Lying to prevent a greater evil?


#1

So I’m confused. I’ve been taught (and I think the bible verifies, correct me if I’m wrong) that lying is OK if it prevents a greater harm, (such as a Jewish person saying that he wasn’t Jewish during WW2, to avoid being murdered). But how is it, that this doesn’t contradict that God’s teaching that the end can never justify the means? Or is this belief incorrect? What does the Church teach regarding this, and why?


#2

You are very correct that “the end does not justify the means” (see St. Paul in the Scriptures and the Catechism)

Lying is evil it is not a good. Jesus called the Devil the “Father of lies”.

The end does not “justify” the means of lying.

That being said – we are weak persons who do not always find the right way – especially in very extreme circumstances (not finding the right way…in the face of say the man with the gun) . In our weakness one may not find the right way (discreet language etc). One might lie. One understands weakness - we must pray daily “forgive us our trespasses”…

But such does not “justify” the lie -does make it a “good”.


#3

scborromeo.org/ccc/p3s2c2a8.htm#2482

scborromeo.org/ccc/p3s1c1a4.htm#1750


#4

Catechism (from one of the links above):

1753 A good intention (for example, that of helping one’s neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just. The end does not justify the means. Thus the condemnation of an innocent person cannot be justified as a legitimate means of saving the nation.


#5

From Pauls Letter to the Romans:

‘There are those who say: And why not do evil that good may come? Their condemnation is just’ (Rom 3:8).

(quoted in the Splendor of Truth by Bl. Pope John Paul II -so not sure translation --likely RSV -that is the usual English used)


#6

The proscription is against bearing a false witness, as in bringing testimony to a legal proceeding that is untrue, like what happened to Jesus. But read my disclaimer, then consult Church teaching.


#7

No. Lying is not permissible. However, we’re not required to share the truth, if someone would use the knowledge of the truth in order to sin. So, in response to the ‘Nazi’ question you refer to (and usually, it’s framed up as the way that someone who is protecting Jews might answer a Nazi who asks if he’s harboring any Jews) cannot be the lie “no, there are no Jews here.” However, it could be the indirect response, “Jews? Oh my, that would be illegal! Why would I have any Jews here?!?”


#8

But the Catechism says “…To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error…”
So wouldn’t that statement still be a lie, as one’s intent is to make them believe there are no Jewish people there, and one is using the words in a way that would make that seems to be the case?


#9

Objective right and wrong and subjective responsibility/culpability. Lying is always wrong - objective right and wrong. When a person lies to protect some one from immediate harm to prevent a greater evil the culpability for the wrong is mitigated - subjective culpability. I believe it can be argued that a person has a responsibility to choose the lesser of two evils when no other viable option is reasonably available. I like to use the case of the Nazis at the door and the Jews in hiding. The person at the door makes the decision to lie to protect the Jews the lie is wrong the culpability is mitigated because the intent is to avoid an imminent serious evil. Only God can judge the heart of the person. In a human court of law the person could plead guilty with extenuating/mitigating circumstances. The Judge might find them guilty and suspend the sentence because of extenuating/mitigated circumstances. As before mentioned God will judge their heart we can not know all the motives only the action. Peace be with you, LHJ


#10

Thank you everyone. I realize that my belief was incorrect. And the Scripture verse I was referring to, is James 2:25. After looking it up, I realize that I was relying on an incorrect interpretation, and that it doesn’t actually justifying Rahab’s lie.


#11

I am not sure if lying is always a sin, but i think its fine to temporarily stop following a rule with good reason.

“So then and there they came to this decision, 'If anyone attacks us on the Sabbath day, whoever he may be, we shall resist him; we must not all be killed, as our brothers were in the hiding places” (1 Maccabees 2:41)

Their was a time when the Jews had to take action on the Sabbath so they wouldn’t all be killed during war.I know that breaking the Sabbath and lying are two different sins, but the same can be applied. If you truly have a good reason to lie and its absolutely necessary you should be able to.

I might be wrong though and could be interpreting the bible incorrectly.


#12

Catechism:

2482 "A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving."281 The Lord denounces lying as the work of the devil: "You are of your father the devil, . . . there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies."282

2483 Lying is the most direct offense against the truth. To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error. By injuring man’s relation to truth and to his neighbor, a lie offends against the fundamental relation of man and of his word to the Lord.

2484 The gravity of a lie is measured against the nature of the truth it deforms, the circumstances, the intentions of the one who lies, and the harm suffered by its victims. If a lie in itself only constitutes a venial sin, it becomes mortal when it does grave injury to the virtues of justice and charity.

2485 By its very nature, lying is to be condemned…

scborromeo.org/ccc/p3s2c2a8.htm#2482


#13

What can one do that is just?

