Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lies and Lila: Caesar's wife

The opening volleys of the “Lies & Lila” battle were almost deafening. Now, it’s settled down to riflemen in single-shot mode, with the occasional rattle of a machine gun. But it’s still a battle—worse, it’s a blue-on-blue incident.

Last Friday, Mark Shea titled his second National Catholic Register blog entry on the controversy “Last Comments on Lying for Jesus”. Then, he felt compelled to make additional remarks on Sunday (“Faustian Bargains”), and again on Wednesday (“Augustine vs. the Priscillianists”). So one of his respondents on the latter’s combox accused him of lying on Friday.

This issue has gotten touchy enough that even a lightly flippant remark can spin off into a round of squawking and squabbling. For all that we’re supposed to practice Christian charity in our remarks, some of the defenses on both sides have become rather acidic — and, by the way, I repeat my apology for my impatient and unjust treatment of Dr. John Zmirak’s argument in defense of Lila; it has since been corrected. Shea, who can be rather snarky to people whom he’s arguing with, senses this, and has toned down his rhetoric … to not much effect.

Satan must be laughing his ass off right now.

Once debate on an issue devolves into questioning motives and positing hidden agendas, we’re no longer dealing with reasons but feelings. Agreement is no longer a possibility; even compromise is asking too much. So it’s crucial for us all on the pro-life side to tacitly grant that we are on the same side, and that we’ve all got the best of intentions.

With that in mind:

I said on Friday that I wasn’t convinced all intrinsic evils are equal. We do feel some acts are worse than others; we do recognize a distinction between the venially sinful and the mortally sinful. And, as Tom Crowe points out in his latest post on the issue, the Catechism does appear to provide wiggle room with respect to the gravity of the lie (CCC 2484).

However, to argue whether the kind of lying LiveAction is engaged in is lesser or equal to Planned Barrenhood’s evil is akin to arguing over whether we’re about to be eaten by a mako shark or a Great White shark. Did we all forget about avoiding “the near occasion of sin”?

One thing that occurred to me just today, after I started on this post, is that this issue reminds me very much of qorban. People who engage in Catholic apologetics with Protestants ought to be familiar with qorban, as it comes up in Mark 7:10-11, which parallels Matthew 15:4-5: “For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘He who speaks evil of father and mother, let him surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God’ [qorban], he need not honor his father.’”

Both Dr. Zmirak and Dr. Peter Kreeft rightfully warn us of constructing a Pharisaic vision of God that smiles on adherence to a rigid, legalistic approach while ignoring the demands of justice and charity. But in the passages referenced, Jesus accused the Pharisees of a legalism that justified the evasion of the Law through the construction of a technicality.

That’s the other edge of the Pharisaic sword. In our eagerness to morally protect a tactic that seems to be working in our favor, we’re finessing Scripture, Tradition and the Catechism to death. It reminds me very much of the tactics the defense pursued in the Rodney King police-brutality trial: By stopping the damning videotape at various points during the replay, the lawyers created brilliant alternative explanations for certain events that, when taken together, succeeded in — if you’ll pardon the expression — turning black into white.

That’s how the culture of death works: it rationalizes the use of intrinsically evil methods to pursue good ends. It says to us, “Evil x isn’t as bad as evil y,” and asks us to ignore the fact that x is still evil. It plays with definitions; it provides examples that play on our emotions; it cites Scripture out of the context of salvation history. It appears to say to us, “Give us this ha’porth of tar, and we will save the ship,” when in fact it really says, “All the kingdoms of the earth will be yours, if only you fall on your face and worship me” (cf. Mt 4:9).

As St. Paul said, “Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14).

Frances Kissling has gone on record as admitting that the pro-abort forces are losing; right now, they are engaged in their own internal argument over whether they should continue to pursue unrestricted abortions or concede a term limit. Other bits of Planned Barrenhood’s dirty laundry are starting to come forth. While there’s still a long, long road a-windin’, the tide is definitely turned in our favor. (Pardon the mixed metaphor.)

It’s therefore very much in Satan’s favor to introduce a wedge issue into the pro-life camp. While it appears to be closer than ever, victory is just not that close. We still have many challenges to face, and we simply can’t afford a tactic that is not only divisive but holds so much potential to corrupt and destroy our efforts.

When Julius Caesar’s wife was accused of assisting Publius Clodius in committing a blasphemy, the pontifex maximus and praetor defended his wife vigorously; yet he divorced her at the same time. When asked why, he responded, “Caesar’s wife, like all Caesar’s family, must be above suspicion.”

If we have moral suspicions about a tactic, it’s best to refuse it. For we are still bound to avoid the near occasion of sin.