Thursday Night Theological Poll: Morality according to O’Donnell and Jeter

Republican Senatorial candidate Christine O’Donnell appeared on Politically Incorrect many years ago, and opined on honesty and the moral imperative to avoid telling lies:

Superstar baseball player Derek Jeter (heck, even I’ve heard of him!) appeared to be hit by a pitch yesterday. The umpire’s call allowed him to go to first base on account of being hit, but slow-motion replays showed that he wasn’t hit by the ball at all, and is simply a really good actor, facts which he readily admitted to later:

What does Mormonism say about the moral issues at stake in these two situations? What do you say?

Explain your choice in the comments. I’m curious how our choices agree with or conflict with the following quotes from church (or any other quotes or stories you want to invoke):

  1. “Do what is right, let the consequence follow.” (Hymns #237)
  2. “God will protect you, then do what is right.” (Hymns #237)
  3. “[T]he Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” (1 Nephi 3:7)


  1. Though I suppose the real critical moral question of the day is, is it ok to steal, if you are stealing a quaran from someone who is about to burn it? (see sideblog)

  2. We don’t need a Hitler example. How about, lie to hide Joseph Smith from a Missouri sheriff with a warrant, or use acting skills to con a federal marshal looking for plural wives? Protecting our own is in our historical DNA.

  3. Does anyone else think that quotes #1 and #2 (two lines from “Do What Is Right”) are contradictory? To me, the first implies that negative consequences may follow our right actions, but we should be willing to accept them. The second implies that God will protect us from negative consequences if we do right.

  4. I think the question of whether it is ever morally acceptable to lie is a fun one. Kant comes down pretty hard on the side which says that it is never okay. In general this is a good approach. However, it is pretty clear that you should lie when protecting Jews from the Nazis. Of course, my guess is that most of us lies to save our asses…and that is about it.

    The philosopher W.D. Ross argues that while we should not lie, the maxim against lying will sometime come up again other moral imperatives…like saving the lives of others. When saving life and honesty are in conflict, we should side with life. We should also recognize that most of us cannot justify our lies in such a way.

    Jeter is a Yankee. That make him immoral by default.

  5. I’ve heard that kids who play sports are more likely to cheat in academic settings. I get the feeling that the ‘it’s all part of the game’ attitude is to blame for this.

    I personally feel that the goal should is to be beyond reproach in all settings.

  6. I think Nephi killing Laban right at the beginning of the Book of Mormon is a pretty clear example of even really fundamental commandments like not killing sometimes being superceded by specific commandments from God. To claim that a “good Mormon” must never in any circumstance do any given thing is pretty unsupportable, I think. How to know when you are the exception and not the rule is, of course, a whopper of a question and one I don’t claim to know the answer to. But I do feel certain there are times when it would be good and right to lie.

  7. Yes, SB2, the two lines are in conflict. In one it does not matter what happens, as long as we are in the right (this in principle is more sound). The others says that you will be protected from harm if you do what is right (nice sentiment, but not true).

    I love this post.

  8. Gina, the Nephi story is creapy. Killing a passed out drunk guy is immoral and cowardly, even if “god tells you to.”

    (I actually do not think the story ever happen. Instead, I think it is part of the Nephite narrative about how the Nephites came into being).

  9. After Nephi killed Laban, he lied to get the plates. He was justified to kill Laban, according to the BoM account, but was he then justified to follow up with lies to Laban’s staff in order to actually get the plates?

    I agree re: the immorality of the Yankees and even moreso their obnoxious fans.

  10. Latter-day Guy says:

    I seem to remember reading somewhere about a university that had a required course in ethics. After a little while they found a surprising disparity in test scores from that class: men scored consistently higher than women. When they studied the issue, they found (generally speaking) men judged ethics based on rules or principles (ie: be honest, even if it kills you and everyone you know), while women made decisions based on outcome (the best result for the largest number of people). The texts and tests had been written by men.

