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Moral absolutes and apostasy


Philosophers like to philosophize, and surprisingly enough, they are not all immune from the influence of "the current." If a new movie comes out exploring an old subject, you will find that somewhere, some philosopher has decided that this requires that he write something new about it. That wouldn't be a bad thing in itself, but it is a bad thing when philosophers come to the wrong conclusions about a type of thing that has been hashed out long ago, and it's especially odd if they do so in a way that implies that this time it's different because of the peculiarities of the case at issue in the new movie, book, etc.

I have been surprised to find something of this phenomenon occurring concerning the new Scorsese movie, based upon a book by Shusako Endo, Silence.

Disclaimer: I haven't watched the movie nor read the book. I'm writing this post not to argue about the correct interpretation of Scorsese or Endo but rather to argue about a certain wrong conclusion that is being drawn about our actual duties to the Lord Jesus Christ, prompted by the scenario (or, for some people, a modified version of the scenario) in the movie. So if you think that I'm wrong to take it that the book/movie endorses the legitimacy of public acts of apostasy, at least in some cases, don't worry about that. My concern is entirely with whether we should endorse it.

Here's the basic scenario, as I understand it: A serious Christian, the priest Rodrigues, is being psychologically coerced into performing a public act of renouncing his Christianity. In the particular case in the movie the public act takes the form of stepping on a picture of the face of Christ (or in some cases of the Virgin Mary). To coerce him, the wicked persecutors are horribly torturing to death other people in front of him. These people (I'm told) have already apostatized themselves, though I myself don't believe that that should make a difference to what is right for Rodrigues to do. Some with whom I've discussed this issue have suggested that we could "up the ante" by imagining that those being tortured to death are your own children, though this is not literally the case in the movie/book. In the movie/book, Rodrigues eventually seems to hear the voice of Jesus Himself telling him to go ahead and trample the picture. Whether Jesus is actually talking to him is, of course, up for interpretation, but that's what he believes, and on that basis he gives in.

Let me say as clearly as I possibly can that, in rejecting the legitimacy of apostasy even under such horrific circumstances, I am not denying any of the following:

--A really good person might very well crack under horrible psychological pressure and publicly deny Christ. Any of us might crack under that sort of coercion.
--We should have great compassion for someone who gives in under such circumstances.
--Coercion is a greatly mitigating factor, perhaps even to such an extent that, where there is enough coercion, we could conclude that the person's personal freedom had been completely overridden by the coercion and that he was therefore not to blame for his actions for that reason.

Notice, however, that what none of these say is that the action was morally justified. Indeed, even if one goes so far as to say that a person is entirely excused because his personal freedom was overridden by the psychological or physical torment, that implicitly presumes that the action would have been wrong if undertaken freely, much less calculatedly. It is crucial that we maintain a strict distinction between pitying Rodrigues and making up a philosophical theory that justifies his action. For if stepping on a picture of the face of Christ is justifiable by ethical theory, then it would not be necessary even to try to resist the persecutors until one breaks under the pressure. The persecutors could simply lay out their ultimatum and threats and, if one considers their threats credible, one could then choose to give in to their demands right at the beginning and spare everyone suffering.

One attempt to justify Rodrigues can, I think, be easily dealt with. This is the attempt to say that his action is a "mere motion of the foot" and that what would be really wrong would be his rejecting Jesus in his heart. As long as he isn't apostatizing in his heart, goes this argument, it is completely okay to make a mere "foot motion" to save others from suffering.

This attempted justification makes a mockery of what is clearly taught in Scripture--that it is wrong to deny Jesus before men. (Matthew 10:33, Luke 12:9) In order to deny Jesus before men, one must use language or some external sign that is understood by other people. But any such sign could be said to be "merely external," up to and including the words, in a commonly understood language, "I deny and renounce Jesus Christ." One could say that uttering such words is "merely a movement of the tongue" or "merely a breath of wind out of one's mouth" and that, as long as one doesn't really deny Jesus "in one's heart," it's okay to apply consequential considerations and go ahead and say the words. And the same for the three young men and the fiery furnace. Bowing down to the image is a "merely external" act. So is pouring a libation to the emperor. So go ahead. It isn't really denying Jesus in your heart!

This sort of reasoning would negate the importance of resisting such acts that both Scripture and common sense attach to them. Scripture, overtly and repeatedly. Common sense, because we all know that the very reason that the persecutors are demanding the external act is because it is meaningful. Everyone involved in the situation realizes that they wouldn't be doing all these horrible things to try to force Rodrigues to trample on the face of Jesus Christ if it were a "mere foot movement." It is a significant speech act.

The next argument is really just a plea from the extreme nature of the coercion involved. When Jesus said that we should never deny him before men, could he really have had in mind a scenario in which the evil men are torturing your children to try to get you to engage in some symbolic act of apostasy?

This argument is related to the claim, made in a 1989 philosophical article about Endo's book, that Rodrigues faces a genuine moral dilemma in which the command to love God with all your heart is at odds with the command to love your neighbor as yourself. (See quotes here.)

The problem with this whole approach is that it assumes that the act of publicly denying Christ is not intrinsically wrong. Those of us who believe in intrinsically wrong acts have been bombarded forever with increasingly horrific scenarios: But surely if the bad guys were going to do this, you would do that, right? There is this curious idea that the ethical concept of an intrinsically wrong act can be rendered null and void if only the consequences of refusing to perform it--even consequences brought about manipulatively by evil men--are bad enough! But the whole point of an intrinsically wrong act is that nothing can justify it, period. Hence it doesn't matter what the bad guys are going to do.

I don't know precisely what Jesus' phenomenology was like while here on earth. I would guess that he had, at least prior to his resurrection, something like our experience of having some thoughts or ideas implicit and some thoughts explicit. I'm certainly not going to say that when he solemnly warned his followers that they must never deny him before men he was explicitly thinking of a situation where the bad guys attempted to coerce them by torturing their children before their very eyes. But Jesus is obviously teaching about a coming time of persecution, and bad guys have been sadistically creative in their methods of coercion since time immemorial. There is no reason whatever to think that Jesus was not saying that denying him before men is an intrinsically wrong act, that he realizes that persecutors will try all sorts of horrible things to get us to comply, but that we should cling to him and do all that we can to remain firm, no matter what. St. Paul quotes what was probably an early Christian hymn or creed to this effect:

If we suffer, we shall also reign with him. If we deny him, he will deny us. (2 Timothy 2:12)

Indeed, Jesus actually says that we should "hate" our parents and children in comparison to our love for him. (Luke 14:26) Even allowing for Eastern hyperbole, the whole point of such an utterance seems to be that, if there is an apparent conflict between our duty to remain true to Jesus and our duties to those people, our duty to Jesus takes precedence. (Look, Ma, no ethical dilemmas!)

The attempt to use the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself to create a dilemma for Rodrigues is highly artificial. Since when does the second great commandment mean, "There are no intrinsically wrong acts"? Or, "Utilitarianism is true"? Or, "You are obligated to do anything, including acts you might otherwise have considered intrinsically wrong, to prevent the suffering of your fellow man"?

The injunction to love one's neighbor as oneself is a broad moral principle that in no way endorses consequentialism in ethics. Nor, for that matter, does it command any one particular act. In contrast, Jesus' injunction not to deny him does clearly command against a particular act.

That denying Jesus before men is an intrinsically wrong act is clear not only from Jesus' teaching and other biblical teaching (e.g., the three young men in the fiery furnace) but also from the very nature of religion and Christianity. The whole point of religious commitment is that it is ultimate commitment. There are things to which one has given one's whole self, things to which one is absolutely committed. Christianity, as taught not just in verses about not denying Jesus but throughout the whole fabric of the New Testament (and Judaism in the Old) is similarly about absolute commitment of oneself. We are to take up our cross and follow Jesus. To live is Christ and to die is gain. We are crucified with Christ, yet Christ lives in us. We are to count all things as loss for the excellency of the knowledge of the Lord Jesus. We present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable, which is only our reasonable service.

To the Christian, God, as revealed in the Son, Jesus Christ, is the ultimate value. If we don't have Him, we have nothing. We are therefore willing to die for him, to suffer for him. Nothing else is more important. Literally nothing. Nothing can compete with Him, nothing can take His place. If evil men choose to do evil things, yes, even evil things to those we love, that does not change the nature and importance of our own commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is to be absolute, because that is part of what it means to be a Christian. There is no point at which one says, "Okay, now that's too much. This is where I get off the train. That consequence of my following Jesus Christ is just so bad that I can't possibly be expected to continue not denying him. This is the place where it all changes." If you think that ratcheting up the bad things the bad guys can do can make a difference, you fundamentally misunderstand the nature of what Christ calls us to.

A Christian's commitment to Jesus isn't a commitment with a utilitarian asterisk.

(In passing, I endorse the point made by this commentator: If one is going to use the commandment to love one's neighbor as oneself in this context, then it would be at least as justifiable to trample on the image of Christ to save oneself from torture and death as to do so to save others. One isn't supposed to love oneself less than one's neighbor.)

Bill Vallicella (who is not endorsing the ethical dilemma claim) makes one other argument that it is legitimate for Rodrigues to trample the picture:

[G]iven the silence of God, it is much better known (or far more reasonably believed) that the prisoners should be spared from unspeakable torture by a mere foot movement than that God exists and that Rodrigues' exterior act of apostasy would be an offence [against] God...

I have already discussed the "mere foot movement" claim. Now I want to discuss the epistemic argument. It is a little odd that Vallicella here alludes to the silence of God. Perhaps he is alluding to the fact that, until Jesus seems to speak to Rodrigues in the book (and endorse trampling), God is silent in the sense that he sends no sensible sign directly to Rodrigues himself. God doesn't write across the heavens, "Thou shalt not trample." God doesn't smite the persecutors dead.

But so what? Christianity is a revealed religion. Insofar as one is a Christian at all, one believes that God has not been silent. "God, who at sundry times and in diverse manners spake in time past unto the prophets hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son." (Hebrews 1:1)

Do we have Cartesian certainty that God exists and that Christianity is true? I would say no, but I would also say that Cartesian certainty (the same certainty I have that 1 + 1 = 2) is not necessary for absolute personal commitment. That's a big topic, but it's one that Vallicella cannot decide in one sentence. Certainly Christianity itself seems to presume that the evidence given is sufficient for absolute commitment, so the burden would seem to be on a philosopher who wishes to argue that only a relative, defeasible kind of commitment, commitment up to the point where the bad guys are going to do something really bad to someone if you don't publicly deny Jesus Christ, is possible on the basis of the evidence we have for the Christian revelation.

But that isn't the same thing as starting a sentence with, "Given the silence of God..." Obviously, if Christianity were just made up out of our heads, if God had never revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, if Jesus had never told his followers that he was one with the Father and that they must never deny him, we'd be in a much different situation! Then it might be legitimate to start a sentence on this topic with, "Given the silence of God..." Why would you let other people be tortured to death for a religion you don't have good reason to believe is true? Duh, as the kids say.

But if you do have very good reason to believe that Christianity is true, then you have very good reason to believe that God has not been silent, that you should be absolutely committed to Jesus Christ, and that therefore you shouldn't publicly deny Jesus Christ no matter what. It's just false to pit our ethical intuition that we should spare others from suffering against a putative "silence of God" when a major point of Christianity is that God is there and is not silent!

Utilitarianism will be the death of us. Perhaps the physical death, but much more plausibly the spiritual death. There is nothing especially philosophically virtuous about applying a calculus of "doing the least harm" to every scenario that comes up. From a Christian perspective, such a calculus is often just plain wrong. If we are to discuss such scenarios with any seriousness, we need to take seriously the possibility that Christianity is true and can be known to be true. If that is the case, it smashes utilitarianism to smithereens, and we are called to the most radical commitment of all.

Comments (70)

In order to deny Jesus before men, one must use language or some external sign that is understood by other people.

Doesn't the truth of the utterance play some part? Someone can say "I deny Christ" as a means to deceive the bad guys; a lie. If it's a lie then Christ isn't actually being denied. Now I'm not sure how one lies about an external sign and I also realize this raises another ethical dilemma (i.e the evil of lying).

Apparently Jesus doesn't think it's okay to do that when it comes to apparent denial of himself. In any event, it wouldn't even work as a lie if it were a "mere motion of the lips." It has to have semantic content. Which is how we know what Jesus is prohibiting--engaging in a public act with that semantic content.

It seems plausible that if you accompany an external act of apostasy wkth an internal one, you've acted in a worse way, or are at least a worse person.

And it seems that utilitarianism is a symptom as well as well as cause of spiritual death. It only (almost) makes sense if we only have this durations of life, if there iis to be no ultimate judgement.

I was surprised by William Vallicella tried to view the apostasy as mere movement.

