Friday, July 18, 2014

Germain Grisez on Humorous Lies

The moral theologian Germain Grisez, following the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Living a Christian Life states:
Humorous lies manipulate others and often offend their dignity. [bold emphasis original] Many moralists think humorous (jocose) lies have little or no moral significance. This opinion may be based partly on a confusion between telling humorous fictional stories not intended to deceive anyone (these are not lies, and can be morally acceptable) and humorous lies properly so called. The latter do aim to deceive someone, although usually only temporarily, and generally in the context of playful mocking or teasing (“kidding”). For instance, someone first tells a credulous person something astonishing, embarrassing, or frightening but untrue, and by this deception provokes an emotional reaction; then the joker manifests the truth and at least implicitly ridicules the reaction. 
Although the humorous lie usually is not a grave matter, its moral significance is obvious: like every other lie, it manipulates others. This fact also explains why humorous liars typically victimize people whom they regard as inferiors (and thus offend their dignity): adults often tell such lies to children, male superiors to female subordinates, the sophisticated to the simple, and so on.” (7.B.6.h)
We are reminded of St. Paul's admonition: "Putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another" (Eph. 4:25). Is there, then, any room for a lie that makes use of falsehood?

There is a story in the life of St. Thomas Aquinas when the Saint was a novice. Because of his quietness and slowness of movement, his brothers thought him dumb. An older brother, hoping to capitalize on this, pointed dramatically out the window one day and exclaimed to St. Thomas, "Look! There is a flying pig!" St. Thomas, apparently gullible, walked over to the window and looked out. When the laughter had died down, St. Thomas turned to the brother who had made the joke and said, "It would have been better for a pig to fly than for a Dominican to tell a lie."

No, St. Thomas sure wasn't the life of the party, but for what it's worth, he is a saint and doctor of the Church.

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