    In short: save the Jews, and Jeter sucks a little bit (even if that kind of dishonesty is expected; though, such dishonesty pales in comparison to, say, boffing someone else’s wife).

  11. I think pretending to be hit by a pitch makes perfect sense if you are a Yankee. The Yankees are very different from you and me.

  12. LDG,

    More or less. Carol Gilligan address that issue in her “A Different Voice.” It really is not so much a gender thing, in my opinion, but it does get to different moral approaches. The female perspective, or care perspective, is more about relationships and maintaining care bounds, not so much the Utilitarian greatest good for the many.

  13. Latter-day Guy says:

    Thanks for the clarification, Chris H. (I hate being reduced to “I heard this one guy one time…” It sounds almost as reliable as Nigerian banking investment opportunities.)

  14. Jim Donaldson says:

    “I agree re: the immorality of the Yankees and even moreso their obnoxious fans.”

    Then you will love this:

  15. #12, 14, 15: I just finished Jeffrey Toobin’s The Nine, a recent history of SCOTUS (fantastic read by the way), and he describes a similar kind of contrast between O’Connor’s approach and most of the rest of the justices. She had a more case-by-case approach and didn’t tend to articulate broad principles or rules. She defended her approach against claims it was unacceptably inelegant/unprincipled by saying that it was a common law court and a body of case-by-case rulings was just as legitimate as a tidy rule. Toobin doesn’t seem to attribute that to O’Connor’s gender, more her career path (she was not a judge before SCOTUS), but it’s an interesting idea.

  16. Especially when the “one guy” is a gal, L-d G ;)

  17. I think that “it’s part of the game” is really understating the case here–it should be “it’s an agreed-upon and well-understood part of the game.”

    Bets are off as pertaining to honesty in the context is of a competition where no requirements, obligations, or penalties related to dishonesty are specified. While Jeter’s acting job is an easy target because of obviousness, (I’d call it gamesmanship), it is really no different ethically or morally in my opinion than the player who, despite knowing with 100% certainty that the catcher’s tag beat his foot to the plate, is called safe by an imperfect umpire with imperfect vision and information, and walks to the dugout quietly as his team notches a run on the board.

    There is simply no expectation whatsoever from any party involved–the opponents or the judge–that the runner stand up, explain the error to the umpire, and pout ferociously on the baseline until he’s called out. Similarly, a basketball player who touches the ball last before it falls out of bounds is under no obligation to present this fact to an official who ruled that another player did so.

    Once this competitive environment, in which gamesmanship, bluffing, and various forms of cheating are understood and accepted and practiced by all parties, is removed, then questions about ethics and morality can be addressed properly.

    In other words, I object to calling something a “lie” when dishonesty is an accepted, expected, and mutually practiced behavior.

  18. Jeter will pay the price now everytime he steps in front of a Homebase Ump.

  19. Regarding the Jewish question – I’m already breaking the law by not turning them in to the authorities. It seems morally consistent to lie to keep them safe.

  20. Wow, even letting them die has a vote now (evidently whichever kingdom Kant ended up in has an internet connection), but still not a single vote for O’Donnell’s theory.

  21. I don’t think the two lines from the song are necessarily in conflict. The actual doctrine or moral rule that should govern the lives of disciples of Jesus Christ is articulated in the first line: “Do what is right, let the consequence follow.”

    The second line articulates the hope to which disciples aspire in doing what is right: “God will protect you, then do what is right.”

    As we all know, the second line is not an accurate statement of fact in the sense of day-to-day life but could well be seen as having a longer view that is literally accurate (eternal perspective).

    In any event, lying to Nazis to save Jews would never be an immoral choice, even if it might appear that way as theorized in philosophical discourse.

  22. Jeter showed up the umpire by bragging about it afterward. He shouldn’t be surprised if next time he gets plunked a good one, the umpire tells him to to quit acting and get back in the box.

    And none of it did anything to stop the Yankees’ 2-8 free fall.

