What’s a Catholic Voter to Do? (Part I)

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me, “When are you going to write something on the blog about how Catholics are supposed to vote?” We had a brief but thoughtful discussion about it, noting that the question is hard to answer because it is partly about objective morality and partly about practical considerations that depend on the options actually available. And when one looks at those “options actually available,” the question seems almost moot: Exactly which candidate are we supposed to vote for if we are not permitted to vote for anyone whose views are at odds with Catholic teaching? But it is a fascinating topic, and a well-crafted blog post about it might count as “views you can use.” For now, though, I’m still thinking.

In the meantime, another friend calls my attention to a recent piece by Douglas Kmiec, first published I-don’t-know-where and later posted on the Mirror of Justice blog by Michael Perry. It’s not a systematic analysis of the extent to which our votes should be influenced by our religious beliefs; it’s not even a systematic analysis of Catholic teaching on that score. In fact, Kmiec veritably sprints through that part of the question, noting somewhat magisterially (if you’ll excuse the pun),

Committed to the protection of human life in the womb, Catholics are urged (some of my critics say “mandated,” but with respect, they are mistaken) to vote only for candidates who oppose abortion. In truth — and here let me quote the bishops directly so they can share in the mail — “a Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter’s intent is to support that position.” But voters should not use a candidate’s opposition to abortion “to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity” — such as, say, the invasion of a foreign nation leading to the sacrifice of the lives of our own troops and of thousands of others.

I don’t know where those quotations are from; I would like to. But as I say, that is not Kmiec’s primary purpose in writing. Instead, Kmiec — who formerly advised Mitt Romney — is writing to explain why Catholics might well be attracted to Obama’s candidacy despite his apostasy on the abortion question. As Kmiec says,

Obama argues that there must be, in this life, a distinction between the uncompromising commitments that religion calls us to make and the public policy that we can realistically expect. This is a dose of political pragmatism, and reasonable on virtually any issue not involving a grave moral evil. It’s not an easy answer. But frankly, that’s a problem not just for Obama, but for all of us. As he writes, “I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke [sic] God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.”

To his credit, Obama neither offers up a glib, unsatisfying solution nor reverts to the standard liberal line that objective moral values have no place in the public discussion. Our problems are not mere technical dilemmas “in search of the perfect 10-point plan. They are rooted in both societal indifference and individual callousness — in the imperfections of man.”

If liberals and conservatives would stop shouting at each other (and most especially at me), more people might see abortion as a product of societal indifference and individual callousness: the former exemplified by economic conditions ranging from inadequate wages to evictions traceable to the subprime fraud; the latter typified by a self-centeredness that sees children as competitors or enemies to personal fulfillment. A person who understands the significance of faith as well as Obama does is likely to have a better chance of understanding and addressing both causes. Why? Because when the seemingly insoluble intrudes upon life as it inevitably does, the religious person has the humility to pray. Obama concluded his own religious reflections a few years back with what he described as “a prayer I still say for America today.” The prayer? That despite our profound disagreements, “we can live with one another in a way that reconciles the beliefs of each with the good of all.”

I think Kmiec is getting at something very important here — certainly something important about the way a person of strong religious faith should govern, and possibly something important about Obama. Obama is universally praised for his eloquence, but to my mind “eloquent” doesn’t quite do him justice. What makes Obama’s speeches so much better than those of other politicians is not just that he uses prettier words or has a nicer voice. He does and he has — but he also gives us evidence that he is comfortable with strong moral claims and he understands they often pull us in different directions. He manages to perceive nuance without confusing it with subjectivity.

Does that translate to abortion policy that Catholics find less offensive? Kmiec at least implies that it might, but it hasn’t happened yet, as far as I can tell. Furthermore, one of the tragedies of Senator Clinton’s new lease on life after the Ohio and Texas primaries is that it seems likely to inhibit such expressions of nuance and postpone any real demonstration of statesmanship on this or any other issue. If Obama allows Clinton to lock him into partisan orthodoxy on important moral issues, she deprives his intellect and subtlety of their legitimate power, thus destroying his single most attractive trait. It is as if the Democrats have a chance to nominate Superman, and for some reason she keeps following him around with big trunk full of Kryptonite.