And I don't see how you can create a dilemma out of the two greatest commandments here, you love God wholly, but you don't love yourself wholly, so you don't love others with this ultimate devotion. So, yeah, if you wouldn't commit the apostasy for yourself, how could you do it for others?

So the appearance of public denial is prohibited, whether or not Christ is actually denied. I suppose this makes sense for if one can lie or do mouth and foot motions, public denial wouldn't really be an issue, unless one actually rejects Christ, but then the given moral dilemma is besides the point.

What is the importance of not engaging in a public act with that semantic content? God would obviously know if you reject Him or not.

What is the importance of not engaging in a public act with that semantic content? God would obviously know if you reject Him or not.

If you don't know, or that isn't at all obvious to you, I find it difficult to know just how to answer the question.

God is to be honored above all things. Publicly dishonoring him is publicly endorsing evil. God is dishonored, Jesus is dishonored, *by* the act, *by* the publicly expressed semantic content, in the eyes of mankind. Which is, of course, exactly what the persecutors are trying to bring about. Your private intentions cannot just erase or negate that.

I think your answer is clear. Although I'm not sure how mankind would view a Christian being coerced into repeating the words terrorist want to hear. I think most people would see the terrorist as the one dishonoring Christ, but I suppose any amount of material cooperation with such public dishonoring is intrinsically evil?

I suppose any amount of material cooperation with such public dishonoring is intrinsically evil?

Insofar as you are not just reduced to an automaton doing the will of the terrorists, yes. I'm quite willing to raise the possibility (as in the post) that the evil men might so break the will of the Christian that he can no longer be regarded as culpable, or barely at all, but in my opinion there is a desire on the part of the persecutors for some degree of willed cooperation with their public dishonoring. That's part of their victory--to induce you to *go along* with it, at least externally. I've been told that in the book the persecutors require the apostate priests to repeat their act of desecration from time to time for the rest of their lives. The intent is to break the spirit of the nascent Christian movement in Japan by holding them up as an example to the Japanese converts. One apostate (I'm told) even theorizes that if they succeed in helping the persecutors to do this it will mean less suffering overall, so they actually should be trying to help to stamp out Christianity in Japan. Once one goes down the utilitarian path, it's somewhat difficult to see why one shouldn't accept that kind of reasoning.

Interestingly, if a person has a policy to never deny Christ regardless of danger or suffering (whether the danger or suffering affects him, his family, his friends, or anyone else) and follows through with it, it becomes pointless to threaten him or make him suffer as a means to that end – in other words, having psychological boundaries may actually protect the people he cares about, but they have to be absolutely non-negotiable. (Analogy: if a foreign government never pays for the return of hostages, regardless of their status, it becomes pointless for someone to take hostages hoping that government will pay. There might, of course, be other motivations.)

That's an interesting point, but if I were an evil persecutor I would always hope that he would not be psychologically able to live up to his principles but would break under pressure if I invented sufficiently diabolical methods of coercion. And from a purely empirical perspective, such a persecutor might be correct to predict that the man would break down.

(Analogy: if a foreign government never pays for the return of hostages, regardless of their status, it becomes pointless for someone to take hostages hoping that government will pay. There might, of course, be other motivations.)

Tom, I was going to mention just this parallel. I think it is valid...up to a point.

And the limit is just what Lydia says: though SOME Christians will indeed live up to that standard, others won't.

One attempt to justify Rodrigues can, I think, be easily dealt with. This is the attempt to say that his action is a "mere motion of the foot" and that what would be really wrong would be his rejecting Jesus in his heart. As long as he isn't apostatizing in his heart, goes this argument, it is completely okay to make a mere "foot motion" to save others from suffering.

Lydia, I agree with your comment about this theory, on the whole. But I would point out a kind of (at least partial) exception: for those who completely reject the notion of representational art of Jesus, rejecting statutes and pictures altogether (such as Jehovah's Witnesses), the "picture of Jesus" may not adequately carry the same semantic content of "stepping on this is a way of denying Jesus." Especially if, also, they cotton on to the fact that any given image of Jesus is, of course, just some artist's rendition of an idea, not an actual image of Jesus himself as he looked in Palestine 2000 years ago. If this person says to himself "no picture stands for Jesus", stepping on a picture will be - at most - an attenuated sort of denial of Jesus. Sure, they may admit that it "means" that to others, but only because others are mistaken in their understanding of the semantic meaning of the image and therefore also mistaken about stepping on it.

Other than for these sorts, I wholly endorse your point.

And, I would note that the very same issue came up in discussing Amoris Laetitia, insofar as one (very bad) way of reading it is to conclude that if you are being threatened with great harm, it is OK to deny Jesus. So much for the example of the martyrs! And of the great opprobrium brought on themselves by those who DID deny Christ.

If this person says to himself "no picture stands for Jesus", stepping on a picture will be - at most - an attenuated sort of denial of Jesus. Sure, they may admit that it "means" that to others, but only because others are mistaken in their understanding of the semantic meaning of the image and therefore also mistaken about stepping on it.

I'm not sure about this. I think even an extreme iconoclast could (if he weren't trying to find a way to justify stomping) realize that since, in the culture in question, the act has that meaning, he will be *conveying* this to other people by his act. Maybe that's just because the Christian culture is "too Catholic" or something (in the iconoclastic Christian's view), but since it is, he will be de facto conveying a dishonoring of God to those people by engaging in the act, which is, again, why the act is being demanded.

Cartesian certainty is certainly an illusion, being merely a stepping stone to complete loss of all certainty whatsoever, even in the certainty of being a self.
As Chesterton has remarked somewhere that one thing we can be sure of when a baby looks at the green grass is that the green grass exists for the baby.

There were several articles at Crisis on this movie and it was astonishing the number of Catholics who went into agnostic mode of "Gee, are we sure this is apostasy. I mean, reeeaally apostasy?" James Bowman's review of it here puts it well: http://www.jamesbowman.net/reviewDetail.asp?pubID=2410

We are allowed to suppose that Father Rodrigues, at least, continues secretly to harbor Christian beliefs, or superstitions if you prefer, to the end of his life, but that only serves as a further excuse for his apostasy — and for the Japanese insistence on it. At least their approach might be described as "Don’t ask, don’t tell."

But hang on a minute. I’m only playing my own version of Mr Scorsese’s trick on you by trying to get you to see his movie through different eyes than his own — namely, those of a pre-Vatican II Catholic raised on stories of the saints and martyrs throughout two thousand years who were said to have gone joyfully to the rack, the scaffold, the flame or the grave rather than do what Father Rodrigues does in Silence. The point of principle on which this Jesuit priest is invited, quite literally, to stand is also the most superstitious (to modern eyes) and unnecessary of the church’s beliefs, that having to do with sanctified objects and images, and not anything we should regard, apart from the mere tradition of it, as desirable, let alone needful, to die for...In fairness to Mr Scorsese, he is only taking advantage of the fact that for any 21st century Catholic the mentality of someone willing to die, and allow others to die, rather than put his foot on a bas relief image of a holy man, however sacred the image or however much he may preserve some understanding of what it is to desecrate it, is almost as foreign as it is to a non-Catholic. There can be very few even of believers today who would not come to think, and a lot more quickly than Fr Seb does, that it was no big deal to take that step — particularly when you consider the alternative.

It’s all in how you look at it, isn’t it?

I can understand confusion in the face of evil threatening torment of the innocent. It's when the putatively good are threatening the torment of enemies that the dictatorship of relationship is there in all its wackadoodle glory: "Gee, is waterboarding torture? I mean reeeeally torture?"

My apologies for messing up the blockquote. Should continue and end at "It’s all in how you look at it, isn’t it?"

In any event, if iconoclastic types are going to make a fuss about how this is "just an image," it's easy enough to change the hypothetical scenario to something even a hyper-anti-Catholic Baptist can't quibble about--bowing down to an idol of a false god as in the Old Testament story, for example. (I should add, though, that I believe there are many Baptists who would recognize full-well the meaning of stomping on a picture of Jesus.)

As I have been reading the consequentialist philosophical discussions of this, I haven't really seen anything ride on the idea that an icon isn't really that big of a deal or that we it is superstitious to respect an icon. Even Vallicella's "mere foot motion" comment isn't *that* argument, as I read it, and could be applied just as well (or just as unconvincingly) to bowing down to an idol or saying the words, "I renounce Jesus Christ."

I forgot about this story until after publishing the post. It seems that a non-Catholic student (in this case, a Mormon) "got it" sufficiently that he would not trample a piece of paper with the name "Jesus" written on it as a classroom exercises.


Evil utilitarian scientists have captured a billion children to prove their philosophical point: Either I publicly deny Jesus within the next hour or an army of unstoppable mindless machines that are watching me closely will begin to torture and murder the children. Suppose that Jesus appears. Unlike the Jesus in Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor he is in a talkative mood. I ask him: "What intriniscally bad state of affairs, all other things being equal, do you prefer: a) my public denial of you; b) a billion innocent children being tortured". Jesus: "I'll take the billion tortured children." Accordingly, I do not deny him. A billion children dies in pain, while I am taking some water to wash my hands before the crowd.

Great biblical scholarship, Lydia.

In any event, if iconoclastic types are going to make a fuss about how this is "just an image," it's easy enough to change the hypothetical scenario to something even a hyper-anti-Catholic Baptist can't quibble about--bowing down to an idol of a false god as in the Old Testament story, for example.

I completely agree.

Even Vallicella's "mere foot motion" comment isn't *that* argument, as I read it, and could be applied just as well (or just as unconvincingly) to bowing down to an idol or saying the words, "I renounce Jesus Christ."

Absolutely. That argument rests on a false understanding of the human act, which is not merely physical. You have to deny the moral dimension permeating the physical act and giving it moral meaning to make that argument.

realize that since, in the culture in question, the act has that meaning, he will be *conveying* this to other people by his act.

And the determination of just how fully the act has such a meaning "in the culture in question" is one that is going to be subject gray areas: any culture has subcultures, and in the hypothesized one, the dominant culture does not believe in the sanctity of the image; in the subculture of the torturers, they actively repudiate the notion and think the Christians are idiots for accepting it, and so on. The meaning to the cultureS in question is various. The only thing they all agree on is the common recognition that to a STANDARD Christian, stepping on the image implies denial of Christ, but that FACT would mean something different to an iconoclast Christian faced with the demand than to a standard one who accepts the accusation of being "a Christian who believes in the sanctity of this image". After all, for a Japanese who abides by the old pagan religion to step on the image in front of other such Japanese, it does not carry the meaning "he stepped on something he considers sacred", but rather "he stepped on something THOSE PEOPLE consider sacred. He is rejecting THEIR beliefs." The iconoclast could, in a dominant culture of iconoclasts, equally step on the image to say "I reject their beliefs in the sanctity of this image" rather than "I reject Christ."

Which leads me to expand on what Scott said above. I suggest that what Scorcese is doing, at least in part, is playing on the dichotomy between the different cultures: the standard Christian culture that believes it is gravely wrong to deny Christ even by disrepecting His image; the dominant Japanese culture of the time, the media-driven current culture in the theater that considers ALL religion to be superstition and that all acts of respect for God to be effectively empty of meaning; and the current Christian culture that BOTH respects the ancient martyrs AND is affected (at least subconsciously) by the media-driven bias against anything that smacks of superstition. Given those different cultural contexts, it is easy to slip and slide and slop back and forth to create seeming paradoxes and dilemmas. But that's a trick of film-making, (which Scorsese is good at taking advantage of), not a real problem: in real life you don't actually have to meander between all 4 of those cultural contexts to decide what is right.

Great biblical scholarship, Lydia.

Wait, what?

I must be a poor biblical scholar because I come to ethical conclusions Grobi disagrees with? Heck, Grobi, you're not a Christian. Why not just conclude from your perspective that the Bible stinks as an ethical guide rather than imply that I don't know the Bible?

I ask him: "What intriniscally bad state of affairs, all other things being equal, do you prefer: a) my public denial of you; b) a billion innocent children being tortured"

Beg the question much?

The thing about all of this is that the debate between consequentialists and deontologists in ethics is *so old*. It's not like this is introducing anything remotely new to the debate. The consequentialist will *always assume* that there are no intrinsically wrong *acts* but that right and wrong must always be judged by the number of turps of badness (or something like that) accruing to the states of affairs in the world, by his judgement, after the consequences (including indirect consequences like the chosen acts of manipulative evildoers) have taken place.

This is, of course, precisely what is at issue when we come to the question of intrinsic wrongness in morality.

And the hand-washing metaphor always makes its way in there, too. I've lost count of the number of times that I, as a non-consequentialist, have had this very same discussion.

If someone who holds that there *are* intrinsically wrong acts has been unmoved by the kajillion other times that a consequentialist has tried (falsely) to make him responsible for murder and mayhem carried out by other people, why would it be any different now?

and in the hypothesized one, the dominant culture does not believe in the sanctity of the image; in the subculture of the torturers, they actively repudiate the notion and think the Christians are idiots for accepting it, and so on.

