My previous post got me thinking. When are we justified in lying?
2 Nephi 9:34 is pretty blunt: “Wo unto the liar, for he shall be thrust down to hell.” There doesn’t seem to be any qualification.
Another one that should make undercover cops nervous: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, wo be unto him that lieth to deceive because he supposeth that another lieth to deceive, for such are not exempt from the justice of God.”
And yet …
I cannot imagine a just God sending a man to Hell because he looked the Gestapo agent in the eye and said, “No, there are no Jews here”, as the family of Jews hidden in his attic trembled in terror.
I recall reading Laura Schlessinger write that in Orthodox Jewish tradition, it is morally acceptable to lie to protect an innocent life (include one’s own) from imminent threat of death. This is based on the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Pharoah in Genesis, but it covers the righteous-among-the-nations scenario. Not a bad standard, at least on the surface. But how far can it or should it be pushed?
There is convincing evidence clearing Brigham Young of immediate complicity in the Mountain Meadows Massacre. However, there is pretty good evidence Brother Brigham became aware rather quickly that Mormons were involved in the massacre, and chose not to share his knowledge with Federal authorities. I have seen attempts to justify this on the grounds that, had knowledge that Mormons perpetrated the Massacre come out at that time, it would have shattered the fragile truce ending the Utah War and resulted in rather a lot of bloodshed, a good bit of it innocent. Does that really wash?
How about deception in warfare? Mormon apparently felt a need to explain at some length why Captain Moroni was justified in setting up an ambush of an invading army, instead of fighting them right out in the open like honest men. It would be interesting to have Mormon’s evaluation of Operation Fortitude.
None of these justifications apply to Obama, of course, whose motivation was political advantage masquerading as literary license. I suggest the proximity of the threat is a major consideration in evaluating the acceptability of lying for the common good. In the Gestapo example, the threat was immediate and obvious and there seemed no other way to preserve life. The military examples may also fall into this category. Lying to promote a political agenda seems too detached from the threat or the good that is being promoted; with so much distance, there is too much ground for unintended consequences.
His Majesty: “Lord Vader, you think too much. If it weren’t for the mask, you’d be hopeless at poker.”