‘Ends Justify Means’ Fallacy

One of the biggest lies ever adopted as truth has been the philosophy that a good end is justified by any means necessary—good or bad.  Most people have good intentions and wish to obtain praiseworthy goals (ends) but some forget, ignore, or try to justify using immoral methods (means) to accomplish those goals.

In a letter to the Romans, Paul shed light on a false teaching attributed to him—“Let us do evil that good may come” (Romans 3:8).  Yet many Christians, even today, rationalize some degree of evil committed by themselves, governments, or others because of the “greater good” which supposedly came from their questionable methods.

The following is an excerpt from Elder F. Burton Howard’s talk “Repentance” which sheds more light on this false philosophy.

Just as foolish as believing that we can “pass it on” is the idea that the satisfaction of being in the circle, whatever that may be, can somehow excuse any wrongs committed there. This notion is widely shared and is most often expressed by the phrase, “The end justifies the means.” Such a belief, if left undisturbed and unchecked, can also impede the repentance process and cheat us out of exaltation.

Those who teach it are almost always attempting to excuse the use of improper or questionable means. Such people seem to be saying, “My purpose was to do good or to be happy; therefore, any little lie, or misrepresentation, or lapse of integrity, or violation of law along the way is justified.”

In certain circumstances, some say it is “okay” to conceal the truth, to dig just a small pit for an adversary, to pursue an advantage of some kind—such as superior knowledge or position—against another. “This is just common practice,” or “I’m just looking after Number One,” they say. “All’s fair in love and war,” or “That’s the way the ball bounces,” they say. But if the means which prompt the saying of these things are wrong, no amount of rationalization or verbal whitewash can ever make them right.

To those who believe otherwise, Nephi said: “Yea, and there shall be many which shall teach after this manner, false and vain and foolish doctrines, and shall be puffed up in their hearts, and shall seek deep to hide their counsels from the Lord.” (2 Ne. 28:9.)

Some seek to justify their actions by quoting scripture. They often cite Nephi’s killing of Laban as an example of the need to violate a law to accomplish a greater good and to prevent a nation from dwindling in unbelief. But they forget that Nephi twice refused to follow the promptings of the Spirit. In the end, he agreed to break the commandment only when he was convinced that “the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes” (1 Ne. 4:13; italics added) and also (I believe) when he knew that the penalty for shedding blood had been lifted, in that one exceptional case, by Him whose right it is to fix and waive penalties.

The truth is that we are judged by the means we employ and not by the ends we may hope to obtain. It will do us little good at the last day to respond to the Great Judge, “I know I was not all I could have been, but my heart was in the right place.”

In fact, there is danger in focusing merely on ends. To some who did, the Savior said:

“Many will say to me in that day: Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name have cast out devils, and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them: I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (3 Ne. 14:22–23.)

The war in heaven was essentially about the means by which the plan of salvation would be implemented. It forever established the principle that even for the greatest of all ends, eternal life, the means are critical. It should be obvious to all thinking Latter-day Saints that the wrong means can never attain that objective.

The danger in thinking that the end justifies the means lies in making a judgment we have no right to make. Who are we to say that the Lord will pardon wickedness done to attain a perceived “greater good.” Even if the goal is good, it would be a personal calamity to look beyond the mark and fail to repent of the wrong we do along the way.

Consider a few more ‘ends justify the means’ arguments made throughout mankind’s history:

Crusades—it’s better to force people to accept Christianity than let them die unsaved.

Offensive War—it’s better to attack a potential enemy before they can attack you (Pre-emptive war) OR going to war is justied if it can save your nation’s economy.

Atomic Bomb—it’s better to kill 250,000 civilians than possibly lose 1,000,000 soldiers (intentional collateral damage).

Terrorism—it’s ok to kill innocent people to get a point across.

Torture—it’s better to use cruel methods to obtain information which can potentially save many others.

Socialism—it’s ok to forcefully take from Jane to pay for Mary’s schooling, medical bills, retirement, etc.  (it’s ok to steal from others if it’s for the ‘greater good’.)

Abortion—it’s better to abort an unwanted child than allow it to live in unfavorable conditions.

Prostitution & Drug Dealing—selling drugs or your body is ok if it’s a matter of survival.

Involuntary Vaccinations—forcing vaccinations on individuals is just in order to save everyone.

Our options between right and wrong often get distorted by how complicated the world gets.  Let’s not forget the chorus line from the Hymn “Do What Is Right”:

Do what is right; let the consequence follow.
Battle for freedom in spirit and might;
And with stout hearts look ye forth till tomorrow.
God will protect you; then do what is right!