Real torturers with their agenda (to demoralize and undermine Christianity) would pick something that actually would have meaning for both the person they were coercing and the other Christians they were trying to influence. Unless they were stupid torturers. This is probably part of why in the textbook example I just re-found they had the students write the word "Jesus" and step on that rather than bringing, say, a Russian Orthodox icon to the classroom and having them step on that. The textbook authors could be pretty sure that the bare word "Jesus" would have strong semantic connotations to a wide variety of students, including Baptists, Mormons, Catholics, etc., and hence that they would create cognitive dissonance for a wider array of students.


I agree with what Lydia has said in response to you. As Christ said to his opponents, 'You are very much mistaken, for you neither know Scripture nor the power of God.'

What is death to Christ, the one who conquered death and who said 'I am the resurrection and the life?' Do you have faith that he is what he claims to be? Or is it too hard for Christ to 'call to those in the memorial tombs' to raise them up 'either to life or condemnation?'

Have you become dull in your thinking? Walk, not by sight, but by faith. For what is the present suffering in comparison to what the righteous will receive? Is it really hard for God, 'who satisfies the desire of every living thing,' to "make up" for any amount of finite suffering? Your outlook is limited by concerns of this life alone, which for all its importance, pales in comparison to eternity. Do you think that eternal life enjoying that supreme Good, God, is not better than anything else?

To you it must not be that great, for you are supposing that God's honor is to be treated as less than anything else. But we did not learn Christ this way, for he who left us an example to follow said, 'The reproaches of those reproaching you have fallen on me,' and, 'Zeal for your house has consumed me.'

If you accepted these things, you would not be so impressed with the consequentialists, for they are oblivious of these things (among many others). They imagine that all there is exists in this duration of life. But Scripture says, 'Rescue me, O Yahweh, from men of this world, whose share is in this life,' and, 'Whom do I have in heaven, and on the earth there is no one else but God.'

While consequentialism leads to counterintuitive, if not repugnant, conclusions, the same seems to apply to deontology too. For it seems counterintuitive, if not repugnant, to say killing one person to save, say, a billion people is morally wrong. Or at least it seems so to many, including me, even if I'm far more sympathetic to deontology than consequentialism.

A similar point is that, while consequentialists often beg the question by assuming there are no intrinsically immoral acts, deontologists often beg the question too by assuming that there *are* intrinsically immoral acts.

I'm happy not to debate consequentialists most of the time at all. Then I won't have to worry about whether or not they think I'm begging the question against them.

But like it or not, Christianity is firmly deontologist. Hence, if you're a serious Christian, you can't be a consequentialist. And apostatizing publicly is one of the things a Christian should be a deontologist about. It's just plain annoying and time-wasting for utilitarians/consequentialists to get *mad* at someone for saying these things about Christianity (as apparently Grobi does above) on the grounds that...they aren't being consequentialists! And it's shallow for either Christians or those who purport to be taking Christianity seriously to write whole posts and/or articles on the subject of apostasy in which they literally never even consider the deontologist position, despite its tight ties to historic Christianity.

While consequentialism leads to counterintuitive, if not repugnant, conclusions, the same seems to apply to deontology too.

I always worry that I don't understand a term like "deontology" in the way it is being used in a given situation. So I went and looked up definitions.

de·on·tol·o·gy ˌdēänˈtäləjē/ nounPHILOSOPHY the study of the nature of duty and obligation.
Deontological ethics or deontology (from Greek δέον, deon, "obligation, duty"[1]) is the normative ethical position that judges the morality of an action based on rules.

It is sometimes described as "duty-" or "obligation-" or "rule-" based ethics, because rules "bind you to your duty."[2] Deontological ethics is commonly contrasted to consequentialism,[3] virtue ethics, and pragmatic ethics. In this terminology, action is more important than the consequences.

Deontology is derived from the Greek words, το δεον (that which is proper) and Λογια, knowledge — meaning the knowledge of what is right and proper; and it is here specially applied to the subject of morals, or that part of the field of action which is not the object of public legislation. As an art, it is the doing what is fit to be done; as a science, the knowing what is fit to be done on every occasion."
Deontology (or Deontological Ethics) is an approach to Ethics that focuses on the rightness or wrongness of actions themselves, as opposed to the rightness or wrongness of the consequences of those actions (Consequentialism) or to the character and habits of the actor (Virtue Ethics).

The thing that gets me is that ALL ethical systems have "rules" of one form or another - at a minimum, they have meta-rules - or it could not be a "system" of any sort at all. And I have never heard of a person who held forth on "virtue ethics" who did not believe that rules applied. And consequentialism isn't the approach to ethics based on the rightness or wrongness of the consequences of actions, but on the goodness or badness of the consequences. Need I go on?

ML, it may not be an emotionally satisfying answer to your comment, but it is a sufficient one, to point out that Christian morals of the sort you are pointing at, while it can be described in a sense as "having rules", it cannot be described as "rule based", not at all. For the Christian, right behavior is Person-based: all good acts stem from love of God. That is the source and summit of all goodness, and so of moral goodness. It is a derivative truth that this IMPLIES that good action can be described by rules, but it is even more true that good action can be understood by reason, for God is an intellectual being, he is knowable (indeed, he is Truth), and as a result He is orderly in the way reason is orderly, and the created order is orderly as a reflection of Himself. Saying that Christian morals is "rule based" is no better than saying that "reason is rule based" merely because we can describe forms of good logic in an orderly fashion: they aren't good BECAUSE they are based on rules, the STATED RULES are valid because they adequately reflect the order inherent in reason. It would be like calling science "rule based thinking". It misses the point.

deontologists often beg the question too by assuming that there *are* intrinsically immoral acts.

All sorts of people who believe there are intrinsically immoral acts make principled arguments for the claim. Typically (though perhaps not universally), consequentialists respond by referencing something like your example of "killing one person to save, say, a billion people" as if that actually addressed the argument. Which it doesn't. Admittedly, those who believe in the reality of intrinsically immoral acts don't spend ALL their time repeating the arguments in favor of that position, they sometimes go on to other important discussions. So the consequentialists may delude themselves into thinking - in the circumstance in which a Christian is arguing something that follows from the reality of intrinsically immoral acts - that the Christian is "begging the question". That's terribly sloppy thinking even considering it in the best possible light, but of course most of the time is not the best possible situation.

Greetings Lydia,

Did you already have a chance to review Mr. Hays' evaluation of your article?


Thanks, I've read it now. I generally find that dialogue with Mr. Hays starts out interesting but becomes acrimonious in the long run, so I have stopped doing so. I have answered the claim, above in this thread, that one could just "lie" about denying Jesus Christ, engage in the activity demanded, and thereby get the bad guys off one's back.

I would emphasize again that that solution, if it were legitimate, would make it rather pointless to enjoin Christians to be prepared to stand firm and not deny Jesus before men. Virtually all (or all) martyrdoms would become unnecessary, since all the Christians/Jews could just pour the libation to the emperor, bow before Nebuchadnezzar's image, stomp on the picture of Jesus, say, "I deny Jesus" or whatever external gesture of renouncing Christ is demanded, while not really meaning it in their hearts, and then nobody would have to be martyred. "Lying to the persecutors" would take care of it. They could then go back to their fellow Christians and explain that they didn't really mean it, and everything would be fine. This seems to be a ridiculous position to hold given the injunctions both in Scripture and in Christians tradition against cooperating with such demands. Those injunctions (and the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) strongly (to my mind *blatantly obviously*) imply that the public act *is sufficient* for denying Jesus, that "denying Jesus" is not simply constituted by private meanings and intentions.

The "before men" part of Jesus' injunction becomes entirely extraneous on such a construal. All the moral weight is born by hypothetical injunction (which isn't even stated) against denying Jesus in your heart. Even if one denies Jesus both publicly and in one's heart, on this construal, the "before men" part, the public part, isn't the problem. The problem lies with denying him in your heart! We can all agree that turning away from Jesus in one's heart is wrong, even if no persecution ever comes, so denying him in your heart while *not* doing it before men (if the subject never comes up) is wrong. And if you really are an apostate in your heart and are told by persecutors to deny Jesus publicly, without even lying, it would seem ridiculous to enjoin the heart-apostate *to lie* and pretend that he's still a follower! *That* can't be what Jesus is talking about. So really, it's *just* denying him in your heart that is wrong! Denying him before men doesn't have any special wrongness to it on this view. If you are really a heart-apostate, then why would you not deny him before men? But if you really are *not* a heart-apostate, it's perfectly okay to appear to deny him before men, or it's not un-okay in any special way, it's just a special case of the general wrongness of lying, if there is any such general wrongness, which maybe there isn't! It isn't anything Jesus is specially telling you not to do. So the only thing that is wrong is denying Jesus in your heart and maybe lying because lying is wrong! But denying Jesus *before men* is not wrong in itself

Which is an absurd construal of Jesus' words.


I checked out Hays piece and the one argument that gave me pause was the idea that the Scriptural references to sacrifice were about self-sacrifice -- not about putting other people at risk. So yes, if you had to deny Jesus to save your life then one should be prepared to face martyrdom. However, it is when the bad guys start killing other people -- then you are faced with a true moral dilemma (as Hays puts it) because now your own life is not at risk, but others.

Again, it seems like you already address this argument (i.e. while the Bible is not explicit, it certainly hints that Jesus must not be denied no matter what the consequences) but I was curious to have you respond directly to this part of his post.

I'm also completely unmoved by the repeated idea that I see in various places that Jesus is enjoining only against saving oneself by some public act of denial, not against trying to save others. This idea that it's wrong publicly to abjure one's commitment to Jesus only if one does it for self-centered motives but not wrong if one does it "nobly" to save others is entirely anachronistic and foreign to Scripture. Scripture not only does not recognize such a distinction, it positively rejects it.

When Jesus says to "hate" your parents and children in comparison to your commitment to him, he adds at the end, "And your own life also." In other words, it's not as though you're being told just to hate your own life but to do whatever it takes to preserve the lives of the others. Similarly, when the man tells Jesus he wants to follow him but first must go and bury his father, Jesus rebukes him. He *does not* say, "Okay, I understand that you want to delay following me for an unselfish motive of honoring your father, so that's okay. It's only if you hold back on following me for the sake of your own self that there is a problem."

I find it understandable *emotionally* that one would try to invent such an exception in Jesus' injunction, but I find it entirely indefensible rationally. Jesus' injunction is about the incredible badness of denying him before men! Jesus isn't making a point about the badness-with-an-insufficiently-noble-motive. If saying, "I renounce Jesus," etc., isn't an intrinsically wrong act, I really don't know what is, given what Jesus says and given the very nature of Christianity, as argued in the post. And if it's intrinsically wrong, then it *doesn't matter* whom you are trying to save by doing so, just as in any of the other millions of consequentialist scenarios that one gets confronted with.

There is no way to make Christianity safe for consequentialism. There just isn't.

Suppose a terrorist says, "Lydia, if you publicly deny Jesus, then I will not torture and kill 100 Christians, including your immediate family. If you do not publicly deny in 1 minute, then I will commence."

What would you do Lydia? Suppose the number were 1000? 10,000? And so on.

What I *would do* might be different from what I *should do*.

Sure, I might be psychologically unable to do what I should. Does that mean it isn't what I should do?

Look, this is (once again) such *old hat* for non-consequentialists. Do you not realize that I've had this *very same conversation* a million kajillion times in blog comboxes, in person, etc., for *decades*, just because I believe that there are intrinsically wrong acts????

Hello: If there is *anything* that you think is intrinsically wrong, anything at all, any act, then someone is going to play this *very same psychological game with you*.

Oh, deliberately torturing a baby to death is intrinsically wrong. WELL! Suppose that terrorists tell you that they are going to torture 10000 babies to death in 4, 3, 2, 1 if you don't torture this *one* baby to death. What then, huh, huh?? What would you do then??? Huh?

Or would you "wash your hands" while they go ahead and torture ALL THOSE BABIES?

Consequentialists do this sort of thing *constantly*. If you can stand up to it and say, "Yeah, I still shouldn't do the intrinsically wrong act even then" for one intrinsically wrong act, the game is over. You aren't going to feel pressured the next time the same moves are played.

I understand.

Re-reading Mr. Hays' post, he is critiquing your freewill theism in this case more than anything.

Ah, well, let 'im. I haven't the remotest interest in trying to tie those particular two topics together. If he does, more power to his elbow.

"If he does, more power to his elbow."

It's not an elbow. Like in roller derby, lol. It's more like the proverbial saying of "Iron sharpens iron."

If you care, Mr. Hays' kindly engages you further:



Also, I find both of you to be very sharp, incisive thinkers who have helped me much in my intellectual-spiritual-moral-theological development.

