree and that "I'm worried it will divert attention from the rest of your great article."

        Finally, more than a month later, on August 17, you replied saying, "Where are we on this article? Is it published already? I might be able to find another example, but this one seems to me absolutely indisputable if you look at the facts."

        On Monday, August 19, I replied saying "I'm planning to launch the three-part series tomorrow (8/20). Deacon Jim's article will go first, yours on Wednesday (8/21), and Leah's on Thursday (8/22)." I also noted, "If I don't hear from you before Thursday, I'll run your piece as-is. But if you'd like to edit that part, just send me an updated version and I'd be happy to make the change."

        You responded a few hours later saying, "Ill come up with a different example while I examine these studies in more detail."

        But I didn't hear from you over the next three days and assumed you had simply chosen not to alter your original article. I published it as-is on Wednesday, August 21, just as I said I would.

        Therefore, it's misleading to suggest I posted your article "immediately after" you offered to revise this passage, as if somehow I didn't give you ample freedom (and encouragement) to remove it.

        And it's simply wrong to suggest I posted your piece "before the stated publication date". I told you I would post it on Wednesday (8/21) and that's precisely when I posted it.

  • 42Oolon

    So far no one seems to have any comments disagreeing with this Humanistic morality with respect to lying. I take it to mean that after two days of this series, the Catholic church isn't sure how do deal with lying all the time and neither are humanists. But both seem to think it is immoral to lie when there are negative human consequences rather than avoiding negative human consequences. Where is the theist aspect of theistic morality?

    • Kevin Aldrich

      What do you mean by "theistic aspect of theistic morality"?

      • 42Oolon

        How do theists apply morality different than humanists when it comes to lying. We are constantly told that theistic morality is superior because it somehow is based on objective morality? Well where is this objective morality? How do theists access it in order to know when to lie?

        We agree, it is wrong to kill, unless it is not. It is wrong to lie, unless it is justified. The justifications are always human. What is wrong with the moral approach to lying set out above? What is missing from it, and why is the missing piece important?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Let's go back to basics. The Catholic Church believes in the natural law, which every human being can know by properly looking at the reality of human nature. So there is no reason why a humanist could not discover it. In fact, we could say that the first humanists to discover the natural law were Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. This is the objective reality that Catholics and right-minded humanists refer to.

        • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

          Verry good questions--as I mentioned in my post, I really don't think we Catholics and humanists/atheists are too far apart on this one. Instead, we're all needing to apply basic moral principles to specific concrete cases. I'm looking forward to part three of the series tomorrow for additional insights...

          • jflcroft

            And, as the above discussion of contraception shows, a Humanistic approach reigns there too: consider the evidence, and do what works to reduce human suffering. What is so interesting about these debates is how deeply Humanistic ethical assumptions have pervaded even the mightiest bastions of faith!

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            "And, as the above discussion of contraception shows, a Humanistic approach reigns there too: consider the evidence, and do what works to reduce human suffering. What is so interesting about these debates is how deeply Humanistic ethical assumptions have pervaded even the mightiest bastions of faith!"

            Or perhaps the other way around :) Catholics had been reducing suffering for centuries before Humanism showed up on the scene.

          • jflcroft

            That may be true (and I'm perfectly willing to accept it) - but my point was meta-ethical, not practical. My point is that the method of ethical reasoning on display here is Humanistic, and that this is in very stark contrast to the types of ethical reasoning traditionally related to religious perspectives. If you read the sort of ethical reasoning on display from many leaders in traditional faith communities today - even progressive ones - you will often hear methods of ethical reasoning which do not put human welfare at the center. And that, to me, is a distinct problem.

  • scottrb

    Two points: Croft's attempt to define a lie is unnecessarily awkward. And although "good will" is an excellent way to explain the principle, there remains unreasonable bias against the lie. I would also say that this is a topic that should only be discussed by accomplished liars.

    A lie is an intentional deceit. Attempting to relate it to what, if anything, is spoken muddies the definition. I have, on occasion, deliberately brought my credibility and/or impartiality into question and then flatly stated the completely accurate and relevant "truth". It's an especially effective method, leaving your adversaries without the slightest doubt that they have the full truth in mind despite your best effort to mislead them.

    On the second point. You inform your allies and you mislead your adversaries. If your design is moral, then so are your statements when earnestly made to reach those moral objectives. With this said, it may at first seem that you should lie half the time and be accurate the other half, but in fact, the bias goes to accuracy for three reasons: First, you talk to your allies more often than your adversaries. Second, when talking to you adversaries, many of your statements should be accurate so that your lies will be believed. Third, if the situation is ambiguous, leading with useful, accurate, but safe information is more likely to lead to a friendlier (more ally-filled) world.

    One more item. If I have convinced you that there is no moral issue with lying, you may still prefer to firmly hold to the position that lying is very bad and should only be used in the most extreme situations. Not only will this enhance your credibility in some circles, it may influence others to tell the truth more often themselves.

    • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

      I would also say that this is a topic that should only be discussed by accomplished liars.

      But then why would we believe their answers?

    • jflcroft

      I don't think I attempted to define a lie. Indeed this was one of my primary points!

  • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

    It seems that the big difference between the Catholic and non-religious position on this issue is one of authority. The end-point is the same for now, but may not be in the future.

    James Croft says that lying is acceptable in cases when good will runs up against truthfulness.

    Jim Russell says that lying is acceptable in some cases justified by the common good (or natural law), as long as no official Church declaration is made to the contrary.

    Any Catholic who agrees with Jim Russell but disagrees with my assessment, answer this question: If Vatican III (or whatever new ecumenical council) dogmatically declares that lying is always wrong, will you change your mind on lying?

    • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

      "Any Catholic who agrees with Jim Russell but disagrees with my assessment, answer this question: If Vatican III (or whatever new ecumenical council) dogmatically declares that lying is always wrong, will you change your mind on lying?"

      That's a very interesting question, Paul. I'm partial to Augustine/Aquinas/most of Catholic tradition on this--in believing that lying is intrinsically and always wrong--so such a pronouncement wouldn't affect me. But I'd be interested to hear from other Catholics.

    • CBrachyrhynchos

      I'm reminded in this discussion of sitting in a session with a Buddhist scholar, who, when peppered with a mess of ethical conundrums introduced me to the phrase, "killing the fish to feed the dog." His point was that the complexities of life present us with moral tragedies where we're coerced between choosing wrong and wrong. The challenge (from his perspective) is to avoid either the complacency of patting ourselves on the back for our cleverness in using moral calculus for minimum suffering, or the despondency of obsessing over individual tragedies. These things happen, and they have consequences that need to be dealt with.