(When) Is Lying Wrong?

Lila Rose’s explosive undercover video exposing a  Planned Parenthood worker who gave professional advice to someone masquerading as a pimp with an under-age sex ring has generated a national debate over the organization and its role.

But it has also generated a much quieter, more philosophical discussion over the legitimacy of the tactics that Rose’s outfit used.  Christopher Tollefsen kicked the party off and it continued unabated for several weeks.  Not surprisingly, the debate quickly moved toward the “Nazi’s at the door with Jewish folks in the basement” problem, a problem that Tollefsen didn’t shirk from:

But the Nazi is not owed the truth as to whether one is concealing Jews even when one is not. His mission is wrongful regardless of whether one conceals or not. He has no legitimate authority, that having been lost long time since by the regime and those who worked for it. Yet he is a human being, and a child of God, and one cannot assume that his soul is beyond saving. One’s obligation, I hold, is to refuse to answer his question regarding the whereabouts of Jews (for he is owed no answer) and to tell him further that he is engaged in a wicked activity and to encourage his repentance.

What are the likely consequences of such action? One possible good consequence is this: a firm policy never to answer (especially if this policy is shared by others) makes it difficult for the Nazi to infer anything accurate from what he hears about the whereabouts of the Jews on any occasion. Having heard this twice when no Jews were to be found, he might, in fact, infer that there are no Jews hidden on the third occasion, though in fact there are. Moreover, a systematic policy of denying the authority asserted by wicked regimes can begin to break that power down—wicked regimes depend for their power on citizens remaining subjects. Of course, it is also possible that a refusal to answer will enrage the Nazi to the point of violence, even if no Jews are discovered. But one would be speaking truthfully and lovingly to this wicked but not God-forsaken man in the only way that could conceivably do some good for him, and in a way that does no evil to one’s self.

I suggest that the policy I have outlined should be adopted also when one does have Jews hidden in one’s house. And here again, the likely consequences are not good. In both scenarios, a search will likely be conducted, and in the second, the Jews found. What then?

I do not think one could in good conscience allow the Nazis to depart alone with the Jews. Physically resisting would likely be futile, but not necessarily wrong. One could offer to go with the Nazis in place of the Jews; and if that failed one could insist that one be brought with the Jews (it is very likely this decision would already have been made by the Nazis). And one should be willing to accept that a possibly significant degree of physical harm, perhaps even death, would be visited upon one’s person while one continued to proclaim the truth to the Nazis about the wickedness of their mission.

In all such actions one would act in solidarity with the Jews and charity towards the Nazi. One would witness to the truth in ways that, were more to do so, could conceivably be the undoing of the regime. And one might occasionally sway a young wrongdoer, one raised as a Christian, perhaps, but gradually corrupted by his culture, recollecting him to his better self and turning him towards the good.

The one thing I’ve never understood in the hypothetical is why those who were hiding Jews would think that the Nazi’s would believe the lie.  I suspect my imagination is shaped more by the movies than by historical accounts on this, and when I reflect about the Nazi’s accepting citizens’ claims at face value when searching for Jews, it seems wildly implausible.

This is a debate worth having, though, as the question of the pro-life movement’s integrity is at stake.  And having this  debate in public, rather than in the cloistered and inaccessible world of the academy or conferences, is why God invented the internet.

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