Kind regards.

It should be Moral Philosophy 101 that the nature of an act isn't changed by one's motive. If I kill an innocent old lady for her money, it's murder, but the inherent nature of the act isn't changed if I kill an innocent old lady because otherwise several good people will go to jail, or the world will blow up, or whatever. My *motive* doesn't make the *nature* of the act different. If a married woman goes to bed with a blackmailer to prevent her husband from going to jail, that doesn't make the intrinsic nature of the act something radically different from what it would be if she did it because she thought the blackmailer was sexy and enjoyed herself. The person with the nobler motive may be a less bad person, but the act is what it is.

Similarly, if an overt act of Christ-renunciation *is* "denying Jesus before men," then that's what it is. Having an especially noble motive doesn't change it into "not really denying Jesus before men." Moreover, saving oneself isn't an inherently ignoble motive anyway. There's nothing wrong with wanting to save oneself from torture and death. If the *nature* of the act can be changed because you "don't really mean it in your heart," then there is no special reason *not* to save yourself by that means--it isn't really denying Jesus, because it's only *really* denying Jesus if you mean it in your heart. But if the *nature* of the public act really is denying Jesus, regardless of your private beliefs, then it's wrong to do it to save other people, too.

I realize I sound like I'm channeling an old blog colleague of mine whose handle starts with the letter Z, but there's a lot of confusion in the world about the intrinsic moral nature of acts.

This is quite a long discussion and I don't want to add to any previous arguments. I've read Steve's responses and most of Lydia's replies and I would just like to throw out something that may be new.
I understand Lydia's stance. I get it. The problem with a slippery slope is that it IS slippery. If you grant one hypothetical exception what's to prevent the next? and the next? and so on.
I also get Steve's argument. Much of what appears to be outright declamations in Scripture are meant as guidelines - i.e. The rules in Leviticus. They are the guardrails but Israel's judges were to review each case on it's own merits as well. There is an equal danger in setting up a broad principle as a narrow rule.
I would say that my own view (for consideration and not argument) is that Jesus said the whole of the commandments was to love the Lord with all your heart, strength, and mind and your neighbor as yourself. When faced with a moral dilemma, that should be the consideration of what you should do. And because we often don't know what a person's internal drive it, we are told not to judge. If I take a bullet to save someone else, that is a heroic act. If I'm running too and stumble into the way, that's bad luck. Same situation - different motivations.
If I'm ordered to renounce Christianity and refuse and die for it - I'm a martyr. If I'm ordered to renounce Cholesterol and refuse and die for it - I'm an idiot. If I'm ordered to renounce Christianity or others would die for it and I agree - I may be motivated by love/concern for others or I may be a coward. In the latter case, I could repent and still be saved. In the former case, I could then be led to make further and further concessions for other's benefits and end up being lost.
Add to this the additional difficulty that we don't know the future consequences. I may be led into further compromise. Or maybe one of the people that are saved is raised by God to be a true and influential leader of Christianity. There's just no way to tell. All we can do in the actual situation is remember the commitment to Christ and chose as best we can.

Hmm, I actually don't look at this as a slippery slope argument at all. I really consider that publicly making an act that has the semantic meaning, "I renounce Christ" or "I worship a false god," etc., is *intrinsically* wrong. And I think Jesus' teaching, yes, *in the context* (indeed, I think the context makes it even clearer) clearly supports this, as does the nature of religion and Christianity itself.

Everything else follows from the moral nature of intrinsically wrong acts. This isn't me saying, "If you make one exception, next thing y'know you'll be making another." This is me saying, "Since this is intrinsically wrong, a motive to save others cannot change the matter." Literally cannot.

I also think it is simply *confused* to try to *combine* the idea of "a lie, so not really renouncing Christ" with "you're motivated by concern for others" in such a way that the combo. of those two is what makes it okay but somehow you can't use just the bit about "not really renouncing Jesus because it isn't what you mean in your heart" all by itself to make it okay to save yourself. That's just a categorical confusion.


Thank you for the response and I apologize if I misrepresented your position. Moral absolutes. That can be so difficult when everything seems shaded by everything else. To support what you say, I recall a discussion with my daughter (in her 30's) that has 2 young daughters (9 and 7). She had said if there was a situation where her girls had to convert to Islam or die, she would tell them to convert since they were so young. I had told her that she couldn't do that. If she was willing to die for her faith then she had to be willing to stand there and support that for them as well and to trust in God for the rest. In my conversation with her, I could say that because we both know each other so well that confusion wouldn't result nor anger.

In reference to that exchange, I would have to admit that, personally, I would agree with you.

After thinking about that, I wonder if the argument against your position is not phrased incorrectly. Would not the proper response to such a threat be: "I will not deny Christ but the decision to harm/kill others is your choice and your burden, not mine."

My initial thinking was to refuse to allow others to pay for my conviction. But, now, you have me considering a similar position to that of police or governments in refusing to negotiate with ransom demands or terrorists because it only leads to escalating demands & repetitions.

I guess this goes along further in Luke 14 where, after the quote of 'hating father and mother', Jesus warns people to count the cost of following him. Going back to my own conversation with my daughter, I would have to say that, yes as hard as it is to say bluntly, I would rather my grand-daughters be killed than become apostates. I was going to say that I would hesitate to give that as a general rule but then I had to stop and reconsider that as well. I was thinking that I could say what I did for my family but did not have the right to say it for others. Besides what if those who were going to be killed weren't believers? But if I am going to trust in God and Christ enough to die for my faith and trust enough for my family to die as well, why can't I trust God in working out what needs to be done if strangers are killed by my refusal to deny Christ?

Whew! I need to continue to think about this but thank you, seriously THANK YOU for making me think and think hard about the question! God bless :)

I intend this to be a short follow-up to the last post. The more I turn this around in my head, the more I am inclined to come down on Lydia's side. If, as Lydia says, something is intrinsically wrong, to say a good motive will change that is, in effect, saying the ends justify the means. To deny Christ even to save others is to shame Christ and God before others. I've spent almost the last hour imagining a scenario of having to face a line of children who would be shot one-by-one if I did not refute Christ. Perhaps I am making myself out better than I am but how in the world could I do it?? How could I validate, even if I didn't mean it, the beliefs of another person or group that would kill children to make their point?

Perhaps part of the dilemma proposed lies in thinking that death is intrinsically bad?

If so, is that not taking Lydia's own argument, turning it upside-down, and then using it against her? (i.e. Lydia is saying that denying Christ is intrinsically wrong. The argument against her is saying - no, it's death that is intrinsically wrong and anything is okay to prevent it.)

Death can be tragic. It can be painful for survivors and heart-rending. It can be horrible.

But is it evil?

In thinking over all this, I am reminded of C.S. Lewis in the Screwtape Letters where he has Screwtape say, "They, of course, do tend to regard death as the prime evil and survival as the greatest good. But that is because we have taught them to do so. Do not let us be infected by our own propaganda." - Lewis, C. S.. The Screwtape Letters (p. 154). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Would not the proper response to such a threat be: "I will not deny Christ but the decision to harm/kill others is your choice and your burden, not mine."

Yes, definitely. And that's always the case in these scenarios that get brought up where one is told, "Do this [otherwise wrong] thing or the bad guys will do this heinous thing." The person who believes in intrinsically wrong acts says that I cannot be made responsible for the evil others do in that way.

Now, obviously, if it were something not intrinsically wrong, that would be different. If I could skip church one Sunday morning and by doing so prevent terrorists from blowing up the entire world or torturing people to death, then that would be a different matter. If I thought that I must go to church even if the terrorists blow up the whole world, I'm just wrong about the level of priority that should be placed on going to church on a Sunday morning. It's important, but it's not death-first important, which is why people rightly stay home from church even if they have the flu, to avoid giving it to other people! But even then, the decision to torture or kill is the act of the evil person, not the act of the over-scrupulous church-goer.

You raise the interesting question whether the state envisaged (e.g., lots of people dead or tortured) is intrinsically bad.

My answer would be in one sense yes and in another sense no. The Bible makes it clear that human death is the enemy of man, which came only because of the fall, and certainly torture is heinous and horrible. So to have these things in the world, we could say, makes the world in a sense a "worse place" than if they weren't in the world.

So sure, these things can be said to constitute "bad states of affairs." So do natural evils, like someone's having cancer.

But when it comes to pitting "bad states of affairs" against my chosen evil acts, that's where the trouble comes in. I cannot rightly choose an intrinsically evil *act* in order to prevent a bad state of affairs, even a very bad state of affairs, including someone else's chosen evil act.

So sure, these things can be said to constitute "bad states of affairs." So do natural evils, like someone's having cancer.

But when it comes to pitting "bad states of affairs" against my chosen evil acts, that's where the trouble comes in.

It is so important to distinguish kinds of evil from each other in order to think rightly, especially in this area.

Because man is meant for an immortal life in the long run, and was given the gift of immortal life in the Garden of Eden, the loss of that gift and being subject to death is an evil. Human death is an evil of a kind: all evil consists in a privation of goodness, and privation means a lack of something that belongs, that ought to be there. When Adam died, that loss of life was the loss of something that God intended us to have. Same with us, He wanted Adam to pass on immortal life to the human race, and then it was lost.

But moral wrong is an evil of a whole other category, an evil on a completely different scale of evil. That a human suffer death is loss of the physical order (the human soul persists, and the life will be restored in the future, so the loss is ultimately limited). That a human reject God and replace Him with some other good as "my final end in life" is an evil of a far worse order. Napoleon said "The moral is to the physical as three to one", but that ratio only pertains to the factors affecting war: in regard to the whole created order, the moral wrong is not even in a ratio to the physical evil, it is completely beyond - as the infinite is to the finite.

When Christ says that "And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul, he is referring to this: if you do something wrong that gains you some good thing but in the process lose that core part of you with which that good thing (and every other good thing) can be properly enjoyed, then in a sense you will "have" the good thing but lose it anyway, because you cannot benefit from it. And this is what happens when we sin, when we do something entirely incompatible with participation in God's life, we lose that inner life that enlivens all other goods in their proper order.

So, in the situation where a person, (or many persons), will suffer a physical evil unless you commit a moral wrong, it is clear that "these people will suffer great physical harm" is not to be set on a scale with "that I commit a moral wrong" as if the former might balance the latter. It cannot, in the very principle of the thing.

We also have the direct example of the woman with seven sons in Maccabees:

Filled with a noble spirit that stirred her womanly reason with manly emotion, she exhorted each of them in the language of their ancestors with these words:

“I do not know how you came to be in my womb; it was not I who gave you breath and life, nor was it I who arranged the elements you are made of.

Therefore, since it is the Creator of the universe who shaped the beginning of humankind and brought about the origin of everything, he, in his mercy, will give you back both breath and life, because you now disregard yourselves for the sake of his law.”

Antiochus, suspecting insult in her words, thought he was being ridiculed. As the youngest brother was still alive, the king appealed to him, not with mere words, but with promises on oath, to make him rich and happy if he would abandon his ancestral customs: he would make him his Friend and entrust him with high office.

When the youth paid no attention to him at all, the king appealed to the mother, urging her to advise her boy to save his life.

After he had urged her for a long time, she agreed to persuade her son.

She leaned over close to him and, in derision of the cruel tyrant, said in their native language: “Son, have pity on me, who carried you in my womb for nine months, nursed you for three years, brought you up, educated and supported you to your present age. I beg you, child, to look at the heavens and the earth and see all that is in them; then you will know that God did not make them out of existing things. In the same way humankind came into existence. Do not be afraid of this executioner, but be worthy of your brothers and accept death, so that in the time of mercy I may receive you again with your brothers.”

I, really, was trying to stay off the Internet for a while, but the degree of necessity in correcting some false notions in this discussion means that I may have a moral obligation to say something. I have not seen the film nor read the book. I am going off of Lydia's description of the act, but after reading the summary on Wikipedia, one can only conclude that Rodrigues ultimate moral state is uncertain, as he may have made a perfect act of contrition at the end. One is reminded of the incident of St. Therese of Lisieux who prayed that a hardened murderer might repent before he died and, while being led to the gallows, publicly reverenced a crucifix as a sign of his repentance. For Fr. Rodrigues, his holding the cross in his casket may mean he repented of his apostasy, but it could mean that his pattern of self-delusion has continued to the grave. It is unclear.

Now, Lydia is correct in her conclusion, regarding stepping on the picture of Jesus, certeris paribus, and the Scorcese moral dilemma is the sort of sophomoric drivel that junior high ethics classes like to present to their students. In fact, Scorsese, who is, from what I have heard, a lapsed Catholic (to be kind), I think, may be guilty of violating Canon 1369, depending on whether or not Fr. Rodrigues realized his act was a sin:

Can. 1369 A person who in a public show or speech, in published writing, or in other uses of the instruments of social communication utters blasphemy, gravely injures good morals, expresses insults, or excites hatred or contempt against religion or the Church is to be punished with a just penalty.