So what’s a Catholic voter to do? I’m still thinking. I hope Senator Obama is too.

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13 Responses to “What’s a Catholic Voter to Do? (Part I)”

  1. dorothy nierman Says:

    The Our Father was supposedly printed on the head of a pin. Can we get this printed on a button or some t-shirts and get millions of them out to the voters, quickly?

  2. Greg Kalscheur, S.J. Says:

    The quotations in the Kmiec piece are from the U.S. Bishops’ recent document, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: The U.S. Bishops’ Reflection on Catholic Teaching and Political Life.” For more than 30 years, the bishops have produced documents of this sort in anticipation of presidential elections. The document, which can be found at http://www.usccb.org/faithfulcitizenship, is well worth a careful read. The language quoted in Kmiec’s reflection comes from #34. Here are some more highlights from the document: “Decisions about political life are complex and require the exercise of a well-formed conscience aided by prudence. The exercise of conscience begins with outright opposition to laws and other policies that violate human life or weaken its protection. Those who knowingly, willingly, and directly support public policies or legislation that undermine fundamental moral principles cooperate with evil.” (#31) “Sometimes morally flawed laws already exist. In this situation, the process of framing legislation to protect life is subject to prudential judgment and ‘the art of the possible.’ At times this process may restore justice only partially or gradually.” (#32) “In making [decisions about voting] it is essential for Catholics to be guided by a well-formed conscience that recognizes that all issues do not carry the same weight and that the moral obligation to oppose intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions. [But note ##31-32 on prudence: how to frame legislation that most effectively addresses a given intrinsic evil in a morally flawed legal landscape is a matter of prudential judgment and ‘the art of the possible.’] These decisions should take into account a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity and ability to influence a given issue. In the end, this is a decision to be made by each Catholic guided by a conscience formed by Catholic moral teaching.” (#37) “Catholic voters should use the framework of Catholic teaching to examine candidates’ positions on issues affecting human life and dignity as well as issues of justice and peace [which are also, it must be said, issues of human life and dignity (GK)], and they should consider candidates’ integrity, philosophy, and performance. It is important for all citizens ‘to see beyond party politics, to analyze campaign rhetoric critically and to choose their political leaders according to principle, not party affiliation or mere self-interest.'” (#41) “As Catholics we are not single issue voters. A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support. Yet a candidate’s position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism [or the use of torture, which is also defined as an intrinsic evil in the tradition] may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support.” (#42) “Catholic teaching about the dignity of life calls us to oppose torture, unjust war and the use of the death penalty; to prevent genocide and attacks against noncombatants; to oppose racism; and to overcome poverty and suffering.” (#45)

    This document doesn’t tell a Catholic voter what to do, but it does help a Catholic voter think through the complex question of how to vote conscientiously and prudently. We need to hear more from more bishops on this important virtue of prudence. The tradition has much to offer on the subject.

  3. David Fitzgerald Says:

    There’s an old story, perhaps apocryphal, about John Kennedy on the campaign trail. After a fundraising lunch, the host approached him and told him there were two groups waiting to meet him, a group of local bishops and a group of nuns from the local Catholic school with some of the children. Kennedy was reported to have said, “I’ll see the nuns, but not the bishops …. they all vote Republican anyway!”

    I suspect that some of the recent “political” pronouncements by various members of the American hierarchy reveal the truth of JFK’s sentiment. The “bishops” always respond to the bromide that “the clergy should keep their noses out of politics” with the bromide that they, like all citizens, have the right, indeed the obligation, to speak out on important political issues. That however, cuts both ways. “Like all citizens”, the bishops have their prejudices and biases which are reflected in their politics. One hopes they do not confuse a personal preference for a political candidate with an exercise of apostolic and magisterial authority. I mean, heaven forfend!

