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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Abortion or War: Will the real moral absolute please stand up?

A recent email prompted me to extract the below text for your pro-life studying endeavors.  The email I received said something to the effect of:  "George W. Bush is someone who I would not pay to see...I don't agree with his war in Iraq".  I find that most Catholics are intimidated by the"just war" argument.  Below is an elegant exchange that addresses the salient issues of Catholic Moral Teaching on both abortion and war.  Incodentally, the website has a comprehensive treasury of pithy pro-life articles for your use. 

By Scott Klusendorf
To be worse than abortion, how bad would an unjust war have to be?
Just prior to the 2008 elections, a kindly nun at a Catholic high school pulled me aside to thank me for speaking to 400 of her students on the theme, “The Case for Life.”  In fact, she couldn’t say enough good things about my talk.  “I agree with everything you said.  It was exactly what our kids needed to hear,” she beamed. 
However, a moment later it was clear we didn’t agree when it came to applying pro-life principles.  In fact, her moral reasoning was deeply troubling.  She began our conversation as follows: 
Nun: If only our students were completely pro-life on all issues.  I am consistently for life, and that’s why I’m voting for Senator Obama.
Me: Sister?
Nun: That’s right, I’m for Obama.  He’s the real pro-life candidate.  Most people focus too much on abortion.  I’m pro-life and care about all life.  So does Obama.
Me: What do you mean people focus too much on abortion?1
Nun: I mean Bush with the war in Iraq has killed so many people there is no way I could vote for someone like Senator McCain, who will do the same thing.  How can any person who cares about life vote for such a man?
Me: Are you suggesting the President unjustly killed innocent people?  If so, how?
Nun: Yes I am!  Think of all those innocent women and children killed in Iraq—over a million of them since we invaded the place six years ago.
Me: Did you say over a million?  How did you come up with that number?
Nun: I heard it someplace.  Besides, war is a pro-life issue like abortion and right now it’s even worse than abortion.
Me: To be worse than abortion, how bad would an unjust war have to be?
Nun: Abortion, war, poverty—they are all bad.
Me: Agreed, but are they bad in the same way?  Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t church teaching distinguish between moral absolutes and prudential judgments?  In other words, the decision to wage war is not intrinsically evil, though it must be morally justified and prudently considered.  But the deliberate killing of unborn human beings is an absolute evil and laws permitting it are scandalous.  If I understand you correctly, you are willing to overlook Obama’s pledge to uphold an absolute evil because he might help us avoid a contingent one? 
Nun: I just know war is worse right now.
Me: To be worse than abortion, wouldn’t an unjust war have to kill more innocent people than abortion does each year?
Nun: Yes, that’s true.
Me: For the record, I don’t think you are right about a million deaths in Iraq over the last six years, but suppose it’s true.2  Do you know how many unborn humans are killed by elective abortion each year?
Nun: A lot, I know.
Me: It’s 1.2 million—each year!  So even if you are right about a million unjustified killings in Iraq in the last six years, the evil of abortion is measurably worse.  Yet you think pro-lifers should support a guy who is going to use the entire resources of the federal government perpetrate an even greater injustice on the unborn. 
Nun: He won’t do that.
Me: But he said the first thing he’d do as president—the very first thing—is sign into law the Freedom of Choice Act, which would sweep away all state and federal laws limiting abortion—including parental consent laws, partial-birth abortion bans, and laws forbidding the use of federal tax dollars for elective abortions.3  There’s no denying Obama is deeply committed to the legalized killing of unborn human beings.  Doesn’t that trouble you?” 
Nun: You are being too harsh.  Obama personally opposes abortion—I’ve heard him say so myself.  He wants to reduce it.  But unlike Bush, he’ll actually do something about it by funding social programs that get to the root of why women abort in the first place.  He’ll make health care more affordable for poor people.  That will help reduce abortion.  Everyone knows abortion rates went up under Bush after going down under Clinton.
Me:  As for rates going up under Bush, that’s simply false.  They continued to decline.4  But even so, laws which allow the killing of unborn human beings are unjust even if no one has abortions.  Imagine a candidate who said he was personally opposed to rape while he had a 100% voting record in favor of men having a right to assault women. Suppose he told the public that instead of banning rape, he would make it rare with federally funded therapy for sexual deviants.  It’s no stretch to say the voting public would see right through his smokescreen, even if he favored social programs to treat the underlying causes that allegedly contribute to rape.
Nun: But abortion isn’t the only issue.  We shouldn’t be single issue voters.”
Me: Of course abortion isn’t the only issue—anymore than the treatment of slaves wasn’t the only issue in the 1850’s or the treatment of Jews the only issue in the 1940s.  But both were the dominant issues of their day.   Thoughtful Christians attribute different importance to different issues, and give greater weight to fundamental moral questions.  For example, if a man running for president told us men had a right to beat their wives, most people would see that as reason enough to reject him, despite his foreign policy or economic reforms.  The foundational principle of our republic is that all humans are equal in their fundamental dignity.  That principle is non-negotiable, and yet your candidate for office rejects it.  What issue could be more important than that?
Sadly, the kindly nun didn’t see the problem.  Indeed, many well-intentioned people are confused about abortion because they don’t see it as an absolute evil.  They view it only as a contingent one that can be explained away in light of other issues.  We can’t sit idly by and let them get away with it.  Here at Life Training Institute, we’re gently, yet persuasively, reminding well-intentioned pro-lifers that deliberately killing an innocent human being can never be justified simply because a candidate’s foreign policy strategies or economic views are more to our liking.