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Relative Extremism

Extremism is relative. Depending on where someone stands on any social, political, or cultural spectrum they’ll view anyone “too ideologically distant” as an extremist.  But this perspective has its shortcomings.

Many members of the LDS Church cling tightly to the teaching to be “moderate in all things” but confuse the phrase’s origin and proper applications.  This teaching is found nowhere in LDS canonized scripture, not even in D&C 89 where most members attribute the phrase to come from.  The teaching to be “moderate in all things” actually roots itself from Aristotle’s Doctrine of the Mean, which teaches that a virtue lies in the middle of two extremes.  The problem is that “extremes” shift at the whims of society but the gospel of Christ is a sure foundation and is immovable.  In the few cases where LDS prophets have used that term they were referring to living a balanced life- the balance, of course, being with the best things in life.  Being “moderate in all things” does not mean that people should approach all things, healthy and unhealthy, with moderation.

Many members use half-truths such as “moderation in all things” and “avoid extremes” to justify their viewpoints or to criticize others.  The truth is- being moderate in all things doesn’t mean that people should compromise, or shift to the middle of every controversy that exists in society.  Truth and righteousness are extreme notions to a society who love to follow Satan.  Outside of the Church society views the Church’s teachings as extreme. This isn’t justification for members to shift their standards to meet halfway with the world.  In every dispensation those who have preached the truth have been perceived as extremists.

Perhaps Noah should have met the Lord and the world half way and just built a canoe.  No one would have made fun of him or perceived him as an extremist.

Perhaps Jesus should have refrained from proclaiming himself as the Son of God and the Savior of the world.  After all, these proclamations were seen as extreme to most people at the time.

Perhaps Joseph Smith should have kept silent about his experiences with God and angels in order to avoid controversy.

Perhaps the Church should “get with the times” and start allowing homosexuals to marry in their temples.

Truth is not established on Gallup polls. –Ezra Taft Benson (An Enemy Hath Done This, pg 282)

If the path to salvation is straight and narrow then who are the real extremists?  The one’s clinging to the iron rod or the ones making fun of them (1 Ne 8)?  If someone really believed there is only one Lord, one faith, and one baptism (Ephesian 4:5) then wouldn’t an eternal perspective make them completely uninterested in the judgments of man?

…the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world (John 17:14).

People take the moderate position because, to them, it’s safe.  It’s uncomfortable and embarrassing to be perceived as an extremist.  So rather than take a stand on moral ground they compromise their principles and values to accommodate the most amounts of people.  I suspect these could be some of the same cowards that Jesus said- because of being lukewarm, that He will spew them out of His mouth (Rev 3:16).

Moderation in all things is not a virtue, because it would seem to justify moderation in commitment. That is not moderation, but indifference. That kind of moderation runs counter to the divine commands to serve with all of our “heart, might, mind and strength” (D&C 4:2), to “seek … earnestly the riches of eternity” (D&C 68:31), and to be “valiant in the testimony of Jesus” (D&C 76:79). Moderation is not the answer. –Dallin H. Oaks (Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall, Ensign, 1994)

The question boils down to this:  Who do you fear perceives you as an extremist?  Those who fear the world are obsessed with pleasing it through compromise and moderation.  Those who fear the Lord and act accordingly are not extremists to God.

For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God, and the Lord hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth (Deut. 14:2).

My Manifesto

I believe that freedom and choice can lead to much chaos, destruction and death but that it can also lead to the creation of much beauty, goodness, and life.

I believe that a person’s Liberty is too precious of a gift to permit others to treat so lightly.

I believe that the condition of Liberty requires restraint and responsibility.

I believe that we, as individuals and communities, have the obligation to take care of each other through every moral means possible.

However…

I believe that government cannot exist in peace if it acts as a positive force- granting special rights/privileges for particular groups/individuals while denying them for others.

I believe that government should exist exclusively as a negative force- to be a defense mechanism, protecting each individual equally—their life, liberty, and property.

I believe that rights are derived from God, not from government.

I believe that the creator is superior to the creation.  Since God created man, He is superior over him.  Since man created government, he is superior over it.

I believe that God-given rights include the right to life, the right and control of property and the peaceful free exercise of conscience; and that government may only deny these things justly to those who abuse the same for others.

I believe that people should only delegate to government the powers which they, themselves, would properly have in the absence of any governmental form.

I believe that individuals and societies should extend their ideologies by friendly example, not through manipulation, coercion, or force.

What do you believe?