    This caution, though it may seem like a diversion, bears, I think, on the question of Catholic conscience and the exercise of the franchise. The bishops consistently advocate the “overturn of Roe v. Wade.” That, of course, would only be the first step to eliminating or even significantly reducing legalized abortions. In order to accomplish this goal (which seems to be the really salient moral point) the bishops, presumably, would have to join in a lobbying effort at various state legislatures or, maybe Congress, to craft a legislative remedy to the abortion problem. Perhaps there is a solution that does not involve the criminal statutes. If there is, I can’t think of it.

    What seems to be missing from the bishops’ statements on the topic of abortion is how they propose to handle the question of abortion once Roe v. Wade is overturned. To my knowledge, no bishop has ever advocated, at least publicly, locking up women who have abortions or even doctors who perform them. That apparent public reluctance, in its silence, speaks saliently to Senator Obama’s point. The individual moral implications for a woman who has an abortion, a doctor who performs one, a putative father who encourages his lover to have one, etc… seems a very different question from the knotty and highly nuanced public policy questions that the nation should? could? must? resolve regarding abortion. What Senator Obama seems to be saying is that we need to have productive discussions around those questions, which include voices from all viewpoints, in an effort to build a reasonable, humane and perhaps even moral American position on the question of abortion. It would not seem that a Catholic who votes for a politician advocating that position is imperiling their immortal soul. But what do I know?

    One further point. Senator Obama’s statements as quoted above reflect a difference from those of the candidate I will affectionately refer to as She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. I think it is fair to say, although it is hard to pin down exactly where SWMNBN is on the question, that SWMNBN is, at least, a passive advocate of those who argue that Roe v. Wade is an essential (perhaps the sine qua non) element of the “liberation of women.” This argument asserts that Roe v Wade and Griswold v. Connecticut (the earlier Supreme Court decision recognizing that the use of birth control between married couples is a fundamental right) allowed women for the first time to “take control” of their reproductive capacity and craft their lives as they saw fit, in the same way men do.

    Such an argument, of course, has profoumd social implications and significantly alters any more traditional philosophy of the family. I suspect that it is this line of argument, as opposed to saving “murdered” fetuses, that truly galvanizes the instinctual ire of the Catholic hierarchy. There are good reasons, both scriptural and theological and much too numerous for a blog comment, why such ire should be aroused. There are also interesting counter arguments involving mysogyny and patriarchy that can be lobbed back.

    The point, I think, is that if it is this philosophy of the person which the bishops wish to combat because it is fundamentally destructive of contrary Christian conceptions of the human person, they would do well to take Senator Obama’s views on how to begin to resolve the abortion question seriously. That seems to me a far more fertile field than another showing at St. Mary Star of the Sea of the Silent Scream?

  4. Timothy Peach Says:

    Boy, that was really complicated.

    I take it as a strong indication of Obama’s personal struggle on the issue that a screeching NY pro-choicer I know is very leery of the Senator from Illinois. She doesn’t trust him on abortion, whereas she views Hillary as rock solid.

    “Productive discussions” is code for obfuscation, something which would be crucial to Obama if he wants to run as a Democrat but believes that there is something terribly wrong with abortion per se. The last thing in the world a Catholic should be hoping for is more pointless discussion that just chews up time and empowers the “stare decisis” crowd. We need to get this thing overturned while it’s still possible. What happens next is a matter of law. What a relief it would be to have it be such a matter after 35 years of hijacking from the bench.

    The idea that a proper Catholic vote could go anywhere other than McCain mystifies me. Putting the “one issue issue” to the side for the moment, anyone who believes that a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq is moral is brain dead. If someone can explain to me how abandoning a people to civil war and genocide is within the parameters of Catholic morality, I’m all ears. Why are American lives worth so much more than foreign lives? How does that fit with general Democratic arithmetic?