Catechism

2488 The right to the communication of the truth is not unconditional. Everyone must conform his life to the Gospel precept of fraternal love. This requires us in concrete situations to judge whether or not it is appropriate to reveal the truth to someone who asks for it.

2489 Charity and respect for the truth should dictate the response to every request for information or communication. The good and safety of others, respect for privacy, and the common good are sufficient reasons for being silent about what ought not be known or for making use of a discreet language. The duty to avoid scandal often commands strict discretion. No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it.283


#14

By lying one may appear to be defending the victims, but one actually is not taking a standing against the tyrrant.
It is not dissimilar to situations involving gangs and organized crime.
A proper response might be to question the soldiers as to the morality of their behaviour, prehaps reminding them of their ultimate fate.
I do not think I would have the courage to be a martyr.


#15

Don’t make the Pharisaical mistake of interpreting Catholic laws to extremes. Take them in consideration of the whole body of laws, not out of context.

Legitimate defense

2263 The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. "The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one’s own life; and the killing of the aggressor. . . . The one is intended, the other is not."65

2264 Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life. **Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow:
**
If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful. . . . Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one’s own life than of another’s.66
2265 Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.

Bold emphasis mine.

What does this mean to anyone here? Next time a Nazi knocks on your door asking you “yes or no, Jews here?” do you think it’s impermissible to lie and say no? Instead, you’ll shoot them, because that’s permissible? You’re kidding me.

Furthermore, the reason lying is bad is because it causes others to become deceived, not because it’s “categorically false”. Therefore, if I have stole money from my friend and another asked me “did you steal from your friend?” and I, incredulously exclaim “Yeah of course. I of all people stole from my own friend!” will you then say “hey, no big deal, he told the truth, just no one believed him!” No, for crying out loud, people!!! It’s a LIE even if it is true, because of the INTENT behind it (that is, to deceive by incredulity)


#16

To further expose the ridiculousness behind the idea that deceiving an individual is permissible as long as it’s not technically a false statement…

If I adore chips and salsa, and my friend says “hey, want some chips and salsa?” and I say, “no way!” though he is well aware I do, and I then go on to eat them, am I in danger of the fires of Gehenna? But… but I stated something false!
Of course, we realize it’s not the falseness that matters about the statement, it’s the intended deceiving of the individual that makes it wrong. And deceit can occur both when statements are categorically true or false.

2482 "A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving."281
It is true that in modern dictionaries falsehood is no longer inclusive of any situation intended to deceive-- only false ones. But a look at an aged dictionary will result in something more like this.

falsehood

FALSEHOOD, n. fols’hood. [false and hood.]

  1. Contrariety or inconformity to fact or truth; as the falsehood of a report.
  2. Want of truth or veracity; a lie; an untrue assertion.
  3. Want of honesty; treachery; deceitfulness; perfidy.
    But falsehood is properly applied to things only. [See falseness.]
  4. Counterfeit; false appearance; imposture.

#17

1753 A good intention (for example, that of helping one’s neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just. The end does not justify the means. Thus the condemnation of an innocent person cannot be justified as a legitimate means of saving the nation.


Lying is evil it is not a good. Jesus called the Devil the “Father of lies”.

The end does not “justify” the means of lying.

That being said – we are weak persons who do not always find the right way – especially in very extreme circumstances (not finding the right way…in the face of say the man with the gun) . In our weakness one may not find the right way (discreet language etc). One might lie. One understands weakness - we must pray daily “forgive us our trespasses”…

But such does not “justify” the lie -does make it a “good”.


#18

Yet killing someone is okay? I’m not talking about lying against an innocent person (the example this part of the CCC cites), I’m talking about lying to an evil person to save an innocent person. The same situation is perfectly okay if you shoot them dead (provided that was the only way of going about it to prevent the innocent one from being killed)


#19

Who is killing someone? not me.

– we are weak persons who do not always find the right way – especially in very extreme circumstances (not finding the right way…in the face of say the man with the gun) . In our weakness one may not find the right way (discreet language etc–see CCC). One might end up telling a lie. One understands weakness - we must pray daily “forgive us our trespasses”…

But such does not “justify” the lie -does make it a “good”.

The principle here is important to get.


#20

The catholic church holds that lying is always and everywhere wrong regardless of the benefits that might be gained thereof. Theologians and philosophers like Augustine and Aquinas have implied that in extreme cases ( a serial killer asking where his victim is at, for example) lying would constitute a venial sin at most. Others like Duns Scotus would say that it is a venial sin, but that God would reward you nonetheless for preventing a greater evil.
Regardless of how individual thinkers treat lying, It is always forbidden by catholic doctrine.


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