Just to be clear, in my opinion, Christians should either boycott the film or use it as a teaching moment.

In any case, let's look at the specific action involved: stepping on an image of Jesus.

There are three constitutive elements of a moral act:

1. The object - what you are doing, thinking, or saying - the act, in itself
2. The intention - the end that one has in view by doing, thinking, or saying the act, the goal of the activity, the final cause
3. The circumstances (including consequences) - secondary elements of the act, which modify the seriousness of an act, but do not change its intrinsic nature

In the case of the ACT, the object is stepping on the painting, the intention is to make a public show of apostasy (with a, perhaps, specific mental reservation that the real intent is different - a point we will come back to), and the circumstances are the psychological and social pressure put on Fr. Rodrigues to apostize.

Now, in the movie, Fr. Rodrigues's traveling companion, Fr. Garupe, does NOT apostatize and is martyred before Fr. Rodrigues is brought before the inquisitor. Thus, going into the moral situation, himself, Fr. Rodrigues already has the correct moral response demonstrated to him by his companion, so, ultimately, from a moral perspective, the whole thing is pointless. Simply put, they broke Fr. Rodrigues and the, "voice," of Christ that he, supposedly, heard telling him to step on the picture is simply a delusion brought on by his own moral and psychological weakness.

I suppose, however (I sigh), in this day and age of moral relativism, it is important to discuss the moral aspects of Rodrigues's moral choice.

To begin, Lydia writes:

"It should be Moral Philosophy 101 that the nature of an act isn't changed by one's motive. If I kill an innocent old lady for her money, it's murder, but the inherent nature of the act isn't changed if I kill an innocent old lady because otherwise several good people will go to jail, or the world will blow up, or whatever. My *motive* doesn't make the *nature* of the act different. If a married woman goes to bed with a blackmailer to prevent her husband from going to jail, that doesn't make the intrinsic nature of the act something radically different from what it would be if she did it because she thought the blackmailer was sexy and enjoyed herself. The person with the nobler motive may be a less bad person, but the act is what it is."

This is somewhat loose language (although common). From a moral perspective, motive and intention are not exactly the same. In the case of sleeping with the blackmailer, the proximate psychological reason (motive) the woman gives to herself for sleeping with the blackmailer is to keep her husband from going to jail, but the moral end of the act, and thus the overriding intention OF THE WILL, is, precisely, to sleep with the blackmailer, since, if she did not intend (will) to sleep with the blackmailer, there would be no moral act (which could, actually happen if a burglar wandered into a house where the woman were sleep walking and has sleep sex with the burglar - no act of the informed will is involved and the woman would be morally innocent ). The moral end of the act, therefore, no matter what feelings or contingencies might be involved, is to break the Sixth Commandment. Keeping her husband from jail while a good, is subordinate to a higher good, since charity toward men is of a lower good than charity towards God.

Further, two men both take a sharp object and cut a man's stomach open. The object of the act is the same, but both the motive and the intention are different: one is a surgeon and one is a serial killer. Thus, one may have good motive (to feel powerful, in the case of the serial killer), but a bad intent, or a bad motive, but a good intent (giving your daughter something that will make her vomit because she just drank poison), but, ultimately, regardless of the secondary psychological reasons (which I am calling motives), it is the ultimate end that the reason foresees which determines the nature of the act. No one seeks evil. Everyone seeks good, but the good they seek may be either misidentified and is really an evil in disguise, or the good they seek may be overridden by a higher good (as for the adulterer and the serial killer).

Thus, it is with Fr. Rodrigues. He places a proximate good ahead of an overriding good.

St. Thomas Aquinas, in the Summa, discusses this case:

II.II.Art 12 Apostasy

Objection 2. Further, unbelief is an act of the understanding: whereas apostasy seems rather to consist in some outward deed or utterance, or even in some inward act of the will, for it is written (Proverbs 6:12-14): "A man that is an apostate, an unprofitable man walketh with a perverse mouth. He winketh with the eyes, presseth with the foot, speaketh with the finger. With a wicked heart he deviseth evil, and at all times he soweth discord." Moreover if anyone were to have himself circumcised, or to worship at the tomb of Mahomet, he would be deemed an apostate. Therefore apostasy does not pertain to unbelief.

[Aquinas responds]: On the contrary, It is written (John 6:67): "Many of his disciples went back," i.e. apostatized, of whom Our Lord had said previously (John 6:65): "There are some of you that believe not." Therefore apostasy pertains to unbelief.

I answer that, Apostasy denotes a backsliding from God. This may happen in various ways according to the different kinds of union between man and God. For, in the first place, man is united to God by faith; secondly, by having his will duly submissive in obeying His commandments; thirdly, by certain special things pertaining to supererogation such as the religious life, the clerical state, or Holy Orders. Now if that which follows be removed, that which precedes, remains, but the converse does not hold. Accordingly a man may apostatize from God, by withdrawing from the religious life to which he was bound by profession, or from the Holy Order which he had received: and this is called "apostasy from religious life" or "Orders." A man may also apostatize from God, by rebelling in his mind against the Divine commandments: and though man may apostatize in both the above ways, he may still remain united to God by faith.

But if he give up the faith, then he seems to turn away from God altogether: and consequently, apostasy simply and absolutely is that whereby a man withdraws from the faith, and is called "apostasy of perfidy." On this way apostasy, simply so called, pertains to unbelief.

Reply to Objection 2. It belongs to faith not only that the heart should believe, but also that external words and deeds should bear witness to the inward faith, for confession is an act of faith. On this way too, certain external words or deeds pertain to unbelief, in so far as they are signs of unbelief, even as a sign of health is said itself to be healthy. Now although the authority quoted may be understood as referring to every kind of apostate, yet it applies most truly to an apostate from the faith. For since faith is the first foundation of things to be hoped for, and since, without faith it is "impossible to please God"; when once faith is removed, man retains nothing that may be useful for the obtaining of eternal salvation, for which reason it is written (Proverbs 6:12): "A man that is an apostate, an unprofitable man": because faith is the life of the soul, according to Romans 1:17: "The just man liveth by faith." Therefore, just as when the life of the body is taken away, man's every member and part loses its due disposition, so when the life of justice, which is by faith, is done away, disorder appears in all his members. First, in his mouth, whereby chiefly his mind stands revealed; secondly, in his eyes; thirdly, in the instrument of movement; fourthly, in his will, which tends to evil. The result is that "he sows discord," endeavoring to sever others from the faith even as he severed himself.

Thus, Fr. Rodrigues is, by external sign, indicating he has apostatized. Further, he is guilty of scandal.

I.II. Q 73 Art. 10 Whether the excellence of the person sinning aggravates the sin?

On the contrary, Isidore says (De Summo Bono ii, 18): "A sin is deemed so much the more grievous as the sinner is held to be a more excellent person."

What about circumstances? Can there be a circumstantial cause of sin? Aquinas say that environment may entice to sin, but is neither a sufficient or necessary cause.

I.II. Q. 75 Art 75 - Whether sin has an external cause

I answer that, As stated above (Article 2), the internal cause of sin is both the will, as completing the sinful act, and the reason, as lacking the due rule, and the appetite, as inclining to sin. Accordingly something external might be a cause of sin in three ways, either by moving the will itself immediately, or by moving the reason, or by moving the sensitive appetite. Now, as stated above (I-II:9:6; I-II:10:4), none can move the will inwardly save God alone, who cannot be a cause of sin, as we shall prove further on (I-II:79:1. Hence it follows that nothing external can be a cause of sin, except by moving the reason, as a man or devil by enticing to sin; or by moving the sensitive appetite, as certain external sensibles move it. Yet neither does external enticement move the reason, of necessity, in matters of action, nor do things proposed externally, of necessity move the sensitive appetite, except perhaps it be disposed thereto in a certain way; and even the sensitive appetite does not, of necessity, move the reason and will. Therefore something external can be a cause moving to sin, but not so as to be a sufficient cause thereof: and the will alone is the sufficient completive cause of sin being accomplished.

Thus, the threat of killing people, being an external cause, is NOT sufficient to allow the sin. It may move (motivate) the psychology to be inclined to sin, but it cannot make an evil act good.

Now, there are two subcategories of sins - extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic sins are modified by circumstances: stealing a penny is less of a sin than stealing a million dollars. Thus, from the a Catechism of the Catholic Church:

"1753 A good intention (for example, that of helping one's neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just. the end does not justify the means. Thus the condemnation of an innocent person cannot be justified as a legitimate means of saving the nation. On the other hand, an added bad intention (such as vainglory) makes an act evil that, in and of itself, can be good (such as almsgiving).39"

Intrinsic sins are never modified by circumstances - adultery is always and everywhere grave matter committed by an act of the will with full knowledge. Evil resides in the act, itself and no intent can modify the nature of the act. Just as one cannot be a little bit pregnant, one cannot be a little bit of an adulterer.

Thus, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

"1756 It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it."

It is true that adultery is, always, objectively, a mortal sin, in itself. The subjective guilt of the sin, however, might be modified by environmental factors. In the case of a nymphomanic, for instance, the guilt might be subjectively imputed to be very light, since the will has, to some extent, been compromised. Thus, even though the sin resides in the act, itself, the nymphomanic might be only subjectively venially guilty of the adultery she commits.

"1754 The circumstances, including the consequences, are secondary elements of a moral act. They contribute to increasing or diminishing the moral goodness or evil of human acts (for example, the amount of a theft). They can also diminish or increase the agent's responsibility (such as acting out of a fear of death). Circumstances of themselves cannot change the moral quality of acts themselves; they can make neither good nor right an action that is in itself evil."

In the case of Fr. Rodrigues, he committed an objective act of apostasy, by the open witness of an act. Further, being a priest, he gave further seriousness to the act and committed public scandal, in itself, a grave sin. That he was psychologically abused, probably, lessened his subjective guilt, but fear does not, unless it incapacitates, totally excuse. Fr. Garupe, for example, did not give in. That Fr. Rodrigues was under psychological pressure is obvious from the fact that he imagined that Christ gave him permission to step on the picture, but it clearly says in Scripture (2 Timothy 2:13) that God cannot deny Himself, even if we deny Him, so the voice he heard could not gave been from God - and, being a Jesuit priest, trained in discernment of spirits, He Should Have Known That. Thus, Fr. Rodrigues allowed himself to be fooled, whether from fear or fatigue, one cannot say. Either his mind was very disturbed so as to forget all of his training, or he was just a weak man. Back then, Jesuits were trained to resist extremes of torture ( just read about the North American Martyrs).

Finally, the nonsense about just stepping on paper or in a region of space coincident with the painting while not intending to apostatize - uh, uh, flag on the play - for double effect to kick in, the evil must not be the intended act, but, more, the double consequences of the act, one good (saving lives) and one evil (apostatizing), MUST, NECESSARILY AND SIMULTANEOUSLY FLOW FROM THE ACT, ITSELF. Here is why this fails so drastically - the inquisitor does not have to keep his word! Thus, unlike committing an accidental abortion while saving the life of a woman with an ectopic pregnancy, where both evil and good occur, necessarily and simultaneously, the saving of life is not a necessary consequence of the apostasy, because the inquisitor can kill the people, anyway. Double Effect requires a necessary state of cause and effect and the inquisitor's threats or promises of mercy are not a done deal, even if Fr. Rodrigues apostatizes.

Oh, what about the famous Jesuit mental reservation I mentioned, above? No, that doesn't work because a mental reservation, in order to be licit, must be at least imperfectly deducible by the person witnessing the act - it must be part of common knowledge, but a specific, personal mental reservation, is an occult act (a hidden act), that no one can deduce without special knowledge. Thus, stepping on the picture must be understood as stepping on the picture in the context that signifies the act. Fr. Rodrigues cannot, simultaneously consent with his foot, but not his mind. Specific, hidden (occult, in the non-ghostly sense) mental reservations do not protect from the guilt of sin and, moreover, can be a sin in themselves, because they rob the audience of the justice of understanding what the act means.

So, basically, this is nothing more than a movie about human weakness and the failure of virtue. Ho hum. Let me be blunt. Let me be clear. The first rule of moral theology is that one may not do evil that good may come from it. Every priest knows this. No matter how many lives may be spared, one may never do evil to obtain them. Each person is responsible to be ready to meet their Maker at any time. They may not countenance another person destroying their soul so as to win back theirs. In reality, if they consent to it (as the crowd might), they would share in the sin and still lose their soul.

The best good would for Fr. Rodrigues to say no and for the crowd to agree with and support him. Then, they all stand to see a glorious crown await them, for life, in this world is passing, anyways, and, well, Heaven is worth dying for.

St. Paul Miki and companions (the true Jesuit martyrs of Japan), pray for us.