    And anyone who thinks Obama is the “turn the cheek” candidate on war isn’t paying attention, either. Obama is against the war in Iraq for practical reasons. He’s ready to bomb Pakistan, have tea with the monster of Teheran, and leave Israel to its own devices. From a pacifist Catholic viewpoint, that looks like a tie at best to me.

    There is also no support for the notion that either Hillary or Obama are winning back Catholic points on the “family support” argument. Most of their policies are fundamentally family destructive. The traditional family — its structure, sacrifices, and value to society — are the last things on their minds. They pander to their secular base with the same vigor the radio nitwits pander to the guns, gays and God crowd.

    This is going to be an excellent, difficult election given that the quality of candidates is guaranteed to be the best it has been since at least 1980. But where the Catholic vote should land — that seems to me to be a no-brainer. (Where it actually will go is another story, because “Catholic” is just a box on a survey.)

  5. David Fitzgerald Says:

    Two quick thoughts:

    1. Tim, you seem to take it as a given that the overturning of Roe v. Wade and its progeny (and perhaps its antecedents, see Griswold v. Connecticut) is the sine qua non of the Catholic legal view of the abortion question. I think that position is far from clear. How one would deal politically with actual abortions once the legal position is reclassified seems to me important, if not essential, to coming to the appropriate legal view. Unless of course one takes the interpretive view that trying to understand the consequences of a legal decision should have no bearing on coming to that legal decision. That would be an odd jurisprudence indeed.

    2. As for Iraq, I think you discount the principle of double effect. If one takes the view that our current position in Iraq is causing objective moral evil (an admittedly complicated question) then it is morally permissible (perhaps even required) for us to withdraw even if that withdrawl may have evil consequences, provided we do not intend those consequences when we withdraw. A man who jumps from a ten story burning building when there is no other means of egress is not a suicide. Intent and causality matter in Catholic moral theory. In addition, it is not clear to anybody, and certainly it is not clear to our national intelligence agencies who have proven that, to them, nothing is clear, that the moral consequences of our withdrawl would be worse than the moral consequences of our staying. Finally, our continued presence in Iraq violates the first rule of holes, when you’re in one, stop digging.

  6. Timothy Peach Says:

    David:

    1) If Roe v Wade is overturned, we’ll be back to having the states regulate abortion. It will not be legal to get a late-term abortion in a lot of places (although it will still be possible to get a first trimester abortion in most places). The states will have to set the penalties for illegal abortions. Is this really all that complicated? I am amazed at the viewpoint that reinstituting penalties for infanticide is a bigger problem than permitting infanticide to continue! These seems to me to be a triumph of legal delicacies over Catholic morality.

    Is there ANYONE in the Vatican food chain who agrees there is moral ambiguity here? ANYONE? Remember, we were talking about the CATHOLIC position, not the position of a self-identifying Catholic with a wider range of concerns.

    2) It is far from clear that our current position is “causing objective moral evil” in Iraq. It is pretty clear that a precipitous withdrawal would cause substantial evil, both moral and practical. Your jumping analogy is way off the mark. We can debate the morality of having gone there in the first place, but abandoning the Iraqis to the kind of chaos Southeast Asia enjoyed after we pulled out of Saigon in 1975 is pretty unambiguously immoral.

    This is Obama’s constant answer to the Iraq question. “Is it right to just pull out now, Barack?” “We never should have been there in the first place.” Not only does that retort not answer the question, it doesn’t even inform the debate.

    It’s time we forget about whether we should have done it, and figure out how to make the best of things and take our responsibilities seriously. We have a moral obligation to protect our Iraqi allies.

    You love that rule of holes, by the way, but when the guys up on solid ground are planning on filling it in, your suggestion turns out to be a bad one. You have to do something down there other than just tossing away your shovel.