1 The questions and comments I posed in this dialogue were influenced by J. Budziszewski’s excellent piece, “Ballot Box Blues,” Boundless, October 28, 2004.
2 The website Iraq Body Count estimates between 88,000 and 97,000 civilian deaths in Iraq from 2003 to 2008.
3 Obama said this in his July 17, 2007 speech to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
4 See “Trends in Abortion in the United States, 1973–2005,” Guttmacher Institute, January 2008.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

How to Vote like a Catholic

It's opening day of election season and I thought I'd mark the occasion by posting some helpful information to rouse our collective conscience.  The Catholic Advocate is an excellent site (so are National Arizona Right to Life and the Susan B. Anthony List) for obtaining vital information on each candidate and where they stand on the issues nearest and dearest to our hearts.  From the site...

How to Vote Catholic – In Brief:
Catholics should be guided by a few basic principles when considering their participation in politics. Catholics are obliged to participate in politics by voting. Their legislators are elected to serve and protect the common good, human dignity, and rights of human persons.  As voters, they should have a clear understanding of the principles of Catholic moral and social teaching, and they should understand that life issues are dominant in the hierarchy of issues for the Catholic voter.
Prudential judgment is the application of principle to concrete situations, such as those a Catholic might encounter on a routine basis in the political sphere. Catholic principles apply to all political issues. In many cases, however, Catholic principles do not lead prudentially to one acceptable Catholic position, so on certain matters, Catholics of good conscience may disagree. The bishops’ teachings on faith and morals are binding; their prudential judgments on policy guide us but do not bind us.
Each individual Catholic is called to bear public witness to their faith. Faith is not a private matter. The Christian Faith cannot be restricted to oneself and one’s family. Such an attitude would render it impossible to “love one’s neighbor.” Additionally, the political order cannot be separated from the divine order revealed by faith. (Gaudium et Spes, 74). Politics and government need the public witness of what faith teaches about the common good, human rights, and human dignity.

Then you can go to their site at and select from a comprehensive list of issues to review the Catholic position on each:
                Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide
                The Death Penalty
                Defense & Terrorism
                Judicial Issues
                Marriage & the Family
                Economic Issues
                Health Care
                Religious Liberty
                The Environment

Eight weeks from today, your vote will have counted....for something. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

sin - not just poor marksmanship

There's nothing so humbling or honorable than being a sponsor to a catechumen who desires to enter the church. I've been in this role once before, and I take it rather seriously. I think one of the reasons for that is that I remember how thirsty I was on a "catholic learner's permit" before my conversion, that I literally drank in what the parish clergy, staff and laity were telling me.  Later, I realized that some of my teachers were really right about things and some of my teachers were many clicks off the target.