The Chicken

This is somewhat loose language (although common). From a moral perspective, motive and intention are not exactly the same. In the case of sleeping with the blackmailer, the proximate psychological reason (motive) the woman gives to herself for sleeping with the blackmailer is to keep her husband from going to jail, but the moral end of the act, and thus the overriding intention OF THE WILL, is, precisely, to sleep with the blackmailer, since, if she did not intend (will) to sleep with the blackmailer, there would be no moral act (which could, actually happen if a burglar wandered into a house where the woman were sleep walking and has sleep sex with the burglar - no act of the informed will is involved and the woman would be morally innocent ). The moral end of the act, therefore, no matter what feelings or contingencies might be involved, is to break the Sixth Commandment. Keeping her husband from jail while a good, is subordinate to a higher good, since charity toward men is of a lower good than charity towards God.

I strongly endorse this. This is why I often work hard to use "motive" carefully so as not to make it interchangeable with "intention." "Intention," as you say, in the case of sleeping with the blackmailer is the intention to carry out that act. Motive--the *reason* one decides to carry out that act--is a separate matter. Similarly, the person who gives in to the persecutors *intends* to do an act that he *knows* will be taken to be dishonoring the image of Jesus Christ. That is his intent. His *motive* may be to save other people from torture, or to save himself, or both, or something else, but his intent is to carry out the act of stomping on the image of Christ and to convey to the persecutors the idea of apostasy. I note that this is true even if in his heart he still loves Jesus. For if he didn't convey the idea of apostasy to them by the act, he could not get them to refrain from torturing the people!

Just a clarifying comment to what Chicken said: The circumstances of an act which is inherently disordered in its object can mitigate or aggravate the guilt of the person so acting. However, in an act which is NOT inherently disordered, but is morally neutral in its object, circumstances can indeed change the act into a sin. For example, gambling is not sinful: it is morally neutral to wager, and it COULD be a good act to do so for social reasons. However, it is sinful to gamble by putting at risk amounts in excess of what one can afford to lose. Hence, a bet of $10 may be morally acceptable where a bet of $10,000 is not: the latter circumstance changes the act in the concrete case to being a sin, not because it is a gamble, but because it gambles too much, a circumstance.

This doesn't work the other way: circumstances cannot convert an act that is inherently disordered into a good act.

To put it another way: the three fonts of morality are: the object of the act (or, its intrinsic nature), the intention, and the circumstances. ANY ONE of the three can vitiate an act so that it is wrong. It takes ALL THREE to be correct for an act to be morally upright. And this implies that if one is out of order, the other two being in OK order just means that the act is wrong from only ONE font of morality, not from all three.


What are some arguments for the existence of intrinsically wrong acts? I ask this not to debate but because I would like learn about these arguments. As I said above, I'm sympathetic to deontology.

I must say just in passing that I consider it a great achievement to have gotten both Tony and the Masked Chicken to comment on a thread on this topic. With quotes from Thomas Aquinas for the win.

ML, the primary argument, I would think, comes from the nature of man. (1) Each and every thing that is a natural kind of being, has a "nature" that pertains to all of like kind: Oak trees have the nature of oak, frogs have frog natures and not toad natures or cat natures, and humans have human nature. For each species, what is "good" is what is coordinate with its nature and constitutes the full operation of that nature in maturity: for oaks, it is to grow tall and spread deep roots, take in sunshine and water, and grow leaves. For frogs, it is other activity. For humans, it is to operate in accordance with their rational natures.

(2) Like beings (especially, living things), human actions have a "nature" and a "species". For some acts are like in kind to other acts, and yet unlike in kind to still others. St. Thomas, Summa, Ia IIae Q.18 A.2 :

I answer that, as stated above (Article 1) the good or evil of an action, as of other things, depends on its fullness of being or its lack of that fullness. Now the first thing that belongs to the fullness of being seems to be that which gives a thing its species. And just as a natural thing has its species from its form, so an action has its species from its object, [just] as [a] movement [has] from its term. And therefore just as the primary goodness of a natural thing is derived from its form, which gives it its species, so the primary goodness of a moral action is derived from its suitable object: hence some call such an action "good in its genus"; for instance, "to make use of what is one's own."

(3) For a being with a rational nature and free will, the ultimate end of its operation, what most fulfills its operative capacity is to (a) know, and (b) love, that in which resides the fullest operation of the mind and will, the ultimate cause of all causes. St. Thomas, Summa, Ia IIae Q.3 A.8:

First, that man is not perfectly happy, so long as something remains for him to desire and seek: secondly, that the perfection of any power is determined by the nature of its object. Now the object of the intellect is "what a thing is," i.e. the essence of a thing, according to De Anima iii, 6. Wherefore the intellect attains perfection, in so far as it knows the essence of a thing. If therefore an intellect knows the essence of some effect, whereby it is not possible to know the essence of the cause, i.e. to know of the cause "what it is"; that intellect cannot be said to reach that cause simply, although it may be able to gather from the effect the knowledge of that the cause is. Consequently, when man knows an effect, and knows that it has a cause, there naturally remains in the man the desire to know about the cause, "what it is." And this desire is one of wonder, and causes inquiry, as is stated in the beginning of the Metaphysics (i, 2). ["Man desires to know".] For instance, if a man, knowing the eclipse of the sun, consider that it must be due to some cause, and know not what that cause is, he wonders about it, and from wondering proceeds to inquire. Nor does this inquiry cease until he arrive at a knowledge of the essence of the cause.

If therefore the human intellect, knowing the essence of some created effect, knows no more of God than "that He is"; the perfection of that intellect does not yet reach simply the First Cause, but there remains in it the natural desire to seek the cause. Wherefore it is not yet perfectly happy. Consequently, for perfect happiness the intellect needs to reach the very Essence of the First Cause. And thus it will have its perfection through union with God as with that object, in which alone man's happiness consists, as stated above

(4) Hence any action which by its very nature is inconsistent with that union with God as one's last end is fundamentally incompatible with human nature, and is therefore inherently disordered.

Obvious examples of the sort are (i) overt repudiation of God; and (ii) choosing to adhere to some other good as one's last end. Generally hedonists have chosen to pursue pleasure as their final end. In effect, they are saying not that "man is a rational animal", but that "man happens to have a tool of rationality that well serves being an animal, and the purpose of an animal is to pursue pleasure." Since they do not put knowing God and union with him as their last end, their behavior is disordered (i.e. not having its proper order to our last end).

Sometimes it takes some steps to work out whether some species of action is inherently disordered for man, because it is more remote from simply "refusing to adhere to God". For example: God made man in 2 sexes, male and female, and designed them to form families in which the marriage of a man and a woman would be permanent and faithful (monogamous). By these designs God intended to display man's order toward God, (at least in part, because our love of God must be permanent and faithful, just as His is for us). Hence actions that directly defy the permanence of marriage, or its faithfulness, will be inherently disordered. Adultery, for example, is such. It is inherently disordered, i.e. from the very species of the action "to have sex with a person other than my spouse" is contrary to faithfulness.

Very nice introduction to "intrinsic morality" Tony!!!

Ever since Ed left this blog, you have done a nice job of 'holding down' the A-T fort as it were :-)

Here is an older post from Ed dealing with many of the same themes:


In general, I think that these two things are obvious by the natural light:

1) There is a distinction between my responsibility for my own chosen actions and my responsibility for the chosen actions of others.

2) There is a distinction between acts of knowing, rational beings that have moral weight or meaning in themselves (such as deliberately killing a child) and acts of such beings that have no moral weight or meaning in themselves but only in relation to context, circumstances, consequences, motives, etc. (such as deliberately taking a walk around the block).

Consequentialism violates/blurs/eliminates both of these distinctions. This is a strong argument that consequentialism must have gone astray.

As I get older, I distrust philosophy more and more. It's fun, but it tends to be a bit dense, forever falling into oversimplification. The more I see of things, the more I see that good and true principles come into conflict in actual decisions, and the conflict allows us to see what we value most. Do I believe in telling the truth? Yes. Would I lie to Nazis knocking at my door and asking if I were hiding any Jews? Readily. Preserving innocent lives seems a higher good than refusing to dissemble before criminals.

There's a pharisaical rigidity that would deny food to the hungry on the Sabbath, but Christ tends to take care of people. If I could save an innocent person from torture by telling a thug what he demanded to hear, I don't think I would find it a hard choice. If it is as hard as you make it, I might join Huck in saying, "All right, I'll go to hell then."

The Lord did say something about not denying him. Didn't he also say a few things about loving others and liberating the captive? I rather think the thugs who set up this problem would have something to answer for, but I'm not really convinced the Savior would be deeply bothered whatever a weak soul caught in such a cruel vice decided to do. More likely, I would do what most felt like inspiration and hope for the best, without anything near to the moral certainty others seem to have.

The Lord did say something about not denying him. Didn't he also say a few things about loving others and liberating the captive?

Yeah, he said not ever to deny him. And it's shallow to think that "loving others" takes the form of denying him. This isn't really rocket science. Some things take priority over others. If the only way actively to help other people is to do something intrinsically wrong, then that's a kind of "help" you can't give them. Just as much as if the only way to "help" ten four-year-old girls were to shoot one four-year-old girl. If you asked me, "Didn't Jesus say something about loving others?" and ask me whether I didn't love all those other four-year-olds, I'd tell you that you were playing silly, tired, consequentialist head-games and that I'm not required to show how much I love the ten four-year-olds by shooting the one.

Same-same with denying Jesus. Which he said never to do.

but I'm not really convinced the Savior would be deeply bothered whatever a weak soul caught in such a cruel vice decided to do.

Wow, how notable that I didn't say a *single word* in the main post about having compassion for a weak soul caught in a cruel vice created by evil persecutors! I must be full of mean-spirited, pharisaical rigidity!

Oh, wait.

I did say something about that.

Never mind.

As I get older, I distrust philosophy more and more

And yet you engage in it. What you did with your comment was defend a position on an ethical question. Like it or not, that's philosophy. What you seem to mean is that you distrust attempts to do philosophy well. You therefore choose to do it poorly.

It's so inconvenient to have to seriously engage with persuasive reasoning from people who don't agree with me on everything. I might have to admit I was wrong from time to time. Instead, I'll just assume a distrust of persuasive reasoning itself (at least on these topics).

I speak harshly not out of spite, but because I believe your attitude towards ethical reasoning is significantly harmful to yourself as well as to society, and I urge you to reconsider.

"I'm not really convinced the Savior would be deeply bothered whatever a weak soul caught in such a cruel vice decided to do."

Is Christ bothered by what a weak soul caught in the vice of lust, or anger, or pride, or whatever does? If so, why is he all of a sudden not deeply concerned with what a weak soul - any soul, in fact - would do in the face of persecution?

It's not as if his prayer to the Father and exhortations to his disciples at the end of John (and elsewhere) actually meant he was concerned with this very issue. That talk - 'I am forewarning you,' and the like - was to indicate to us how little apostasy bothers him. So, what are we to rely on - feelings of what seems like inspiration and hope, or on the Christ's teaching? If Christ has spoken, and quite clearly at that, how can we presume to let what we feel govern our actions? Aren't we 'to bring every thought into subjection to the Christ?' Yes, we are told, 'There is a way that is good in the eyes of men but which ends in death.'

We do know the compassion of God, in that, 'Every blasphemy against the Father and the Son can be forgiven man,' yet we can't turn the undeserved kindness, the grace God gives into an excuse for evil.

Keep in mind that justice and charity seem to demand what is evil (what you seem to call pharisaical - not denying Christ) only if we imagine that we only have this short duration of life! But we have a hope which is hidden from people of this age, and we worship a God who is glorious beyond glory, so we are able to keep things in proper perspective, considering things as they stand in relation to eternity, in relation to the Ultimate. With this view, what seems unthinkable is seen rightly as what is good.

but Christ tends to take care of people....

Didn't he also say a few things about loving others and liberating the captive? I rather think the thugs who set up this problem would have something to answer for, but I'm not really convinced the Savior would be deeply bothered whatever a weak soul caught in such a cruel vice decided to do.

Christ tends to take care of people.

Did you ever notice that Christ never ONCE gave money to a poor person in the Gospels.

Did you ever notice that for every single person in difficult straights before Jesus came along and did a miracle...God could have done a miracle before Christ came along to do it in the flesh. Indeed, God could have prevented the dire straights from coming about. He is that caring, you know.

Did you ever notice that for every difficult situation where someone is demanding evil of you in order for THEM to decline to do some still greater evil (which is, by the way, purely satanic to demand), that God could have prevented THAT situation from arising also. Because, you know, he cares.

Maybe God is willing to let people suffer for the ultimate purposes He had in mind all along.

Good point, Sean. Jesus is *extremely* concerned about Peter's apostasy in his weakness and even warns him ahead of time: "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation." "Could ye not watch with me one hour?" "Satan has desired to have you, that he might sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you. And when you are converted, strengthen your brethren."