  7. David Fitzgerald Says:

    Tim:

    You asked what I took to be a limited question, “If someone can explain to me how abandoning a people to civil war and genocide is within the parameters of Catholic morality, I’m all ears. ” I read that question as, is it possible to act morally within the Catholic tradition even if a foreseeable consequence of the action is evil? The answer to that very limited question is, unequivocally, yes.

    From the point of view of Catholic moral theory, the question of whether our continuation of hostilities in Iraq is permissible hangs on the question of whether or not the war could be categorized as a just war. To answer that question we need to look at both the motives for the war (at best unclear, at worst, positively deceitful) as well as the causal circumstances around its waging (questionable that war was the only option and, in all fairness, one could not reasonably argue that we waged the war in self defense, not even GWB has tried that). Again, in Catholic moral theory, intent and causality matter. What is certainly the case is that one cannot conduct an analysis of the war under Catholic moral principles and “forget about whether we should have done it, and figure out how to make the best of things and take our responsibilities seriously”. Perhaps there is a moral philosophy where such an inquiry would be intelligible, unfortunately it is not Catholic moral theory in any recognizable form.

    As to your first point, I note your conflation of the sin of infanticide and the sin of abortion. I find that short hand unhelpful at best and, despite some of the less than nuanced statements of certain bishops and the Catholic League to the contrary, the Catechism of the Catholic Church does not so conflate them. What the Catechism does make clear is that governments have a serious moral obligation to protect human life as sacred from the moment of conception to the moment of death. That is the infallible teaching of the Church which all Catholics are bound to accept and foster.

    The Magisterium has gone further and taken the legal/political position that Roe v. Wade and its progeny are NECESSARILY destructive of that infallible moral teaching. There is certainly an ecclesiological and canon law question as to whether such a judgment is within the purview of the apostolic authority of the bishops, including the pope. I would argue strenuously that it is not. Therefore, it is that legal/political judgment that all Catholics (even us horrible “self identifying ones” (I may be fond of holes but you are quite fond of labels)) are not only permitted but it seems to me morally bound to question. If we are to determine whether the overturning of Roe v Wade will incrementally further the admittedly infallible teaching discussed above, I think we need to examine the consequences of that judicial decision. Permit me to doubt whether prosecuting women and doctors in an American criminal court will save one fetus? So, while discussion may be “pointless”, I agree with Mr. Obama that such discussion is necessary if we are to tackle the abortion question in any meaningful, moral way.

  8. Timothy Peach Says:

    If only subtlety and precision were the same thing.

    We are no longer in the same war in Iraq that we started. The adversary we pursued at the get-go is gone, and another has entered the stage. It is you who is doing the conflating on this one. Regardless of whether action #1 was a “just war”, that war is gone and the one currently being “waged” is a defensive one. Is there anyone (worth talking to) who is alleging, for example, that the “war” against Al Qaeda is not a “just war”?

    From the standpoint of the Magisterium of the Church, the “lack of conflation” of abortion and infanticide exists purely at a definitional level, but beyond that of no importance. I see no evidence in ANYTHING I have read that there is an interesting moral difference between abortion and infanticide, from a Catholic standpoint.

    The Church has made it abundantly clear that there is a moral imperative to overturn Roe v Wade, and has also made it clear that support of that decision is unambiguously un-Catholic. The Church went so far as to make it clear that is was OK to vote for politicians or initiatives that only incrementally improved the abortion situation, in case any Catholic was worried that voting for anyone who would tolerate any element of the abortion status quo was sinful.

    It is certainly not difficult to source renegade Catholics or so-called Catholic intellectuals who espouse otherwise, just as it is possible to find Catholics who think references to or worship of “goddesses” are acceptable and consistent with Church teachings.

    What we have here, on your part, is an instance of “Catholicism And”, a corollary to C.S. Lewis’ “Christianity And”, where for the person in question the real end is some other goal, and the religion ends up being a device in support of it (or perhaps somehow not in the way of it). In your case, a desired political outcome is trumping orthodoxy. And that is your right. You can order your allegiances anyway you see fit. And continue to call yourself whatever you please.

