Monday, August 1, 2011

Can You Do Evil To Get A Good Result?

Q - I watched a show called "The Confession", and it was about how a hit man comes to confession and unrepentantly confesses some of his sins.

One murder he confesses is about how he goes to a man's house and gives him a gun and says if he kills himself, he will let his family live. However, if he will not kill himself, the hit man will kill him and his family.

I know this situation is hypothetical, however I was curious about what Catholic Church would say is the correct path to choose for someone who knew suicide was gravely wrong. I was thinking that the man would not be held liable for killing himself because of freewill, is that correct? Thanks.

A -
Thanks for the question. Lucky for us both, the Catholic Church gives us tools to answer questions like this. The principles that guide us in complex moral decisions are clear in this situation.

It boils down to this - we can never do something that is evil in order to get a good outcome. Another way of saying it is this - good ends do not justify evil means. In this case the good end would be saving the life of others, but the evil is taking your own life. We can play out the hypothetical situation below.

Here are the two options that the hit man gives the other man, and the moral reasoning why neither are options:

  1. Kill yourself and I will not kill your family.
    --We cannot willfully kill ourselves in any situation. Our lives have an intrinsic value, but are not our own. They belong to God, who alone ought to decide the time of our death.
  2. Don't kill yourself and I will kill you and your family.
    --Here we must understand that if the man chooses not to kill himself (a good decision), then the decision is not his to make if the hit man kills anyone because of that decision.

The moral reasoning of modern man is relativistic and utilitarian. Most modern people would say the Catholic Church is too strict in the principles and needs to try and do something in such situations, because lives are going to be lost. Yet, a Christian can never be the one who decide to kill an innocent person (even themselves), because we must answer for how we lived our lives, not the choices of others and life is not our own to take.

Modern moral thinking says that morality is relative to time, people, situations, etc. and that we must do what is best in that situation to bring us the most happiness via pleasure (with the least amount of pain). This kind of moral reasoning has no anchor, but blows on the wind of human whims. This is the thinking that has brought us abortion, genocide, cloning, etc.

A good intention, the situation surrounding the act, and the relationships that are part of the situation cannot make an evil act a good one. Our first priority is to God and his moral law. This law, at it's core, is to do good and avoid evil.

BTW - based on the way you describe the show, the priest would not be able to absolve the man from his sins, because he is unrepentant.

I hope this helps.

No comments:

Post a Comment