I don't know if this thought experiment is relevant to the question of denying Christ; in fact, to the issue of doing some outward act before men when the act is understood by onlookers to mean 'I deny Christ,' it has no bearing at all. Jesus is pretty clear that one can't deny him.

Anyway, here it goes:

Suppose that Bob for whatever reason promises God, "Every Tuesday I'll read the Bible for ten hours, with a break in the middle." He is retired and thus has plenty of free time, so thinks that it is reasonable that he could accomplish this. And having neglected reading the Bible for most of his working life, he feels so sorry for this that he adds the phrase, "If I don't, you, God, can take that failure to do so as me denying you." He doesn't tell anyone of his promise, so they wouldn't know that failing to fulfill it would even to be breaking a promise to God, let alone denying him.

One day at 1pm, he sits down and begins to read; he has enough time to fulfill his promise today, but pretty much that and nothing more. As he starts, he hears a gun go off and a man scream. He suspects that it's a hunter whose shot himself and goes to see him. He see that only if he brings him back to his house and tends to his wound can he save him. No one else can, and no one will be by for until the next day. Yet, if he does that, in fact, if he doesn't go right back to his house upon seeing the man, he can't fulfill his promise.

Should this man break his promise, though, by his own admission, this would be for him to deny God, and help the man? (Is that stipulation 'if I fail to do this, I deny you' even binding on him?)

I tend to think that he can break the promise. No one knows that failing to read the Bible for ten hours would to be breaking any promise to God, let alone to deny God. (Deny him to whom? God himself?) Also the failure to act doesn't seem to have that same connection to denying God as, say, offering incense to pagan Gods does. In fact, it is hard to see how he can sensibly put himself under the threat of having to do that lest he deny God. Though, it seems easy to see how he can put himself under an obligation to do something.

If all he did was promise God, 'I'll read the Bible ten hours a day every Tuesday,' it seems that it is obvious he should rescue the hunter, especially if the hunter was his son or father. I'm thinking of what Jesus was to the teachers of the Law, "Moses said, 'Whoever curses his father or mother is to be put to death,' but you prohibit a man to honor his father and mother with what he has if it is corban, that is, dedicated to God."

They promises to give God some wealth, but, in fact, other obligations could take priority.

I guess that I view the man's private 'denial' to not really be a denial. If it was, then it seems to be impermissible. It seems to me that someone can't make an action mean they deny God (that otherwise wouldn't mean that), and thus be off limits for them, unless they make the promise publicly known, or maybe, unless those before whom they do the action knows that they made the act mean that they deny God. How else can their even be an exterior act of apostasy?

Other questions: What if, instead of human life at stake, it was just money that he needed to pay his rent with - say, he put off doing some work that he needed to do by that day in order to get enough money to pay rent? Could he break his promise and do the work?

I think that this sounds a bit like asking 'How many angels stand on the tip of a pint.' It doesn't seem that such cases are of much practical concern - who (at least tries to) imposes on themselves the kind of promise I gave in the thought experiment, after all. Though, in fact, I had a friend who, a few years back, did something similar when he was trying to break his smoking habit. I thought it imprudent and, perhaps, disrespectful to God. In any event, if you have time to consider this and give your opinions, thanks for your time.

Jesus is *clearly* talking about cases where you are engaging in (to use a bit of jargon) a speech act that is publicly understood to be denying him. As far as I know, no biblical text directly addresses the question of whether you can *create* a "denial" of God by a purely private vow.

The Old Testament certainly takes vows very seriously, yet Jesus makes it clear that even those ceremonial acts that are normally commanded by God (such as keeping the Sabbath) can be set aside in the light of other obligations that take higher precedence, and this has always been the understanding by the rabbis. Orthodox rabbis still today have to make what we might think of as judgments of casuistry (not necessarily in any bad sense) as to whether it is legitimate to break the Sabbath. The rule of pikuach nefesh is a case in point here--that the need to save a human life overrides other religious obligations. Hence, an ultra-Orthodox Jew will use electricity or an automobile on the Sabbath to save human life even though he would not normally do so. Less urgent interruptions are a matter of judgment and are the reason why the ultra-orthodox will consult their rabbis.

These sensible traditions seem relevant to the case you are raising.

In some Christian traditions, spiritual directors, superiors in orders, etc., take the same role as rabbis concerning these cases of conscience and issues such as, e.g., easements of fasting obligations that would otherwise obtain. There are usually exceptions made for health conditions, special responsibilities, etc. If a priest is going to faint in the middle of Mass because of his diabetes and low blood sugar, then he will not be able to fast for as long prior to Mass as he might otherwise do under the requirements of his denomination. And so forth.

I think this is the answer to your type of case: What Jesus is talking about is an act that is *intrinsically* immoral. Not reading the Bible for ten hours is not *intrinsically* immoral, and one can't make it *intrinsically* immoral by promising God that one will do it.

Now, I don't claim to have all the answers here. What about vows of celibacy, for example? But I would say there a couple of thoughts that come to mind: First, it really is *intrinsically* immoral to have sex with someone who isn't your spouse. Second, "marriage" under coercion is not true marriage, because the man and the woman are actually those who carry out the marriage by promising themselves freely to each other. Hence, there literally could not be a case in which a person who had taken a vow of celibacy while unmarried could be *forced* to have sex with someone. Because either he would not be married to the person (in which case the sex would be intrinsically wrong anyway) or someone involved in the situation would be trying to induce him to marry the person and then have sex, which he literally cannot be coerced into doing. Hence (at least so it seems to me at the moment), it is always possible to keep a vow of celibacy, taken while unmarried, without violating some higher obligation. But this isn't the case for keeping a vow to read the Bible for ten hours straight.

I agree completely with that, Lydia.

One of the reasons to limit making of promises and vows is precisely the problems that appear to arise to people when they take ill-advised ones. It's not that the problems have no solutions - all moral difficulties in the concrete can be solved in the concrete, because it is always possible to do the moral thing. It's that people will fool themselves and confuse themselves by the appearance of an obligation that isn't really binding. But the fundamental solvent for problems of this sort, I think, is just what Lydia indicates: largely, promises are not absolute, nor are most obligations that do not pertain to an intrinsically immoral constraint. There is the classic case of a man asking you to hold a weapon of his on deposit "until he calls for it". He gets in a drunken rage and demands it back when he is threatening to kill the mayor. Just because your agreement to hand it over "when called for" is in play doesn't mean that there isn't an exception to be made here.

Solemn vows for extremely limited circumstances, such as marriage vows, are slightly different: these vows are careful in scope as stating (in public, notice) exactly what it means to be married, which is a part of the natural law and is not something we craft of our own devices. It in making such vows, we are taking on a species of contractual obligations that God himself has written into human nature, and so will be capable of being fulfilled in all circumstances. But even there: in the exceptional circumstance of a physically abusive spouse, the other spouse is not obligated to stick around; they can get a legal separation to protect them from the abuse. (They just can't get married.) The separation does not remove the obligation to love your spouse in charity, which is what you promised.

I've kept turning this over and over in my mind over the last week. It seems to me that the original situation can be reduced to an example of the end justifying the means. To say that it's okay to deny Christ if that produces some good to someone. But I have to answer, in my belief, the end can never, Never, justify the means. It would be like trying to bake a cake using salt instead of sugar. The end cannot justify the means because the end is created by the means. We do not, we can not foresee all the consequences of our actions so we cannot justify them by results that we do not know will happen.

I think that is one of the core problems with the original situation. If untrustworthy people are threatening to harm others if you do not do something - how on earth can you trust them to keep their word? Your action or inaction may have no effect on what they decide to do.

There's another hypothetical situation sometimes brought up - if you could, would you go back in time to kill Hitler before he came to power? My answer to that is similar - I would not. Not because what Hitler did wasn't horrible and fantastically cruel. But if I were to kill Hitler, it is possible that something worse would happen.

Our actions and reactions and consequences are so intertwined that we can not, MUST not, rely on a hypothetical future to guide today's actions. This is why vows should be carefully considered and not just tossed off. This is why Jesus warned us to count the cost of discipleship. If something is intrinsically evil then it, by definition, cannot lead to any good. The result may be advantageous to some degree but it cannot be good.

I find it extremely interesting that the original conundrum of denying your faith in order to save others is something that is never raised in Scripture. I hardly think the Roman empire would be ignorant of terror tactics. As a point of speculation, could it be that it is never mentioned because the authorities found it to be completely ineffective?

Dawn, since the Romans did succeed in cowing some Christians into giving in and denying Christ, it seems unlikely that they would have failed at least some of the time in doing so through threats to others.

You are right, though, that it does reduce to a type of "end justifying the means", or to be more blunt about it "doing evil that good might come of it". If it is possible to redefine the good so that defying Christ can be "good" when something horrible will otherwise result, then St. Paul's warning is just empty words. No, it cannot be possible to justify doing evil by redefining it by its consequences, and this means that some kinds of actions are intrinsically wrong, by the very nature of the act.

But if I were to kill Hitler, it is possible that something worse would happen.

If I were to murder Hitler, then something worse would happen to me: I would condemn myself to hell. Nobody whom I would respect would ever say something like "it is better for me to suffer the pains of hell for all eternity than for these Romans to torture and kill these innocent people". It is, for one thing, making the eternal subservient to the temporal. For another, (as you point out, Dawn), you cannot predict the other temporal consequences: maybe your standing up for Christ was JUST THE EXAMPLE some of these Romans (or their torture victims) needed to tip the balance and for them to convert to Christ. No, we must do the right thing, and let God handle the rest, since we can't and He can.

(On the other hand, can nobody come up with enough imagination to say, of the scenario of "being sent back in time", to do something moral to stop Hitler? The guy did lots of immoral and criminal things to get his movement going, short-circuiting his career earlier might have worked just as well.)

Usually the "killing Hitler earlier" scenario is when he was a baby or young child or otherwise what we would normally think of as an "innocent non-combatant." Not Hitler while he was in the middle of screaming on the radio about taking Poland and wiping out the Jews. I assume that is what Dawn has in mind, when of course I agree with her that the case is cut and dried. Killing Baby Hitler is intrinsically wrong even if you have a crystal ball.

Fine, but surely there are all sorts of other ways to change baby Hitler's outcome than just KILLING him.

Fine, but surely there are all sorts of other ways to change baby Hitler's outcome than just KILLING him.

I've always thought that when I hear people talking about the baby-Hitler scenario.

One of the reasons I was interested in whether one can make a private denial of God or not concerns the distinction between internal and external denials of God.

Presumably Peter didn't deny Jesus internally, though, Judas did, in addition to his external betrayal. Would the man in my example be denying God internally if he failed to keep his promise, that is, assuming you can make a certain action carry the meaning 'I deny God' where such putative significance is only known to you adn God? I don't think so, it would just be external, that is, to what he really thinks.

Yet, about those who like Peter deny Christ, I wonder: if someone truly didn't deny God internally, wouldn't they also refrain from denying him externally? To me it seems that in some sense they do internally deny God. That is, their profession of faith in God would be diminished. It is as if they don't really believe that God is worthy of our exclusive devotion even on pain of suffering or death. A faithful Christian would not deny him at all, and internally he would be thinking something like, 'I affirm that God is worthy of my exclusive devotion even on pain of suffering and death,' but the Christian who publicly denies God would be thinking internally, 'God is not really worthy of me suffering for his sake.'

If an external act of denying God implies an (at least) lesser internal act of denying God (in some sense), there is an asymmetry between that and professing faith in God.

Consider some poor peasant in the first century named Bordius. He's rather bored, so figures, 'You know who are crazy? Christians. I'll go around the town saying, 'Jesus is Lord.' I don't believe it, nor do I trust him, but what else is there to do? Get a job? Never!' So he goes around doing that until a mob surrounds him and tells him to renounce Jesus or die. He refuses and so they kill him.

His external act of professing faith in Christ didn't imply any kind of internal act of professing faith in God. Yet, to me denying Christ would imply some kind of internal act of denial.

Another thought that I had while I was stuck in traffic today: If one tells God in their promise, 'I won't do X, and X means that I deny you,' but nothing about X is commonly understood to deny God - like failing to read the Bible for ten hours on Tuesdays - then the promisor can later say, 'X no longer means that I deny you.' The promise is still binding - he can't say, 'Also I don't have to refrain from X,' - but the meaning of X can be changed. (Of course, if X is immoral for other reasons, it is still wrong to do X, yet it still seems that X wouldn't mean, 'I deny God,' except in the way every sin is kind of like us saying, 'I don't want you to be my Lord, I want to be my own Lord.') Unless God, from the time the promise is made until it is no longer binding, would consider us engaging in X to be for us to be denying him.

