To converse with one another in a way that all parties find meaning; Is it possible? I hope so. This blog is an invitation to anyone who wants to discuss, quietly, with as little heat as possible, the topics of our day. The painting of the wounded bird is my daughter's work. I have always seen the crucifix in that particular work of hers and the intention of this blog is to converse in the shadow the crucifix provides. Like all things truly Christian this is a paradox, for in that particular shadow more light is to be found than anywhere in the universe.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Lila Rose's Sting Operations: condemn or commend?

Much conversation has ensued in the blogoshere about whether Lila Rose sins by presenting a persona other than her own to Planned Parenthood clinics in her "sting operations." Through her actions much truth comes out, but that does not necessarily legitimize the way in which comes out.

There was a long thread here of responses to an initial article by Dawn Eden and William Doino Jr. Eden and Doino take the clear position that lying is always wrong, intrinsically. Mark Shea concurs.

When something is intrinsically evil it cannot be condoned even if it seems to bring about good. Is this the case with Lila Rose's "stings"? Are they evil?

Firstly, I wonder about the the drama of it all, the playacting that Lila and her crew do. They pretend to be persons they are not, dressing and talking like a whore and her pimp, or dressing and talking like a troubled 14-year old who is being abused by a 30-year old man. They are playing the role that a real whore and a real pimp, or a real teenager would also play (albeit not before a camera at least no voluntarily), that is, they are representing something that really does exist, something that is neither phantom nor make-believe. They know this, and they also know that when the sting is over they will take off their masks and make-up and return to their lives. When the sting is over the deception ends, the purpose is not deception, but rather the opposite! And this purpose is not thwarted.

Secondly, one must ask: When does the practice of deception become sinful? Is all deception sinful? In war time don't submarines hide under the water? In police work don't undercover agents pose as non-policemen? When Corrie Ten Boom hid Jews wasn't she being, in a certain sense, deceitful, right from the get-go, long before anyone interrogated her? She pretended to the Germans to not be hiding Jews. The very act of hiding carries with it the will to deceive. Is it the speaking the deception make it sinful? Is that the test, when it is spoken?

What about a Joseph who hides his identity from his brothers as well as his ability to both speak and understand their language. This is intrinsically evil? What about Rahab, the harlot in Joshua 2 who hides Jewish spies, lies to the authorities about it, and earns a place in the bible hall of fame in Hebrews 11 for doing so. Augustine claims Rahab was wrong to lie but that she did not know better because she was a Pagan, not a Jew and did not know the 10 commandments. That seems weak to me, especially given her reward in the New Testament. Furthermore, the the law forbidding lying certainly belongs to the category of "natural"--things we can't not know, laws that don't require revelation for us to be bound by them. In other words even Pagans know it is wrong to lie--and so do Hindus and Buddhists. The golden rule (I won't lie to you because I don't want you to lie to me) does not require any "thus says the Lord;" it is written in the human heart.

Was Strider sinful in hiding his identity from the Hobbits at Bree? Were the twin boys Cor and Corin in C.S. Lewis's The Horse and His Boy sinning for masquerading for a good part of the story? All of the great stories of heroes masking their true identity now need to be banned? 

When Jesus tells us to hide the fact that we are subjecting ourselves to the rigors of fasting by oiling our hair and washing our face, is he asking us to do something sinful? When the Christians let Paul escape down the walls of Damascus they did so at night, very much hiding their actions from the eye of the authorities. Isn't that deceptive? Does one really think they were obliged, if asked, to tell the authorities which direction he went? Or . . . they needed to have command of verbal trickery to tell a truth that does not help the authorities find him? Really? Where does this end?

To me it appears that lying to protect the life of the innocent, far from being sinful, can even be

When it comes to "sting operation" journalism such as Lila Rose's I am not at all convinced that
it is intrinsically evil. The attempts to do end up like those defending absolute pacifism. They do not work.

Tom in Ohio


  1. "The very act of hiding carries with it the will to deceive. Does speaking the deception make it sinful? Is that the test, when it is spoken?"

    Well put. That brings out well the absurdity of the position. Of course, it might be absurd and still true, right? But I haven't seen any explanation of why it should be.

    What constitutes speaking? Vocalization? Are written lies legit and grunted ones invalid? Or if written lies are sin, then why not signaled ones? And does not silence itself often signify?

    I also wonder about Rahab. And Abraham (who twice claims that Sarah is his sister and walks away rich as a result, and Isaac (who does the same thing with Rebekah!) and Jacob (who tricks his father and his uncle).

  2. The shenanigans of the patriachs is usually not regarded as exemplary.

  3. You can also deceive while saying something true.

  4. a friend e mailed me his response. Insightful!

    Like your examples, I can think of all sorts of deception that are necessary and even virtuous. And don't amount to "false witness". Deception in wartime to win the war, deception in investigative reporting, hiring a computer hacker to challenge your company's network security, hiring a guy to see if your night clerk will sell liquor to underage kids, law enforcement sting operations to net criminals.

    A few years ago, a municipality sent mailers to several hundred addresses suspected to be where bail-jumpers were hiding. "Congratulations, you've been selected for a free big-screen Superbowl party! Come down to the auditorium to see the game and have free pizza and drinks!" Several hundred scofflaws came down, got their free pizza and drinks, got real comfortable, and then the police swarmed in and scooped them all up. Beautiful.

  5. There is a sin called scrupulosity. It is an effort to be purer than the pure.
    There is some amusement to be had in discussions about the sting at Planned Unparenthood. But it is the amusement of the late night bull session. These matters have been much discussed in the history of the Church. The discussers should do a bit of [heavy] reading. A good place to begin is with the Jesuit martyrs under the Elizabethan persecution. And then with Pascal's erroneous attack on the casuistry of the Jesuit fathers of the 17th Century.

  6. Thanks Gabriel. The more I think about it the more I strongly agree with you. I really appreciate Dawn Eden, and usually do OK with Mark Shea, but on this one, yes I think their concerns fall under the title of scrupulosity. Using disguises to gather information is not sinful. Period.