    But as for myself, I prefer “Mere Catholicism”, and I have no desire to engage in personal reinventions of the club of which I am a sloppy but enthusiastic member. If tomorrow I decided either that I didn’t believe in the central themes of the club, or that I wanted to forcibly tailor it to my proclivities, I’d like to think I would have the courage simply to walk away from it.

    There will never be a time when there is a moral imperative, as a Catholic, to consider the consequences of defending the right of the unborn to live. Never. The Freakonomics guy alleges that statistics prove that the single biggest factor in the enormous reduction in serious crime in the US since the 1970’s was Roe v Wade. This may well be true. When assessing the merits of its overturning, I assign a point value to this fact of exactly zero. When something is patently wrong, it must be stopped. EVERYTHING has consequences. Catholic doctrine is not utilitarian — it is about truth and justice.

  9. Mark Grannis Says:

    Geez, I spend one day on the road and you guys put on a symposium without me. As usual, I find strong points and weak ones on both sides.

    Tim, your comments today about Iraq remind me of a satirical story I heard attributed to Voltaire. I’ve never found a reference for it, but I once heard that somewhere Voltaire has a fictional Jesuit fielding the question whether a Christian gentleman may ever accept a duel. Voltaire’s Jesuit supposedly responds that no, a Christian gentleman may not accept . . . but he may pretend to accept . . . and he may go on pretending right up until the pistols are drawn . . . at which point, naturally, he is entitled to act in self-defense.

    Whether or not Voltaire wrote it, that seems to me to summarize your version of just war theory in a nutshell: No matter how we got there, we have to stay if leaving would be messy. I applaud the recognition that Iraqi lives count just as much as American ones — a position taken long ago on this blog but not to my knowledge by our government. But at bottom, aren’t you saying we are morally justified in continuing a war as long as it takes to achieve a victory so complete that no reprisals are possible after our departure? And doesn’t that justify endless war? Every war passes your test until such time as we can claim to have fought the war to end all wars. And any war, even an unjust one, can be prolonged as long as we consider it wholly apart from the reason for starting it. Heck, we can even throw in some words of opprobrium for the guy who started it, and still end up justifying continuation! I do believe that moral philosophy is primarily about deciding what to do rather than judging what’s been done, but I do not think that the intention that starts the whole chain of events can be ignored in the way you propose, even when the question is where we go from here.

    Moving from the moral realm to the political one, Tim, I also think you smuggle some of same let-bygones-be-bygones assumptions into your comparison of McCain and Obama. You seem to think the really important question is what to do now. I disagree. I think the question of what to do now is really, really hard, so hard that I find views on both sides of the question reasonable. But the question of whether we should ever have gone in was really, really easy, notwithstanding the fact that 73% of Gallup’s respondents and most of our political establishment got it wrong. In my view, there was never any coherent justification for this war and anyone who thought it was a good idea at the time showed disqualifyingly bad judgment. Obama’s superiority on this issue derives not from any better plan for what to do in 2009, but from the perspicacity he demonstrated in 2002.

    On abortion, however, I’m not any more convinced by Fitz’s position. I’m trying to think of something bad about reversing Roe v. Wade that would make this morally ambiguous, and I just can’t. Yes, there will be political controversies if it’s repealed, but I’m not aware of any moral theory that makes controversy intrinsically evil. Yes, there will be some adults living under laws that deny them choices they would like to have, but that’s true of virtually every law so if it counts at all it can’t count very strongly. What you may be saying, Fitz, is that a pro-choice Catholic who actually tried to do something to reduce the incidence of abortion might be a better Catholic than a guy who cynically cast symbolic votes to repeal this and ban that but never tried to do anything to help the mothers or give them options. If that’s what you’re saying, then I can agree. But if Obama claims to be that guy, he needs to show us where the beef is. I think right now the best he can do is say that he’s no worse than McCain on abortion because neither one of them will do anything to reduce it, and Obama is better on other issues. I don’t think that’s a hard case to make, but it’s also not terribly strong. I think Tim hints at a view I happen to share, namely that Obama might have got around to this by now if SWMNBN were not forcing him to stay left instead of running to the middle.