Now, I have two intuitions: supposing that the man in my previous example, the bible-reading promise example, can make failing to read his Bible to mean that he denies God, I still think that he can fail to read his Bible and save the man, or perhaps even for a lesser good of making money he needs to pay rent.

But if the man instead promised, 'I won't engage in forincation, if I do, I'm saying, 'I deny' you,' he can't engage in fornication and the act not mean 'I deny God.' Of course, he can't engage in it to begin with, but I think that it will, as long as his promise is in force, be for him to deny God.

With the first man, his act isn't commonly understood to mean 'I deny God,' and isn't it self wrong. I also think that he can say, 'X doesn't mean 'I deny God' any longer. Assuming that God's consent is needed to change the meaning to X (which he would never give when the act is commonly understood to be a grave dishonor and insult to him), it seems reasonable that God would give it, so the man is justified in assuming that God does so. (This of course fits the fact that the promisee can release the promisor from their promises.)

Of course, it is hard to see why God would agree to change the meaning the second man assigned to fornication. It is already gravely immoral, and to change the meaning might in some perverse give license to the man to commit it. ('Oh it isn't as bad as denying God, that must mean it is permissible? I'm so smart deedlely dee dee dee.')

It is hard to see how God could require the man in my bible-reading illustration to not save the man. Know one other than God and you know the meaning you've (at least tried to) assign to X (permanently)! Yet the fact that know one knows that X means 'I deny God,' can't be why he is allowed to do X (or in this case, fail to do X), since we can imagine that God says to Christians, 'You must bow down to me when you get up, failing to do so would be to deny me.' And that some Christian gets kidnapped, thrown into a prison where bowing is forbidden, but not as an anti-Christian move. I'm trying to think of a plausible reason why, but as you can see with my earlier bible-reading example, making plausible scenarios isn't my focus. In any event, I think you see where I'm going. Failing to do X means to deny God, but only you and God know that, and no one believes you when you tell them that. Yet, I think you'd still have to try to do X.

Yet there does seem to be something different about the quality of the act between failing to do X here, where God has said that means to deny him, and Peter;s denying Jesus before men, so maybe you can fail to do X here, though God says that 'it means to deny me.' Since the message you would be conveying to outsiders is 'I'm not trying to plant a bomb,' (let's say that's why the guards forbade bowing down). And this might be relevant to God, so that he understands you're failing to do X doesn't really convey 'I deny you, God.'

My last thought about this: even if you can't actually make some random act mean that you deny God where such putative meaning is known only to you and God, you can be subjectively guilty of denying God were you to do something that you thought would be to deny God.


There are all sorts of snake-eating-tail difficulties with subjectively ascertained guilt for actions that are partly bad but not all bad, especially from interior conditions rather than exterior ones. It is probably not possible to sort out all of them. However, it is possible to say some generic things.

(1) A person's honest (invincible) judgment of conscience that "this act is immoral" - even though it is simply in error - binds him in conscience: if he does it, he is guilty of defying the judgment of conscience about the right. (This result relies on the fact, among others, that no matter what his conscience said about THIS act, there was some other moral act available to him, for there is always a moral act available. The choice to "do X" was not only a choice to reject Y, but also Z, and Z', etc.)

(2) Promises are not always and inherently binding. They have exceptions, and when they are not contractual they can be modified without moral guilt (or at least may be). They are subject to adjustment to conditions. Even when they are contractual, they have limits and exceptions.

(3) Signatory acts and non-signatory physical acts, while they harbor many of the same moral principles, also harbor some moral distinctions. A signatory act (like speech, or raising a flag, or putting your hand over your heart, or bowing down) depends for their signification on either conventions or something of nature, but even the latter usually borrow at least a little from convention (with the notable exception of the marital act, which signifies love). Because convention plays so heavy a role, it is not quite kosher to make of "not reading the Bible for 10 hours" the significance of "I deny God". A mere intention stated once interiorly to do so, without any exterior reference nor any witnesses nor any of the other modalities of creating a symbol is a pretty denuded sort of symbol or sign. And for that reason it would tend to diminish, perhaps even to the point of insignificance (hah!) the actual reality of the 'sign' so stated, as a moral condition of acting afterwards.

(4) Doubts that arise later from such matters as "well, I said 'always' but at the time I didn't think of exceptional problem X and if I had thought of it I would have said 'but not when X obtains' " do in fact cause huge difficulties in matters of explicit contracts between persons. The intention itself was indeterminate. All the more so, then, would such considerations create doubts about moral constraints that arise solely from interior promises that are not contracts. Or solely from interior promises of any sort, really. (Which is a pretty good reason for not doing such a thing.)

It seems to me problematic to require that these interior assertions generate strong objective moral obligations, for the lack of specification of conditions, exceptions, limits, etc that would occur, would undermine moral certainty, and certainty of acting rightly is a critical feature of morality and conscience. I suspect that this fact means that there is something that inherently cuts the feet out from under the moral obligatoriness of such internal assertions, though I don't at the moment know where to find it.

I think that this is one reason vows were public affairs in OT times - a fact that puts Jephaph's daughter's coming out of his house in a new light to most (she wanted the person "sacrificed," not literally of course, to be her). That way people would know, okay, if you don't do this thing which is otherwise fine, you've acted wrongly (or, perhaps if it was already bad, you've actedly worse yet).

The only thing I can think about that denial of God thing in my example above is that God has a right to view the act that in of itself doesn't mean 'I deny God' as you denying God if you do it. Yet even then, it might not be the case.

One thing I neglected to mention earlier, was that the lameness of the 'mere foot motion' objection to whether steeping on a picture of Jesus publicly where this was understood to mean denying him counted as really denying him, seems to be a good example of the fact that one can't divorce value from fact statements, certainly not by mere word games. And so this I think argues against the fact value distinction.

St. Thomas, Summa, IIa IIae, Q 88, A2, reply 2

Reply to Objection 2. Certain things are good, whatever be their result; such are acts of virtue, and these can be, absolutely speaking, the matter of a vow: some are evil, whatever their result may be; as those things which are sins in themselves, and these can nowise be the matter of a vow: while some, considered in themselves, are good, and as such may be the matter of a vow, yet they may have an evil result, in which case the vow must not be kept. It was thus with the vow of Jephte, who as related in Judges 11:30-31, "made a vow to the Lord, saying: If Thou wilt deliver the children of Ammon into my hands, whosoever shall first come forth out of the doors of my house, and shall meet me when I return in peace . . . the same will I offer a holocaust to the Lord." For this could have an evil result if, as indeed happened, he were to be met by some animal which it would be unlawful to sacrifice, such as an ass or a human being. Hence Jerome says [Implicitly 1 Contra Jovin.: Comment. in Micheam vi, viii: Comment. in Jerem. vii. The quotation is from Peter Comestor, Hist. Scholast.]: "In vowing he was foolish, through lack of discretion, and in keeping his vow he was wicked." Yet it is premised (Judges 11:29) that "the Spirit of the Lord came upon him," because his faith and devotion, which moved him to make that vow, were from the Holy Ghost; and for this reason he is reckoned among the saints, as also by reason of the victory which he obtained, and because it is probable that he repented of his sinful deed, which nevertheless foreshadowed something good.

A 10

I answer that, The dispensation from a vow is to be taken in the same sense as a dispensation given in the observance of a law because, as stated above (I-II:96:6; I-II:97:4), a law is made with an eye to that which is good in the majority of instances. But since, in certain cases this is not good, there is need for someone to decide that in that particular case the law is not to be observed. This is properly speaking to dispense in the law: for a dispensation would seem to denote a commensurate distribution or application of some common thing to those that are contained under it, in the same way as a person is said to dispense food to a household.

In like manner a person who takes a vow makes a law for himself as it were, and binds himself to do something which in itself and in the majority of cases is a good. But it may happen that in some particular case this is simply evil, or useless, or a hindrance to a greater good: and this is essentially contrary to that which is the matter of a vow, as is clear from what has been said above (Article 2). Therefore it is necessary, in such a case, to decide that the vow is not to be observed. And if it be decided absolutely that a particular vow is not to be observed, this is called a "dispensation" from that vow; but if some other obligation be imposed in lieu of that which was to have been observed, the vow is said to be "commuted." Hence it is less to commute a vow than to dispense from a vow: both, however, are in the power of the Church.

Since a vow is a promise made to God, the formal dispensation from it in the case following it would result in an evil belongs to the religious superior who "stands in" for God's authority. But Aquinas seems to imply that a man must not carry out a vow that would result in the evil, and is seemingly silent about the situation in which recourse to the religious superior is not available. In the case of a simple promise, there is no definite authority but the man himself, though presumably his recognized religious superior (his pastor, bishop, or abbot) would also be able to dispense it.

I think that Thomas's near-silence on what a man is to do if recourse to the superior is impossible is interesting: since the implication in A2 is in which case the vow must not be kept, which seems general enough to cover the matter: promises regard a matter that is voluntary, and you cannot bind yourself to voluntarily do what is evil simply. Hence it seems to limit the nature of a promise so that it cannot extend to what is evil to do.

Which is not the same thing as to do what is costly or dear in terms of goods. If you promise to hand over "every dollar I can licitly afford to give up" if a man does some very improbable X, when the man succeeds, you cannot make a case that it is "an evil" to hand over that much because there are better or more urgent goods that you could do, such as help the poor (beyond what you are obligated to give to help the poor).

Lydia, what kind of intention do you think is needed for an act to count as a public denial of Christ (in a morally objectionable sense)? Is it just the intention to utter certain sounds or make certain bodily movements? Or must there be an intention to do these things combined with a certain motive (e.g., to appease one's captors)? We can imagine some weird cases in which this might make a difference. For example, suppose I'm a hardcore iconoclast who believes in destroying any images of Christ on sight. If I'm captured and told by my persecutor to trample an image of Christ under the threat he will kill me and several others if I don't, do I commit the sin of apostasy if I trample the image only out of iconoclastic motives (which I would have done anyway even if the persecutor had not made a threat)? Or to use a different (and less realistic) example, suppose that my persecutor wants me to utter the words "I hereby renounce Christ" or else he will kill me and several others nearby. But suppose further that, unbeknownst to everyone else, there's also a bomb nearby that will everyone in the vicinity unless it's deactivated by someone's uttering the password "I hereby renounce Christ". Assuming I know this, do I commit the sin of apostasy if I utter those words only out of a motive to deactivate the bomb (which I would have done anyway even if the persecutor had not made a threat)?

It seems at least to me that these actions are not sins of apostasy, even if they are sinful for some other reason and even though they have the same effects of damaging God's reputation among men that public denials you would consider to be apostasy have. What do you think?

I'm not going to re-read the entire thread, and I'm guessing I've said something like this already, but here goes:

If you know perfectly well that the speech act you are going to engage in, including symbolic acts such as destruction or trampling, is understood in the language and surrounding situation to *mean* that you renounce Jesus Christ, then it's wrong to do so.

People are always trying to go reductionistic on this type of thing: Oh, how could it just be the intention to utter certain sounds?

But there's a kind of willful ignorance there, as though sounds or movements do not have meaning in a particular linguistic context. The people involved know full well that this is what these actions mean.

The other reductionist attempt is to reduce everything to purely private intention: Oh, I didn't really _mean in my heart_ that I wanted to renounce Jesus, so then it's just a physical movement, right?

There is no mandate to engage in iconoclasm, and if you know that your Protestant iconoclasm (or whatever you call it) is going to be taken to mean that you are spitting upon Jesus Christ, then don't do it. It's wrong.

As for saving people from a bomb (really, how do people think of these examples?), presumably one could find a way to utter the words to defuse the bomb while disabusing everybody of the impression that you were really engaging in the speech act indicating by the words and demanded by the persecutors. E.g. (Yells) "I don't mean this! I'm just saying a password to defuse a bomb! Quote: I hereby renounce Christ unquote but I really don't. Now go jump in the lake, you bastards, because now that the bomb is defused, you can torture me all you want, and I'm never saying that again. I belong to Jesus forever!"

But if you have to do something that conveys to others the content and meaning of "I hereby renounce Christ" then it's wrong, and you can't do it. Private intent that nobody else is going to know doesn't make it okay.

Dear Midas,

Lydia is correct, as I explained in my comment, above. One may not do evil that good may come from it, even if it saves 100 men from a bomb. Unless it is clear from context that one is merely saying the apostatizing words to defuse a bomb, one may not utter the words. Thus, either preface the words to explain them, or be silent. One does not judge the morality of an act by its consequences, especially intrinsically evil acts. Now, certain intrinsically evil acts can be rendered subjectively non-sinful by embedding them in a context that provides a reduction in knowledge or will or degree, such as prefacing the apostatizing remarks by an explanation that the words mean something other than they appear to mean, thus cluing in your audience, but minus that contextual shift being made known to the audience, the apostatizing words must be taken at face value.

The Chicken

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