  23. While I am 100% totally ready to lie to anyone to save a life (that is how I voted), I do think a very good argument for “Don’t outright lie, but be misleading to save their lives” can be made if we are talking about this in a purely Mormon context. I am kind of surprised this hasn’t been brought up yet but in Abraham 2, you have the Lord explicitly telling Abraham to tell a deceitful (and ultimately kinda gross) half truth to save both his and Sarai’s life. It appears to be justified, and apparently commanded in some cases.
    Chris H, I’ve never really thought of the Laban slaying as being anything other than literal but your suggestion that it could simply be part of some kind of a creation narrative to be an interesting hypothesis. Although this isn’t really an issue I’ve ever struggled to reconcile, I have often wondered why it was necessary to kill the man when he could have just knocked him out cold and stripped him for his clothes. Seems a lot messier than it needs to be.

  24. Cynthia,

    Wow, even letting them die has a vote now (evidently whichever kingdom Kant ended up in has an internet connection), but still not a single vote for O’Donnell’s theory.

    That’s probably because her theory is not practical, is amateurish, and not worthy of our time. The thing is that most likely in her own life, she has not kept her own principles on this matter. If she ever spoke one false word, she would go against her own principle. Jasmine is right. Christine O’Donnell is very naive.

  25. When we interview students on campus to work for my company, one of the questions we ask is if they’ve ever been put in a position that could compromise their integrity. Many undergrads claim to have no such experience. We then follow up and ask if they’ve been asked to cheat on a test (for instance, by giving answers to someone else). One student, who was not doing so well in the interview anyway (he was kind of as bright as a block of wood) said, no, he’d never been in a situation that might compromise his integrity. When we followed up with the cheating question, he thought for a minute, laughed nervously and asked, “Do you want me to tell the truth?”

    He did not get a second interview.

    As for the lines of the song, it says Do what is RIGHT, not don’t lie. We must make judgments. Saving Jews trumps honesty to the Nazi’s (he said with perfect 20:20 hindsight). As for the closing line, we assume God’s protection is in the eternities, not in the moment. Joseph in Egypt is a prime example of one who did right, and then served many years in prison, but ultimately he was protected.

  26. Very interesting poll. During a time of moral clarity such as the present (ha) it is easy to choose the first option in the Hitler poll, but I heard a recent NPR interview with the author Alan Furst where he explained that the choice is rarely so simple. Here is a small excerpt.

    INSKEEP: And you have people dealing with this terrible moral dilemma of perhaps how do they reconcile themselves to living under a terrible, terrible regime?

    Mr. FURST: It was almost impossible to do. You were damned no matter what you did. What I like to say about the period is that you didn’t have a lot of choices. You could be a hero. You could be a coward. You could be a villain or you could be a victim. Pick.

    …[The readers of Spies of the Balkans] are going to say, well, what would I do – and no kidding, what would I do? What would I really do? It’s always nice to think that you would be a hero. On the other hand, that might have something to do with what’s going to happen to your wife, what’s going to happen to your children, what’s going to happen to your parents. It’s not a clean business.

    You know a lot of books, which are in one way or another action books, the hero has none of these concerns, nor would the heroine have any of these concerns. They’re loners completely. There is no Mrs. James Bond. There is no Mother Bond for him to worry about. And there is no little Junior Bond playing on the soccer team.

  27. And a trivial, tangential note regarding #15: Sandra Day O’Connor was a judge in Arizona for a number of years before she was appointed to the Supreme Court. Perhaps what was meant was that her previous career in the Arizona legislature, including time as majority leader of that grand institution, affected her style as a justice of the Supreme Court. But I haven’t read the book.

  28. If the steroid years have taught us anything it’s that Major League Baseball (if not all professional sports) loves cheating.

    For about a decade they hid their heads in the sand like the proverbial ostrich and did nothing as formerly scrawny players bulked up to Hulk-like proportions and even promoted their increased homerun production with such little ditties as “Chicks dig the longball.”

