Friday, March 18, 2011

Are Stings Immoral

Readers have perhaps heard of the surreptitious videotaping of Planned Parenthood staffers by pro-lifers who pass themselves off as underage pregnant girls or prostitutes. The "stings" have been carried out by Lila Rose’s group Live Action and involved deceiving Planned Parenthood staffers into revealing their actual practices and attitudes, which were shocking and sometimes illegal.

At First Things ethicist Robert George takes issue with the practice of lying, even in a good cause. Pro-lifers, he says, whatever their religious commitments, should:
reject lying even in the greatest of good causes. What we fight for is just and true, and truth — in its unparalleled splendor and luminosity — is the most powerful weapon in our arsenal. It is the truth about the precious life of the child in the womb, and about the consequences of abortion for women and men, and the effects of abortion on families, on the medical profession, and on society more broadly, that will ultimately enable us to build a culture of life.
George holds that even though the other side lies about the nature of what happens in an abortion pro-lifers should not do as they do:
[I]n working to protect the victims of abortion, it is frustrating to hold ourselves to standards that so many on the other side freely disregard.”
He goes on to say that:
[T]here are no moral shortcuts to victory in this struggle. A culture of life can only be built on a foundation of truth. Lying may produce short-term victories, but it will, in the end, frustrate our long-term objective. Respect for life—like respect for every other great human good and every other high moral principle—depends on love of truth. Our efforts in the cause of life and every other worthy goal will, in the end, prove to be self-defeating if they undermine love of truth.
This is difficult for me to say because I sympathize with Professor George's insistence on the value of truth, but I don't think matters are as simple as he implies. I wonder, for instance, what he would say about the lies that must be told by undercover police or intelligence agents trying to pull off a sting of a gang of thieves or infiltrate a drug cartel or infiltrate a terror cell. I wonder, too, what he would say about the military putting out disinformation in order to deceive the enemy the better to defeat them in battle, or a government threatening the use of nuclear weapons to deter a nuclear attack even if they knew they would not, in fact, retaliate with nukes.

Truth is certainly among the greatest goods, one that is too much under-valued in modern society, but it is not the greatest good. It is not an idol. There are circumstances in which telling the truth would be a great wrong - for instance, if telling the truth would lead directly to the murders of innocents. Likewise, lying, though otherwise almost always wrong, would be a great good if it led to the saving of the lives of innocents.

Imagine, for example, that Col. Qaddafi is about to commit wholesale slaughter of the families of the rebels who rose up against him. Suppose further that our intelligence agents report that he will likely not do this if he thinks the American president would use force to stop him. Would it be wrong for the president to declare that the United States will invade Libya with the tacit purpose of killing Qaddafi if he begins his genocide, even if the president knows in his heart that he will do no such thing? Is political bluffing wrong?

Professor George would apparently say that it would be wrong for those hiding Jews from the nazis in the early 1940s or slaves from their owners in the underground railroad of the 1850s to lie to those who question them about their knowledge of such operations. If the nazis came to a home where Jews were being hidden and asked the homeowner if he knows where there are any Jews, does Professor George say that the homeowner should tell the truth and reveal their presence in his attic? Or should he lie to save their lives? What do you think?

Hell? No.

I've never watched Martin Bashir on MSNBC before nor have I ever read any of Rob Bell's books, but after watching this interview I'm convinced that I've been missing something by not watching Bashir and missing nothing by not reading Bell.

I don't think Bell lucidly answers a single question Bashir puts to him about his new book and each response he does make sounds like a contradiction of a position he holds in the book. Bashir prods him to answer whether it is irrelevant and immaterial how one responds to Christ in this life in terms of determining one’s eternal destiny, to which Bell replies that it is immensely important, but then he never really tells us why, and indeed, gives the impression that he doesn't really believe his own answer.

Bashir's summation is that Bell is trying to "amend the gospel" to make it "palatable" to modern people. It sounds to me like he might be hitting the nail pretty much on the head:
Bell's book is titled Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived and has apparently ignited a theological firestorm because allegedly (I haven't read it so I can't say with confidence) Bell argues for a position called universalism which is the belief that everyone will ultimately have eternal life with God. No one will be eternally separated from the love of God. God's love is so powerful that it will win even the most recalcitrant and obdurate to His bosom.

For the sake of his reputation I hope he does a better job in the book defending that view than he does in his interview with Bashir.

At any rate, without judging Bell's book, which, as I say, I haven't read, I recommend C.S. Lewis' Great Divorce as an alternative to universalism. Lewis illustrates nicely how human perversity creates its own hell and how many people willfully choose hell over heaven even if given a clear choice.

The video raises a couple of questions I'd like to explore over the next day or two. The first has to do with the dilemma that Bashir presents in the opening, and the second concerns God's justice.

Amateur Night

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has had it with the weak leadership of the current White House. According to The a Clinton insider reveals Ms Clinton's frustration with Mr. Obama:
Fed up with a president “who can’t make his mind up” as Libyan rebels are on the brink of defeat, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is looking to the exits.

At the tail end of her mission to bolster the Libyan opposition, which has suffered days of losses to Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s forces, Clinton announced that she’s done with Obama after 2012 — even if he wins again.

“Obviously, she’s not happy with dealing with a president who can’t decide if today is Tuesday or Wednesday, who can’t make his mind up,” a Clinton insider told The Daily. “She’s exhausted, tired.”

He went on, “If you take a look at what’s on her plate as compared with what’s on the plates of previous Secretaries of State — there’s more going on now at this particular moment, and it’s like playing sports with a bunch of amateurs. And she doesn’t have any power. She’s trying to do what she can to keep things from imploding.”

When French president Nicolas Sarkozy urged her to press the White House to take more aggressive action in Libya, Clinton repeatedly replied only, “There are difficulties,” according to Foreign Policy magazine.

“Frankly we are just completely puzzled,” one of the diplomats told Foreign Policy magazine. “We are wondering if this is a priority for the United States.”

Or as the insider described Obama’s foreign policy shop: “It’s amateur night.”
This is not surprising. We elected to the presidency a complete unknown, a man from nowhere, just because he spoke well and had an interesting racial identity. We swooned at his speeches and believed that we were witnessing the second coming. Now reality has set in, we've traveled to Oz and looked behind the curtain and found there a man who lacks any of the attributes required of someone who aspires to lead a nation. As others have noted, Mr. Obama clearly enjoys the perks of being president but seems to disdain the job itself. From the health care debate through every episode that has arisen in his tenure he has been disengaged, disinterested, and disinclined to lead. Throughout his short political career his predilection has been to vote present rather than to take a stand. It seems that inclination continues in the White House.

I suspect that Hillary knew this about him from the beginning, but thought she could help carry the man through his presidency. Evidently she underestimated the magnitude of the task.