Monday, November 03, 2008

On A More Serious Note

Given the usual quality of the content on this page, I can't blame anyone not inclined to take me or my views seriously. That said, Dean has been leading an excellent discussion on his blog (particularly here) on the problem that pro-lifers face in the political sphere, and this morning he sent me the following email:

I'm wondering what your thoughts are on this article?

This man, Douglas Kmiec, seems to be a reputable Catholic, but I could
be wrong.

I encourage you to read the linked article, as well as a summary of Archbishop Chaput's (personal) views here. My (perhaps overly lengthy) response is as follows:


Thanks for the email. I've enjoyed the lively and intelligent discussions you've led on your blog on this issue, as well.

The question of how a pro-life Catholic such as myself must vote has been on my mind a great deal of late, as you can well imagine. It is, as you noted, a very difficult problem, and trying to break it down to its essential elements has been of great interest to me. The two essential components of the dilemma, as I see them are:

1. The absolutist dynamic of the two-party system. The two major parties are, at this point, very entrenched groups of ideally separate ideologies and constituencies. It is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to vote (for example) in favor of higher environmental standards or more welfare programs without implicitly or explicitly also voting in favor of abortion.

2. The moral severity of abortion. It's nearly impossible to conceive of a greater moral evil in the modern world than abortion if it is, as pro-life advocates (such as myself) claim, the extinguishing of a human life. The incredible global scope of abortion, combined with its increased social acceptability over the past few decades exacerbate the problem greatly. If one reasonably believes that by his or her vote they may diminish the number of abortions in the world, there is a moral imperative to do so, even at the expense of lesser (though noble) concerns.

There are, of course, other components to the problem, but I believe the above to be the principals. This issue has come up to a greater degree in the current political climate, I believe, because of the immense popularity of Senator Obama and the desire of many Catholics (among many others) to transcend the current divisive political climate and difficult economic times by supporting a fresh and seemingly open-minded candidate. This is also (I believe) largely due to a high level of dissatisfaction among pro-lifers and various other stripes of social conservatives with the Bush administration's general disenfranchisement of their primary concerns in favor of foreign wars, among other things.

I'm afraid that I can only offer my own views on the matter, based primarily on my understanding of Church teachings, and also on my own conscience and reflections. I do my best to be logically and morally consistent in my thoughts and actions, but it goes without saying that my intellect is limited, and my actions can easily be clouded by my own pride and biases. That said, I'll proceed.

Obviously, the main contention of Kmiec's (and others I've encountered recently) in favor of Obama is that Obama's proposed policies will alleviate poverty, and therefore result in fewer abortions and a more moral world than we would have under McCain, whose pro-life stance is based upon a "top-down" strategy of eliminating abortion gradually through changing the law.

My personal problems with this contention are as follows:

1. It smacks of Liberation Theology in its reliance on government as the primary means of social improvement. This is a view to which I do not personally ascribe, largely because I believe that it is used by Catholics (and others) as a means of not accepting personal responsibility for our neighbors. "If only we had better government," the saying goes, "we would live in a better world." I don't believe that this view is realistic, nor do I believe it to be an accurate interpretation of the ministry of Christ. When our Lord ate with tax collectors and sinners, He did not instruct the tax collectors to organize socially to lower taxes, or to tax only the rich and give it to the poor. He called them instead to personal conversion, to sell all of their belongings and to give the money to the poor, and to follow Him. I do not believe that voting for politicians who say they'll help the poor is the same as helping the poor, nor does it alleviate our responsibility to do so. I myself cannot claim total innocence in this regard.

2. The jury is still out on whether or not, in general, welfare problems alleviate poverty in the long run. I do not believe they do. I admit my bias here as a student of economics who generally aligns with the Supply Side, but either way it is foolish on its face to simply accept that a proposed plan to help the poor will actually do so. In any case, countries that have a higher level of social safety net do not have a significantly lower incidence of abortions than the united states, regardless of poverty rates. ( - see Table 1) I should note that there are significant cultural and social factors contributing to abortion rates, but I don't have any quantified research on them. In general, it should be noted that abortion is more acceptable in developed countries than in the developing world.

3. Obama is, himself, strongly pro-abortion. If this is not the case, he should do something about those television and radio commercials I've been hearing, generated by his own campaign, in which he proclaims himself to be so. If his proposed programs will end up decreasing the number of abortions (which I contend they will not), it will be by accident. If I have to choose between the guy who says he'll do everything he can to keep abortion as available as possible and the guy who says he'll work to combat the legality of abortion, even if he's not likely to do very much on that front, I'm going to have to vote for the latter, if only to try to keep things from getting worse.

The bottom line is that the anti-abortion movement has been concentrating too much of our energies on the political front, without working hard enough to change the hearts and minds of those around us. The pro-abortion movement has had overwhelming success (despite what you'll hear from them) because they first made abortion legal with Roe v. Wade in 1973, and have since then had a downhill battle against the anti-abortion movement, while abortion has gradually become more socially acceptable. We need to focus our efforts on changing minds and convincing individuals that human life at all stages is worth preserving.

There is no easy answer, and there is no perfect solution to be found behind the ballot box curtain.That said, I don't believe that we can in good conscience give up in the political fight against abortion, which is what a vote for an openly and proudly pro-abortion candidate amounts to.

I'll have Dean's response up in just a few minutes. As you might well suspect, I'm posting this correspondence in the interest of honest, open discussion. You'll note that Dean and I reach radically differing conclusions on a few points. I tend to think of myself as either cynical or pragmatic, but in the end, he reveals me to be more of an idealist than I had previously thought.

So please, feel free to participate in the discussion, either here or on Dean's site. You are (of course) welcome to offer opinions that differ, however strongly, to either Dean's or my own. All I ask is that you be civil.


Ann said...

The National Catholic Reporter supports theologians whose teachings are very often on the fringes of heresy concerning the Catholic Church. They represent Call to Action and other voices that incorrectly represent the truth of Holy Mother Church.

D.Cous. said...

Thanks for the comment, Ann. Without getting into specifics, I myself have had my issues with the NCR in the past.

I did not link to Kmiec because I believe that he is a particularly significant voice nor a reliable authority on the issue. Rather, Dean specifically asked about his article. Also, he appears to have written a book encouraging Catholics to vote for Obama. I suspect that his audience and mine do not overlap, but addressing his arguments may in some small way be useful.

In any case, I've run into his ideas frequently enough that I know he's not alone in them.