    Also, it’s offensive to compare Jeter’s lying to people who lied to save lives.

  29. Speaking of the question of would you protect Jews from Nazis when it comes to them or your family, Quentin Tarantino delved into that question I thought quite well in Inglorious Basterds.

  30. #27–Ah, right, forgot about that. Yes he emphasizes that she came more directly from legislative arena than years on the bench. Thanks.

  31. I wrote a piece on this topic last month because of a friend’s situation which really put this in perspective for me. His dishonesty put him in a pretty bad situation, but choosing to come clean made it even worse. To me, his situation is clearly smack in the middle between lying to save someone’s life and lying for convenience. I honestly keep waffling as to what he should have done, and it makes me feel I’m lacking in integrity.

    I think it’s very clear that for every basic gospel law, there’s an exception, and not just when God’s directly overriding it (as Nephi claims with respect to Laban). I actually think it’s given to us to decide when those exceptions are, and the consequences of following the law can at times be sufficient to justify breaking it. Unfortunately, it’s been very difficult for me to establish any sort of universal criteria.

  32. Telling truth allows people of good faith to deal with the real situation and to try to make the best possible decision based on that perception.

    People of bad faith deserve nothing and are in danger of hellfire or whatever passes for hellfire in the telestial kingdom. To hell with them, but we must love them anyway. Love does not mean furthering perfidy. Was the umpire dealing in bad faith? Was the Staatspolizei?

    Following orders or rules gets you off the moral hook. You can always pass the buck to someone else. “Well, she made me do it!” Or “The Church says…” or “The SS came to my door…” The people who accept moral responsibility, and the consequences, they are the real heroes.

    God may or may not help. Der Herr Gott wuerfelt.

  33. I talk about this with my wife sometimes at night. If there were a gun to my head, I would have no problem renouncing my faith. I don’t think a lie under duress counts, and anything I said in that kind of a situation surely wouldn’t be taken seriously by HF. Ditto goes for someone forcing me to break the Word of Wisdom, I just don’t think that’s worth my life. Granted, both of these situations are pretty fantastical, who really cares if I follow the Word of Wisdom? But there are stories about early church members who refused to renounce their faith and were tortured/murdered, and Peter gets a pretty bad rap for his three denials, but that has always seemed more motivated by self-interest.

    Anyway, the interesting thing (to me) is that my wife would not renounce her faith in the previous example, although she still waffles on drinking a cup of tea with a gun to her head.

  34. Let me tell you why God put you all here: to watch what you’ll do in some crappy situations. It isn’t God’s job to fix the crappy situations. That would defeat the purpose.

    Luckily for O’Donnell, if she’s elected to the Senate she’ll have plenty of chances to fix crappy situations for her while she spouts her version of truth.

  35. There’s no chance she’ll make it. All she’s done is make sure a Republican won’t be there.

  36. arj,

    Let me tell you why God put you all here: to watch what you’ll do in some crappy situations.

    that sounds like a terrible God to me. drops children He loves into crap and sits back to watch what they do?

  37. Daniel,

    I never said that God drops children. You said that.

    I say that we jumped.

  38. arJ, I completely agree with you. Part of our job as we wallow in the crap is to figure out how to clean some of it up, but even the scriptures don’t give us a clear, concise recipe for that. Just general principles. Thus the question: when, if ever, do you deviate from general principles for the greater good?

  39. Martin,

    At some point one must take of the training wheels, right? Thou shalt not bear false witness versus love the Lord thy God and love thy neighbor.

  40. I love the line ‘do what is right let the consequence follow” to me that is true obedience. Too often we do what is right in the hopes that we’ll get the certain consequence we’re hoping for…after all the Lord is bound when we do what He says…it’s just that the consequences are up to Him, not us to determine. It’s also a very Hindu concept to do one’s duty…living fully in the moment…without any thought of what will come of it.

