Zmirak flirts with consequentialism

Should one ever lie, even to save lives?  Catholic philosophers are arguing the point back and forth on the web.  Catholic moral theology is anti-consequentialist:  good intentions can only justify intrinsically good or neutral acts, never intrinsically evil acts.  On the other hand, does lying always fall into the latter category?  Are we so sure that we’d allow someone to be killed rather than fib and send the killer in the wrong direction?  John Zmirak has entered this debate on the pro-lying side, but in a distinctly unhelpful way.  People who say lying is intrinsically wrong are “pharisees” for obsessing over whether this or that act is “technically” immoral.  Worse, they are “heretics” who have distorted the gospel, hiding the reality of God’s love behind their scruples.  Oh, sure, there’s a lot of support from the Fathers and Scholastics for this “heresy” that Zmirak has identified, but that doesn’t matter.  Augustine and Aquinas (the two examples he mentions and dismisses) also believed some things that most modern Catholics don’t believe (e.g. that unbaptized infants can’t be saved, although I’m not sure why Zmirak is so convinced that the modern, optimistic view is correct–what evidence does he have?), so they can be ignored.

That lying is okay under extreme circumstances seems to me a defensible position (although I haven’t made my mind up).  It bothers me, though, that Zmirak has, the instant Catholic tradition says something he doesn’t like, embraced wholeheartedly liberal Catholicism’s favorite slogans.  The bull shit about moral absolutes being “technicalities”, that concern about them is being a “pharisee”, that a loving God would necessarily command utilitarian happiness-maximization, all this comes straight, word-for-word from the “Catholics for a Free Choice” play book.  You can use it to justify anything:  abortion, divorce, torture, bombing of civilians, euthanasia, adultery, apostasy, you name it.  Zmirak doesn’t even seem to realize that he’s giving the whole game away.  His goal is to support lying to discredit Planned Parenthood, but to do so, he’s banished the moral absolutism without which it becomes impossible to criticize their murderous business (a business that, after all, makes some people happy).

Suppose lying is not intrinsically immoral, but is immoral only when done with evil intent or in the face of foreseeable evil consequences.  In that case, it would seem that the martyrs were stupid and perhaps wicked.  If somebody points a gun at your head and says “Say that Jesus is not Lord or die”, how do you justify throwing your life away for a little matter like the truth?  Surely the Kingdom of Heaven will not receive “pharisees” who get bent out of shape about stuff like that.

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