Wednesday, February 23, 2011

More Zmirak on Lying

John Zmirak has an even more awful and incoherent argument up on the question of lying but he is right about the danger of detraction, although his claims about it are somewhat excessive; and since I was pretty harsh on him previously, I thought I would notify people of the newer development of his argument, so they can read it for themselves, and so the harshness of the last post won't be the last word. I just can't prevent myself from saying, however, that this is silly:

My first instinct in dealing with people who insist that a consistent theological tradition, in itself, is enough to close this question is to suggest that they call the police on their local Protestant banker and insist he be arrested for usury, then burned for heresy.

Arresting people and giving them capital punishment are both matters of positive law; they change with the times by the very nature of the case. The real question, and what would really be the parallel to the lying case, is if Zmirak thinks he has good arguments that we should do things the consistent and overwhelming theological tradition would require us to call usurious and heretical. And if that's so, I'm afraid it again would be difficult to see how Zmirak thinks that he actually has the right background to talk about Catholic moral theology without merely confusing people, because he will have gone way out on a limb there, particularly since usury and heresy are both things that have been directly addressed not just by a consistent theological tradition but by conciliar and papal definitions. But there is a bit more to the issue of lying than just consistent theological tradition; there's the problem of how the Church's explicit and repeated condemnations of strict mental reservation can be upheld if Zmirak's position were right. (I hope to discuss the relation between lying and strict mental reservation in a post at some point on the purely philosophical problems with 'right to know' accounts of lying, which Zmirak prefers.) It's also worth noting that while again Zmirak has claimed that Aquinas advocated torture of heretics, Aquinas is not so explicit, and merely affirms that, insofar as baptismal vows are relevant to the interests of the state, the state has the power to compel people to keep them, with exactly the same power it has to compel people to keep other promises in which state interests are involved.

The detraction issue is interesting, though, and worth raising; detraction, like lying, easily admits of mortal and venial sin, and like lying is part of a larger genus, not all members of which are sins at all (fraternal correction, for instance). Insofar as there was anybody who discussed the matter for the definite purpose of blackening the name of Lila Rose in particular, that certainly was detraction. It doesn't follow, however, that anyone discussing the matter in an attempt to understand Catholic teaching on lying, or who was defending a particular position in the dispute was thereby engaging in detraction. Detraction in the case of public actions is tricky, too; public actions, especially public actions of an organization with which one is in sympathy or of members of a movement of which one counts oneself a member, at least raise the question, "Should we let this be a precedent?" And as long as it's a question asked honestly, and not with the ulterior motive of blackening someone's name, there's no detraction involved at all. Whether the question is asked honestly, of course, will vary from case to case.

ADDED LATER: And Zmirak has yet another article up on the subject in which he again shows a failure to understand two key points:

(1) The primary argument of his opponents is not "How dare you disagree with saints and doctors of the Church? Who do you think you are?" (as he puts it) but that if you disagree with many saints and doctors of the Church on a moral question -- which saints tend to know something about -- you had better have excellent arguments, which Zmirak has repeatedly shown he does not have.

(2) Given that his position is inconsistent with the view of so many saints and doctors of the Church, the attempt by Zmirak, from his very first post, to smear as immoral people who hold the same view as those saints and doctors of the Church (in terms suggesting that they are legalistic, literalistic, uncompassionate, and so forth) is absolutely unacceptable.

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