    IMO if a Nazi comes to my door he has already broken moral code by demanding a Jew… honesty in that sense would further immorality by allowing the captivity and probable death of innocent people.

    I find nephi incredibly problematic.

    Jeter-be honest idiot. I’m an athlete. I’ve “confessed” to ref.s = sometimes they accept them, sometimes they don’t-that is their problem. I do wonder in this case if it did hurt at the time. those bats cna really ring when the ball hits them and it could have hurt his fingers…but if he was acting I hope every umpire was watching and gives him the strike zone of Andre the giant.-i mean that in all love and kindness ;)

  41. Cynthia L. (3) and Chris H. (7) – I read the second line as chronological. That is, God protects you and will protect you through life, so you should do what is right going forward. I don’t see it as saying, IF you do what is right THEN God will protect you.

    And protect me from what, death? Pain? Suffering? Challenges? Communism? Capitalism? “And should we die, before our journey’s through, happy day all is well!!” What is and is not “protection” is a very subjective conclusion. It goes to our relationship with and understanding of God. The person hiding the Jews and the Jews might be harmed and suffer pain by the Nazis for telling the Nazis there are Jews hiding inside. Then he or she might be angry with God because He did not “protect” him or her in their estimation and perception and pain. But what if God has other plans for the way he wants to use you in His divinity? For example, I suspect that the world is much more civil and humane place because of the Holocaust. I suspect that the world is much more vigilant of genocide going forward because of the Holocaust–notwithstanding it’s pathetic and despicable nature. So is there divinity in the Holocaust? And if so, can one then blame God and think they were not protected if protection was never in His plans? Christ did was right, exactly right! But God didn’t “protect” him from being subjected to an evil, corrupt system of governance that led to his execution. And as a result, the world is a vastly better place. He did what was right and let the consequences follow.

    But who knows what (#2) means, or if the two clauses should even be read as dependent on each other in some way.

    I still voted to lie to Hitler.

  42. on the God will protect you reminds me of Alma’s sons as missionaries..see how God protected them just like He comforted Alma he would? prison, starvation, armed attacks, threats, beaten, stripped, spit upon…but alive and testifying. sigh.

  43. Honesty is a wonderful thing but it’s not the highest principle on heaven and earth. Lying to protect oneself or others from evil and harm is not only good, it’s expected. It’s cowardly to do otherwise.

    Deceit in sports is also expected, as long as it’s within the rules. There is no rule requiring a player to disclose whether he was hit by a pitch or not, or whether he was out or safe, or for that matter, what pitch he is throwing. Pitchers and catchers do everything they can to deceive the batter into swinging when he shouldn’t. It’s not just part of the game, it is the game. Talking about lying in that context is inane. Jeter did exactly what he should do, try to win as best he can and let the umpire do his job.

    Note that this does not excuse those who cheat by surreptitiously breaking the rules. But cheating in a game is not the moral equivalent of lying in other contexts. Some lies are definitely much worse than others.

  44. #43: I fully agree “Deceit” in sports is expected and part of the game. But I have also seen cheating. Jeter came close to that line. but did not cheat. However, he will pay a price. Pay back is also to be expected in sports. Never-Ever make the Ump look bad!

  45. I agree that “acting” is close to the line. but it happens in every sport. Soccer players flop if anyone comes close to them. Basketball players do it too. It’s ridiculous, but it’s part of the game and it’s the official’s job to cut through the nonsense.

  46. I just detest the acting in sports. If you win, win on your athletic skill not your acting. It’s not about what you can get away with. then again I had a coach who was such a purist, she thought there shouldn’t be should just be about the sport.

  47. #45: Yes, the Ump got played. The “right” call would have been ” I didn’t see it__maybe it was the bat, maybe his hand”___play ball!