    Finally, Tim, I found your abortion peroration in comment 8 moving. It has a strong deontological flavor, which I tend to like. But it is completely at odds with the rank consequentialism of your attitudes toward Iraq. In the one case, you’re against the evil of abortion even if the overall consequences of acting rightly are unfavorable. But in the other case, you’re basing your moral analysis not on whether we are right to prosecute the war, but on whether the consequences of prosecuting the war are more favorable than the consequences of beating our swords into ploughshares. This retreat to consequentialism is something you share with many millions who lack your intellectual gifts, and it opens the door to all kinds of mischief, particularly in the area of foreign policy. It’s easy to say that if we always chose peace we’d be speaking Persian, or Russian, or German, or whatever — and I think that’s basically true: We do have to fight sometimes. But it needs to be the national equivalent of self-defense, with physical invasion of our territorial integrity as the paradigm. It cannot be that war is justified whenever we think it will work out better. There is more I’d like to say on this, but I need a book off my shelf and I’m on the road so I’ll leave it at that for tonight.

    Thanks to both of you for the spirited and thoughtful debate.

  10. David Fitzgerald Says:

    As so often happens in these blog debates, me thinks we have lost the thread of the argument. The initial question I think could fairly be phrased as, is it permissible for a Catholic to vote for a candidate who did not advocate for the immediate reversal of Roe v Wade and its progeny? Somehow that has morphed into the question of whether it would be better, from the point of view of Catholic moral theory, to let Roe v. Wade stand.

    The American bishops have come about as close as you can without actually saying it that it is a grave moral evil (read mortal sin) for a Catholic to vote for a politician that does not advocate the reversal of Roe v. Wade, full stop. I have tried to show, admittedly clumsily, that (1) such a position is not within the proper scope of their apostolic authority and (2) it is possible for a conscientious Catholic to both bracket the controversial question of whether Roe v. Wade is good American law and still, through the exercise of their franchise, honestly believe that their vote will help realize the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of human life.

    It is unclear whether a vote for Barack Obama falls within (2). As I alluded to in an earlier blog, the real perniciousness of Roe v. Wade from the point of view of Catholic moral imagination is that the decision enshrines at the heart of American law quite a strong dose of utilitarian selfishness and a positively dangerous desire to control all outcomes and assert the will in a way that would have made Milton’s Satan proud. John Paul II, for all his faults (and ecclesiologically they were many), recognized this rot leaking out like a mold into all areas of western law, such as welfare policy, regulation of death and dying, treatment of the handicapped and the infirm and penal policy and dubbed it, in his pithy actor’s way, the “culture of death.” The real question, in my view, is whether the reversal of Roe v. Wade is the sine qua non in combating that rot. The bishops seem to think so, I am not so sure.

    One of the things that makes an objective discussion of the reversal of Roe v. Wade difficult is the disproportionate effect its reversal would have on women. SWMNBN has managed successfully to construct a narrative (contrived or not) that has strong appeal to many women that has the “liberating” effect of Roe v. Wade as its centerpiece. Whether it is possible to construct a counter narrative that shows that an acceptance of the anthropology enshrined in the Roe v. Wade decision is precisely the source of oppression and unequal treatment of all marginalized people remains an open question. I would hope that Mr. Obama is hinting at that type of productive discussion. As I say, the jury is still out. However, his speech on race, which was remarkable in my view principally because of its honest assessment of where we are, Obama’s examen, if you will, gives me hope.

  11. Timothy Peach Says:

    I confess I tend to argue about what I’m concerned about and not necessarily about the questions narrowly posed.

