Lies and Uncomfortable Truths

I have several thoughts regarding the recent revelations concerning Planned Parenthood's predicament--namely, that they were caught rather red-handed in the attempted sale of fetal body parts. First, there is a series of three posts from Prof. J Budziszewski on the matter of the morality of lying to obtain these videos. I think that lying itself is always and everywhere a sin, but am on the fence concerning the tacit provisio that lying involves deceiving someone who has the right to truth (I lean towards denying this provisio, but  it is a provisio which seems rather easy to justify on the surface). Anyway, here is one of the more crucial points against lying even in these cases:
In my opinion the agents provocateurs were indeed lying. But even if I am mistaken – even if they were not lying -- their methods are not ethically in the clear.

Why? Whether or not deliberately saying what one knows to be false with in the intention to deceive is a complete definition of lying, it certainly corresponds to what people in general understand lying to be. This makes the act a moral stumbling block, what used to be called a “scandal.”

By exposing abortionist lies even by telling what merely seem to be lies, one encourages the view that the defenders of life are no more honest than the murderers, and at the same time promotes the idea that one may do evil for the sake of good. I understand the awful sense of desperation -- temptation often feels that way. But there lies the edge of an abyss.

Purpose and Happiness

In his discussion of morality in Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis states that there are three aspects to morality, all of which are about the ordering of the person and his relationships. The three aspect are—ordering the self for harmony with society, ordering the self for right relationship with God, and ordering the self for peacewithin one's own soul. One element of this last aspect of morality might be taken to mean that the person is left free to pursue his own happiness, if happiness is properly understood as the normative state in pursuing the good.

Happiness might be defined as pursuing the highest goods in life, and then thereafter pursing other secondary goods to the extent that such secondary pursuits do not interfere with thepursuit of the highest goods. Following Aristotle, we can see that the good consists in that for which we are meant, that is, in pursuing our urpose or "calling" in life. For ourselves, we should ask, "What was I put on this earth to do?" or "What was I born for?" What is my good?

Conscience and Evangelization

In his essay Conscience and Truth, the future Pope Benedict XVI tells of meeting, at the beginning of his academic career, an older faculty member who expressed gratitude that God would allow for so many unbelievers in good conscience. This old fellow was an otherwise devout and serious Christian who nevertheless felt that it was a mercy on God's part to allow for this; in Cardinal Ratzinger's summary, this older colleague's opinion was that "if their eyes were opened and they became believers, they would not be capable, in this world of ours, of bearing the burden of faith with all its moral obligations. But as it is, they can go another way in good conscience, they can still reach salvation."

This is precisely the opposite of the point of doctrines such as invincible ignorance, and while well-meaning on the surface, it is a very pessimistic attitude towards the faith. It borders on being and attitude of hopelessness in the face of faith, which is the opposite of what faith should produce.

Cooperating with Wickedness

I have noticed in the course of the culture wars that one side increasingly treats the other as consisting of enemy combatants, and that as a result the motto might well be "take no prisoners". It seems to me that as a consequence the great "new" (or newly prominent) front in the culture wars is over whether people should be force to violate their consciences, or rather to what extent this must be done. Largely, this consists of forcing people of certain religious beliefs or even nonreligious moral doctrines to participate in activities which go contrary to those beliefs.

Perhaps a decade ago, the common question was whether we ought to provide conscience clause protections for pharmacists who objected to contraceptive or even abortifacent drugs [1]. In the last half decade or so, the debate has shifted to asking whether all employers ought to be made to help directly provide contraception, sterilization, and even abortions to their employees. A related issue, which is bigger in he news at present, is to what extent people can be forced to provide goods and services to support activities which they find morally objectionable; and in some cases, to what extent said people can be forced to attend such events. A third issue is to what extent people who disagree with certain actions will be allowed to freely and even publicly protest such actions [2].

Public Policy and Private Morality

Being a professor comes with a number of "extra" duties above and beyond the regular requirements of teaching and research. These extra duties slip into the job requirements under the heading of "service": to the department, to the school, to the university, to the community, etc. Many of these "services" are of a more obvious nature--somebody has to sit on the various committees which decide everything from what books will be used with the "general studies" courses to what courses will be required for graduation, or serve as members of the faculty senate; and somebody has to act as adviser to the undergraduate (and where applicable, gradate students.