Suffice it to say, I've been several clicks off target myself when it comes to properly relating sacred truths of the faith.  I'll give you a tidbit. While teaching a group of 2nd graders several years ago about sin, I doggedly went to great pains to describe a metaphor of a bullseye. "So in the middle of the target, boys and girls is the bullseye...this represents perfection or what we aim at" (so far so good).  "Now sometimes we miss the target boys and girls....(no, don't go there)..."and that's called   SIN (too late).  So here, I have just described sin as poor oopsy.  Sort of like stubbing your toe or biting the inside of your cheek.  I'm sure there is a millstone with my name on it someplace. Perhaps I'm being a little hard on myself, after all, they were 7 year-olds.  But still.  Did I get to the crux of the issue?  Do you think I could have bothered to tell them that "sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is a failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods"? (CCC1849)  Or did I help to perpetuate the cartoon image of sin as being an "oops, I should have had a V8" moment? 

It is a grace that God's infinite mercy provides many opportunities for "do overs".  As I mentioned, my new catechetical role is one of sponsor to an adult this time, and to my delight, the RCIA application had me answering plenty of really good questions about what I personally believed as a card-carrying Catholic.  Good stuff like: "What is the role of the Magisterium? Describe your views on abortion, homosexuality, pornography, birth control, female priests, etc."  This was no garden variety questionnaire, mind you. This paper interview left no wiggle room for BC folk (Barely Catholic).  The grand finale question worth an infinite number of points in my view asked me to define Satan. This is an important question.  Why?  Because the rest of the world would like you and me to think that Satan is some mythological cartoon made up in the minds of foolish, overzealous, insane religious types. And the more people who believe that drivel, the more the enemy succeeds in winning souls into his eternal classroom. 

To set the record straight once again, Satan is a fallen angel.  Satan had once been God's most glorious and beautiful angel.  His angelic name - Lucifer - actually means "light bearer". He really had it all...heavenly glory, security and kinship with the God of the universe.  For reasons beyond  comprehension, Satan used his gift of free will to radically and irrevocably rejected God and His reign.  He was defeated in an epic battle and was cast out of heaven by one of my heroes: St. Michael the Archangel.  Satan didn't leave alone, he took many other angels (now demons) with him.  He has the power to cast into Gehenna.  He prowls throughout the world "seeking the ruin of souls". He is at war with the Mother of God and in particular, all of her children. He is our nemesis. This is an important answer. If we get this answer wrong, we are liable to be fighting with ourselves, committing more sin. 

We live in a precarious age. When Pope Leo penned the famous St. Michael Prayer, it was after he had fallen into a trance that featured a vision of our world which had lost its was of a future century where Satan would perform some of his most heinous acts.  It is said that one day having celebrated the Holy Sacrifice, the aged Pontiff Leo XIII was in conference with the Cardinals. Suddenly he sank to the floor in a deep swoon. Physicians who hastened to his side feared that he had already expired, for they could find no trace of his pulse. However, after a short interval the Holy Father rallied, and opening his eyes exclaimed with great emotion: "Oh what a horrible picture I was permitted to see!" He had been shown in spirit the tremendous activities of the evil spirits and their ravings against the Church. But in the midst of this vision of horror he had also beheld consoling visions of the glorious Archangel Michael, who had appeared and cast Satan and his legions back into the abyss of hell. Soon afterward he composed the well-known prayer.

I am convinced that the pontiff was permitted to see our current generation - in particular the horrific acts of violence against children, against the human body, against holy institutions. He brought us a magnificent reminder...The Prayer to St. Michael and elevated it to a place after the Mass where the multitudes could beg intercession for supernatural graces to defeat the wickedness of the enemy.  I suppose that it is not surprising that this prayer practice was discontinued in 1960s...the decade that waged war against Truth. I say we bring it back.  We institute it in our homes. We open our eyes to see not animated cartoon representations of far-fetched fantasy, but the reality that will confront us, sooner than later. 

Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host,
by the Divine Power of God,
cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits
who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.