    I would allege, and I think I already did, that Obama’s invitations to discussion, on both race and abortion, however elegant, are disingenuous. Jonah Goldberg published a flip but accurate article recently in the LA Times to this effect (on the race piece of it).

    We’ve been “discussing” race and abortion for decades. A point comes where there’s really nothing left to discuss — we have disagreements, and have to move to action (generally political).

    You’re a really smart guy with well-considered opinions, and always interesting to read. Sincere thanks for that.

    I always argue dirty but I assure you the ardor is in the ideas. I’d fight to protect your right to your astute yet faulty opinions.

  12. Timothy Peach Says:

    Granulous, just to circle back on your post that I blew by:

    Straw Man Peach is vanquished — congrats. Unfortunately the real one comes from a different perspective. I do not agree we never should have gone to Iraq. Given 10 years of flouting UN sanctions and turning the oil-for-food program into a global money laundering facility and the continuing genocide in Iraq and given the Bay of Pigs we pulled on the Kurds in 1991 and frankly the doability of toppling Saddam, we should have invaded. The alternative was to leave a clear signal to all despots to do as they please — after all, there are and never will be any real consequences. Obama is preparing to send Iran that signal as we speak.

    Since almost no one came with us, we did not prevent the UN from being outed as a total joke, which is clear to any rational person now. The place is like a giant flea market for exchanging ideas on petty corruption and undermining the US. Why we don’t pull out, kick everyone out of the buildings, and turn that choice real estate into condos is beyond me.

    We get F’s on justification and prosection of the war in Iraq. No question. (The WMD thing was idiotic — anyone who trusts Colin Powell’s judgment on ANYTHING deserves what they get.) Bush and Rumsfeld set new standards for bad judgment and hubris. To be fair, the flowers-in-gun-barrels crowd made it very difficult to get it right — e.g. overwhelming force out of the gate — but if you’re going to jam a war, you have to be prepared to impose your will. Wars never get prosecuted successfully based on polls.

    So I agree that if we had gone there to rob Iraq of oil or further Bush megalomania or as political grandstanding or to get some live target practice for the armed forces, that would be relevant to whether we should stay. I assume we went for just reasons, so “consequentialism” isn’t the centerpiece of my position. I’m just conceding that the “whether we should have gone” point is debatable. But if our presence there was so poorly intentioned that it disqualifies us regardless of consequences, I have to concede the point. I think it just takes a lunatic conspiracy theory mentality to get there.

    The just war filter is a threshold concept — once cleared, practicalities dominate. We don’t reassess the justice of an action on a daily basis. We reassess strategy and tactics. The decision on when wind things up is also largely practical. The end of WWII is an interesting study on the consequences of pull out timing.

    If the decision to leave were a practical assessment of the situation, that’d be one thing. We could debate it. What you’re claiming, however, is that our being there was totally wrong — that we are transparently culpable at the “just level”. If that’s true, beyond literally immediate withdrawal, we should be discussing the enormous reparations we owe to the families of Saddam Hussein and other Baathists, and to the people of Iraq. Perhaps a big check to Osama bin Laden for the unjust losses imposed on his freedom fighters would be a good start.

    If that’s what you and David are alleging, fine. Just be as asymptotic with your own position as you’re being with mine.

  13. Pedro Says:

    Srry t th Jst fthr, bt s I wrt Crdnl McCrrck nt lng g…. cn s hs jw frml st, hs s knl st n th dstnt shrln f “thr sss f scl jstc”, tc. bt h fls t ntc tht h s wdng thrgh rgng nd grwng trrnt f nncnt bld tht s lkl t swp s ll w whl w wst r cnsdrtn n thr fr lss prssng sss prxmt t r prtclr tm lk brtn nd mr rcnt “wrshp” f th pn/ctv hmsxl lfstl s ptnl n fml lf/mrrg.

    [This comment disemvoweled by the editor.]


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