So I’m sitting at the Thanksgiving dinner table talking to my Mom. She mentions the play she saw the previous Sunday. She comes up to see plays at the Arena stage with her friends, and I meet her for lunch beforehand. There is much lamenting at the end of lunch that I don’t then join them all for the play, but I’ve been to a couple plays at the Arena and they didn’t impress. But that’s not what I’m trying to explain here.
The play is apparently much ado about truth and honesty, which brings my mother to the question of “What would you do if the gestapo came to your door while you were hiding Anne Frank in your attic?” I hate that question.
See, I’m pretty hardcore about the truth. I’ll get into more detail about that in my Statement series of posts if you’re reading those. However, from my page view statistics it appears everyone is waiting for me to review another movie (don’t worry, I got three from Netflix today). Suffice to say, I try to be honest in everything I say or do. I don’t always succeed. But when I notice that I have failed, I try to go back and amend the situation.
Some people think that lying is okay in certain situations. I disagree. When I disagree, I am generally hit with the gestapo-Jew-attic question. The idea being that if you lie in that case you save the innocent Jew from the evil gestapo, and that’s a good thing. The problem I have is that the question isn’t realistic. Right here, right now, in reality, there is no gestapo in the United States (I said reality, Mr. Beck) and there are no Jews in my attic. For the question to be valid you would have to transport me instantly into a future where both those things are the case. But that is not realistic either. You have to take me through the intervening points in time where the gestapo come back into being and start going after Jews. At those intervening points in time I have choices I can make.
That’s the thing about being hardcore about honesty, or anything else. It constrains your choices in life. You have to ask yourself if certain choices are consistent with your beliefs. If I had the option to start hiding Jews in my attic, I would have to ask myself if that was consistent with my devotion to honesty. It wouldn’t be, so I would choose not to hide Jews in my attic. I want to be clear that it would be a choice. Many times I have heard “I had no choice.” No. You had a choice. You chose one thing over another, and I think you need to be honest (at least with yourself) about that. But then again, I’m kind of hardcore about honesty.
Some might argue against that choice, saying I’m abandoning the Jews to the gestapo, and that is an evil of inaction. “All that evil needs to flourish is for good men to do nothing,” or whatever the exact quote is. But hiding Anne Frank in my attic is not the only way to deal with the gestapo hunting Jews problem. It’s not that I wouldn’t try to do something about that problem, it’s just that I would have to find a way to deal with that problem that was consistent with my beliefs. It’s hard to say what that choice would be, not having all the specifics of the gestapo coming back into being situation. My guess is that I would be building bombs in my basement and blowing the gestapo up on the weekend. While I am hardcore about honesty, I am willing to engage in violence to defeat those I believe to be evil. I don’t like to be violent, and would try to find a non-violent yet honest way to deal with the problem. However, given the history of the gestapo I’m not sure that would be a viable solution.
I wasn’t planning on making a post about this. I said something along these lines to my mother at the dinner table, just using Zimbabwe as an example instead of the gestapo. But I read something the other day that made me think about this. I can’t find the original article, but it was about a state (I think Massachusetts) that was going to change regulations and require nurses opposed to abortions to assist in performing them (I think just at public hospitals, not private ones). Seems to be the same situation. They have a hardcore belief about abortion, and they want to make the choice not to perform abortions. But does the hospital and the state that runs it have an obligation to assist them in that choice? I don’t think so. I think if they want to avoid doing abortions, they should work at a different hospital. If lying became an expected part of my job, I’d quit and find a job elsewhere.