Monogenism and the Giants

The question of Monogenism or Polygenism has recently been under discussion at the Strange Notions site. Prof. Feser writes (I add a couple of links for clarity) that
How can the doctrine of original sin be reconciled with what contemporary biology says about human origins? For the doctrine requires descent from a single original ancestor, whereas contemporary biologists hold that the genetic evidence indicates that modern humans descended from a population of at least several thousand individuals....

The Flynn-Kemp proposal is this. Suppose evolutionary processes gave rise to a population of several thousand creatures of this non-rational but genetically and physiologically “human” sort. Suppose further that God infused rational souls into two of these creatures, thereby giving them our distinctive intellectual and volitional powers and making them truly human. Call this pair “Adam” and “Eve.” Adam and Eve have descendents, and God infuses into each of them rational souls of their own, so that they too are human in the strict metaphysical sense. Suppose that some of these descendents interbreed with creatures of the non-rational but genetically and physiologically “human” sort. The offspring that result would also have rational souls since they have Adam and Eve as ancestors (even if they also have non-rational creatures as ancestors). This interbreeding carries on for some time, but eventually the population of non-rational but genetically and physiologically “human” creatures dies out, leaving only those creatures who are human in the strict metaphysical sense.

Programming Note

My posting should be sporadic at beast for a while. I'm adjusting to being an Assistant Professor in Physics at a teaching university (heavy course load) which also expects research output (when and where I can find time for it). I don't get as much time as I'd like to do writing (or even simple reading) these days.

My output here has fallen well below once a month, but i do hope to get back to at least once a month. Some day it may even be weekly, but that looks a long ways off. In the meantime, I do still get my regular (~ once per month) posting at Ignitum Today, which I have managed to keep up I know not how.

Feel free to check back as often as you'd like, but I expect once per month is the upper limit of my posting frequency, at least for a while.

There has also been some behind-the-scenes debate about actually upgrading our site, both on my end (making posting easier...manually typing in every formatting command takes time, which I don't have) and in what you the readers see (some videos would be nice, or even pictures, and blockquotes).

On Doctrines and Disciplines

A friend passed along a link to this interview with Cardinal Kasper, published by America magazine. It appears to be the latest (as of last week) salvo in a feud between Cardinal Kasper and Cardinal Burke (et al.) leading up to the synod on the family.

It seems to me that Cardinal Kasper's argument is as follows:

  1. Canon law says that Catholics who are divorced and remarried should be denied communion.
  2. Canon law consists of the disciplines of the Church, not her doctrines.
  3. Therefore, denial of communion to divorced and remarried Catholics is a discipline and not a doctrine
  4. While doctrines cannot be changed, disciplines can be and are changed.
  5. It is cruel to needlessly withold the sacraments in general and communion in particular from people, which is the effect of this discipline.
  6. Therefore the discipline should be dropped
  7. Those who says otherwise are theological fundamentalists and live in fear.

The Compromise


Lenten Series: The Works of Mercy Part IX--Closing Thoughts

One of the pillars of Lent is almsgiving (and by extension, almsdeeds). On the surface, almsgiving and almsdeeds mean only to give away money or goods to those in need. However, almsdeeds go beyond this: they are the works of mercy. I will be posting about the works of mercy each week during Lent, pairing one spiritual work of mercy with one corporal work of mercy and then offering my thoughts on the pair. I will bookcase these reflection with a short introductory essay about the nature of mercy, and a final essay considering some practical thoughts. Here is part IX, which discusses some final thoughts on the works of mercy.

There is a certaininterconnectedness between the works of mercy. For example, if we intend to admonish sinners, we must be also prepared to instruct the ignorant (many sinners "know not what they do"), and equally prepared to bear wrongs patiently (many people lack the good graces to accept just admonishments with docility). Likewise, if we harbor the harborless in the sense of sheltering a refugee, we should be prepared to provide him with food and drink at the least.

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