  48. I have yet to find a scripture in which the Lord says “do not lie, period.” In fact, the scriptures are repleat with examples of lying by righteous individuals – even some who were commanded to lie by the Lord (though the Lord’s servants). Abraham lied to the Egyptians; Nephi lied to Zoram (pretended to be Laban); Captain Moroni lied to the lamanites (engaged in “strategy” which is nothing more than militaristic deceit). I could go on and on.

    What we are commanded to do is “be honest in our dealings with our fellowmen.” I believe the Lord expects us to view all others as “fellowmen” unless they (not us) clearly take themselves out of that category. I’m comfortable saying that a Nazi trying to kill an innocent jew is not my “fellowman” and so I have no duty to be honest with him; in fact, I have the duty to do otherwise. Same with Abraham when the Egyptians were going to kill him or Captain Moroni when the lamanites were out to destroy his people.

    By this same principle, it is wrong for Jeter to pretend to be hit by pitch. The umpire is his fellowman. Same with lying to the IRS,

  49. By this same principle, it is wrong for Jeter to pretend to be hit by pitch. The umpire is his fellowman. Same with lying to the IRS,


  50. “I suspect that the world is much more civil and humane place because of the Holocaust.” (Eric S #41)

    While this may be true, it is show the morally problematic nature of consequentialist arguments.

    Dave K.: I think that is why Kant is so hard-line on this. I know way too many people who are willing to take homosexual and Muslims out of the category of “fellow-man”

    In general, I think ancient scripture has great theological value. However, it is not alway a good basis for morality.

    Cynthia, I stayed well under 33 percent of the comments…just for you.

  51. “I suspect that the world is much more civil and humane place because of the Holocaust.” (Eric S #41)

    While this may be true, it is show the morally problematic nature of consequentialist arguments.

    Er, yeah, what Chris said. I for one am not willing to speculate on “upsides” to the Holocaust.

  52. “While this may be true, but it shows the morally problematic nature of consequentialist arguments.”

    This version makes more sense in English.

  53. “I suspect that the world is much more civil and humane place because of the Holocaust. I suspect that the world is much more vigilant of genocide going forward because of the Holocaust–notwithstanding it’s pathetic and despicable nature.”

    I suspect not as to the first statement; maybe as to the second, but I suspect not – not enough to sacrifice greatly to stop it everywhere it occurs, at least. I suspect the world is not a better place because of the Holocaust. I suspect the Holocaust wasn’t a net good. I suspect the Holocaust wasn’t ordained by God as part of the Plan of Happiness.

    I also suspect God understands the difference between lying to protect life, lying for non-noble reasons and acting as performance art within performance sports.

  54. St. Jeter’s a putz. The best shortstop on that team plays third base. If he were such a great leader, he would have changed positions.

    The Yankees won all those titles in the late 90s because of Zimmerman and Rivera, anyway.

  55. I suspect that the world is much more civil and humane place because of the Holocaust. I suspect that the world is much more vigilant of genocide going forward because of the Holocaust–notwithstanding it’s pathetic and despicable nature.

    Whoa. I’m with Cynthia — I don’t want to be seen looking for an upside to the Holocaust. If anything can be labelled as pure evil in the history of this world, it is that. And, tragically, it is not even that unique — similar exterminations occurred many times throughout history, from ancient times through to the 1990s. Perhaps what makes the Holocaust different is in its clinical, calculated and modern execution — the commodification of genocide, assembly line death factories with slaves working themselves to death in the Polish winter only to face the gas chamber and incinerators when they were too sick to work any more. Or the mystery of how it could happen among a highly educated people who were the heirs of some of the best knowledge flowing from the Enlightenment. Or of course the sheer magnitude killed in the way they were killed. Anyway you look at it, it’s hard to see the hand of God anywhere close to it. And I don’t see why we as Mormons should be afraid to accept that.

  56. The ump called hit by pitch before Jeter grabbed his hand. Does it make a difference whether his acting was to elicit a call or whether it was to sell a call already made? I’m not sure, but they seem to be different situations.

%d bloggers like this: