Tuesday, September 30, 2008

That Seals the Deal

I have been unhappy with the Conservatives since the Same Sex Marriage fiasco. Now my suspicions are confirmed: Steven Harper is a Liberal in Conservatives clothing.

The legal protection of innocent human life is the sine qua non of political activity: without it the rest of the law makes little sense. Given this priority, I cannot vote for a candidate or party that refuse to uphold this most basic of human rights. Alas, there are no alternatives in my riding.

So for the first time in my adult life, I will probably end up spoiling my ballot. The borderline CHP doesn't have a candidate in this riding and the independents aren't pro-life. Anyone want to start a party?

New Opportunities Abound For Harper: "Oh Yeah!

Just think what floodgates of support and acceptance have been opened up with Harper's straightforward revelation that he supports killing off 100,000 Canadian babies a year. He may get calls to appear on 'The View' ! He can now be interviewed by Jane and Peter as 'friendlies'.! Where's his 'Order of Canada'? Get the man a new suit!

I'm sure it was worth it. Really. I mean, afterall,"

(Via island breezes.)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Voting, Part Two

Here's Steven Greydanus' follow-up on voting for viable lesser evils:

Elections, Voting and Morality, Part 2: "

Continued from Part 1

SDG here (not Jimmy).

In my previous post I said 'There are good reasons not to be thrilled with either of the two major candidates.' I want to reiterate that. I don't see the election this year as a holy crusade of Good Guys Against Bad Guys.

Specifically, I don't see any Good Guys in this race, or even among the also-rans of the primaries. I'm skeptical of all the candidates — and of the judgment of anyone who isn't. At this point, I believe any sensible person ought to be profoundly uneasy about all possible outcomes. I don't begin to understand the much-mocked quasi-messianic euphoria on the one side, and on the other side, despite some energizing of the base after the VP pick, there is still plenty of room for misgivings.

The story of the hour, of course, is the historic financial crisis and the federal takeover of Fannie and Freddie. Fingers are pointing in all directions. Proposed narratives that lay all the blame on a single doorstep — the Administration or the GOP generally, the Congress or the Dems generally, Wall Street — strike me as dubious. Narratives that blame the abuse of money and power by all of the above, not necessarily in equal degree, seem much more plausible. I won't muddy the waters with whatever ignorant notions I might have about how much guilt to assign where.

More to the point, it seems likely to me that there is no persuasive sense that either ticket necessarily represents the obviously right team to deal with the crisis. Any effort to cast the financial crisis as an obviously compelling reason to vote one way or the other would seem to suggest either extraordinary insight or else conjectural special pleading. Until I have reason to believe otherwise, my money (whatever that turns out to be worth next week) will be on the latter.

There are undoubtedly serious issues to be explored (and obfuscated) here. How much power does the executive branch actually need here? How much will they get? How may it be used or misused? How badly and unnecessarily may taxpayers be shafted, and what if anything can or will be done to minimize this? How egregiously have the rich and powerful abused their influence to their own advantage over the years, and what if anything can or will be done about that?

These are complex questions, and Catholic teaching, rooted in divine revelation, emphasizes that the enormity of the perennial abuse of the poor by the rich. There is also a long, sad track record suggesting that the practical answers are unlikely to approximate justice to any great extent. Rail against this by all means. Just don't suppose that either ticket represents the white hats here to save us.

Other important problems loom. Ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq pose serious issues. Was it right to go to Iraq in the first place? How much unnecessary harm has been caused by bad or wrong decisions, including treatment of prisoners? What is the best course of action now? What approach to health care is best? How can we best care for the environment? What about other conflicts and crises around the globe? What about energy? And so on, and on.

With all these legitimate and pressing concerns, it may be understandable that some may look with fatigue at seemingly long-unchanging battle lines between well-entrenched sides in an issue like abortion, where too often candidates and politicians have offered lip service rather than leadership, and conclude that, in the absence of real hope for change on this subject, the political contest ought to be about other things.

After all — the style of thinking goes — has any pro-life candidate of either party at any level of government ever made enough of a difference on abortion to warrant hope that the outcome of this election might matter too? In this presidential election, how much will it really matter with regard to the unborn which party takes the White House? What about the argument of Catholics like Douglas Kmiec and Morning's Minion who suggest that Obama's overall agenda is either unlikely to affect abortion numbers, or might even help reduce abortion rates more than any pro-life action from McCain?

This style of thinking is understandable. It is also, I submit, fundamentally flawed and contrary to authentic Catholic principles.

Let's review some basic considerations.

We all know that in Catholic moral and social thinking not all moral issues are of equal weight, nor do all involve moral absolutes. For example, in an oft-quoted passage from his 2004 memo to Cardinal McCarrick, then-Cardinal Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, contrasted the grave and intrinsic evils of abortion and euthanasia with the less black-and-white issues surrounding capital punishment and waging war:

Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not, however, with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

In this passage Ratzinger is addressing moral principles in the context of worthiness to receive communion, and while he excludes the possibility of a diversity of opinion on the morality of abortion and euthanasia, he does not specifically address the question of support for or opposition to laws legitimizing or proscribing abortion and euthanasia.

However, in his landmark encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), which develops the ideas of the 'culture of life' and the 'culture of death,' Pope John Paul II argues that the right to life is 'the fundamental right and source of all other rights,' and that the 'first and most immediate application' of the connection between civil law and moral law absolutely excludes 'laws which legitimize the direct killing of innocent human beings through abortion or euthanasia':

Now the first and most immediate application of this teaching concerns a human law which disregards the fundamental right and source of all other rights which is the right to life, a right belonging to every individual. Consequently, laws which legitimize the direct killing of innocent human beings through abortion or euthanasia are in complete opposition to the inviolable right to life proper to every individual … In this way the State contributes to lessening respect for life and opens the door to ways of acting which are destructive of trust in relations between people. Laws which authorize and promote abortion and euthanasia are therefore radically opposed not only to the good of the individual but also to the common good; as such they are completely lacking in authentic juridical validity. (EV 72)

Because the right to life is the ground of all other rights, efforts to seek or pursue the 'common good' while denying or undermining the right to life are fundamentally fraudulent:

It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop. A society lacks solid foundations when, on the one hand, it asserts values such as the dignity of the person, justice and peace, but then, on the other hand, radically acts to the contrary by allowing or tolerating a variety of ways in which human life is devalued and violated, especially where it is weak or marginalized. Only respect for life can be the foundation and guarantee of the most precious and essential goods of society, such as democracy and peace. (EV 101)

Again, from John Paul II's Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici (The Lay Faithful):

The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, finds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights — for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture — is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination. (CL 38)

The US bishops pastoral statement Faithful Citizenship concurs:

There are some things we must never do, as individuals or as a society … A prime example is the intentional taking of innocent human life, as in abortion and euthanasia. In our nation, 'abortion and euthanasia have become preeminent threats to human dignity because they directly attack life itself, the most fundamental human good and the condition for all others' (Living the Gospel of Life, no. 5). It is a mistake with grave consequences to treat the destruction of innocent human life merely as a matter of individual choice. A legal system that violates the basic right to life on the grounds of choice is fundamentally flawed. (FC 22)

Faithful Citizenship concludes: 'The direct and intentional destruction of human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed' (FC 28).

It is not enough, then, to hold that abortion and euthanasia are intrinsic evils. Catholics must also regard laws legitimizing them as intrinsic evils antithetical to the foundational principles of civil society and law. A culture in which intrinsically evil acts attacking life itself are claimed as basic human freedoms — a legal system in which such acts are protected (and even funded) as basic human rights — is corrupted and poisoned at the very root. It is a society 'without foundations,' a house built on sand. Such a society can only represent a culture of death.

This is the crucial flaw in Kmiec's approach. Here is Kmiec's pitch:

Obama does not advocate the reversal of Roe vs. Wade, and orthodox Catholics do. We do for the very clear reason given by [Cardinal Francis] George in a Sept. 2 letter — namely, 'one cannot favor the legal status quo on abortion and also be working for the common good.'

That's exactly right, but what's wrong is for Republican partisans to claim this to be Obama's position. It's not. Rather, Obama believes there are alternative ways to promote the 'culture of life,' even given the law's sanction of abortion. …

Both reasonable extrapolations from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics and a recent Catholic in Alliance for the Common Good study find that improving the economic well-being of the average family in general, and of the women facing the abortion decision in particular, can save unborn lives.

In these brief sentences, Kmiec radically distorts both Obama's agenda and Catholic teaching. Technically, it is true that Obama does not merely 'favor the legal status quo on abortion.' Rather, he is firmly committed to further solidifying and advancing the legal status of abortion by signing the Freedom of Choice Act, which would apparently eradicate various limitations on abortion allowed by post-Roe Supreme Court decisions. He would also expand public funding for abortion (e.g., rescinding the Mexico City policy), and would surely seek to liberalize access to abortion in other ways.

More fundamentally, though, talk of 'alternative ways to promote the 'culture of life'' while actively promoting abortion is rank contradiction. It is not enough merely 'not to favor the legal status quo on abortion.' As John Paul II wrote, 'It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life.' Kmiec's argument seems downright disingenuous.

Even on a pragmatic level, the calculus of concluding that this pro-abortion candidate's overall agenda might possibly impact abortion numbers more positively than that anti-abortion candidate's overall agenda is dubious enough. Admittedly, if it were really true, and known to be true, it might be considered a knotty issue. Certainly the sheer scale of abortion numbers — millions of guiltless human lives legally snuffed out every year — dwarfs the enormity of other even other per se equally grave issues like euthanasia and ESCR, as well as serious issues of non-intrinsic evil such as the death penalty and the war in Iraq. Anything that reduces the incidence of abortion is obviously to that extent a good thing.

However, in the first place, the argument assumes what is at best unknowable, if not outright dubious. Who really knows what will happen to the abortion rate in the next four or eight years even regardless which party is in office, or what effect any particular administration's policies will or won't have on it? If we can't even say for sure why abortion rates have behaved as they have in the recent past, how can we claim to plot varying trajectories going into the future? If it's all about actual outcomes, who knows how a candidate's stated agenda will affect his performance in office — or how successful he will be at implementing his agenda?

It may be true, as Kmiec argues, that 'improving the economic well-being of the average family in general, and of the women facing the abortion decision in particular, can save unborn lives.' Of course, it's also true that the 'economic well-being of the average family in general' rests at least significantly on factors beyond any president's control, even assuming that Obama would pursue the right policies successfully while McCain would not.

More pointedly, actions like rescinding the Mexico City policy (which Obama would certainly do) and signing the Freedom of Choice Act (which he is determined to do, and which he may well have at least as much chance of succeeding at doing as 'improving the economic well-being of the average family in general') would cost unborn lives. How exactly does Kmiec's calculus account for that?

In the end, though, what makes Kmiec's reasoning not just dubious but finally indefensible is that the root issue is not merely numbers, but the radical corruption of the first principle of justice in law. Even if, theoretically, a pro-choice candidate's agenda were to reduce the incidence of abortion, it would be gains built on sand as long as the law continues to call evil good and good evil. It is the first and most fundamental responsibility of civil society to safeguard the right to life of every member of the community. The law must recognize this first and most fundamental duty before it can begin to fulfill it.

In our society today, the juridical fiat, functioning as law, that the right to end innocent human life is guaranteed in our nation's foundational legal document subverts the whole basis of civil law and jurisprudence more critically than any other injustice we face. This is not to elevate abortion above other life issues in terms of moral gravity; it's just that we are not (yet) burdened by a Supreme Court decision positing iron-clad constitutional warrant for, say, the right to 'die with dignity.' In American rule of law as we know it today, the fiction of the 'right to choose' is the knife in the heart of justice. Or the scissors in the back of the skull.

Just as the culture of death is not simply a matter of numbers, it is also not simply a matter of existing pro-abortion legislation and jurisprudence. Political advocacy from candidates and politicians militating against the right to life, including advocacy of abortion, euthanasia, ESCR and therapeutic cloning, is also a taproot of the culture of death. Above and beyond the policies they implement, simply by espousing abortion and euthanasia as 'rights' — by defining freedom in the public square in terms of 'freedom' to end human life — candidates and politicians actively foster and advance the culture of death. Such advocacy is to political life what pro-abortion legislation and jurisprudence is in the legal sphere — a cancer at the root.

For reasons to be discussed later, we can't write in stone that a politician who advocates an intrinsically immoral policy, even legalized abortion, must always be opposed by all Catholics. (If nothing else, I will argue that a pro-choice politician may always legitimately be supported over a more pro-choice politician, even if in particular cases other courses of action may be judged preferable. A less cancerous root is preferable to a more cancerous one.)

However, one cannot glibly reason that abortion numbers are likely to be unchanged or even improved by a candidate's overall agenda, and so his pro-abortion advocacy doesn't matter. It matters gravely. It is worse than having a hate-spewing racist or a pornographer in office. It is poisonous. A candidate who advocates legalized abortion, euthanasia, ESCR or human cloning gravely disqualifies himself for public service, not just for what he or she may do but for what he or she stands for.

Thus the Vatican's Archbishop Raymond Burke, recently named Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura (roughly the Vatican equivalent of the Supreme Court's Chief Justice):

We cannot accept for ourselves a political leadership which does not safeguard the inviolable dignity of human life. Are there other issues? Of course there are, but the primary issue has to be the question of human life.

Does this mean that we should settle for lip service? Is it enough that candidates tell us what we want to hear once every four years and then go their merry way till the next election? For that matter, doesn't McCain support ESCR?

No, we shouldn't, and no, it isn't, and yes, he does, or at least he has, though with qualifications, and there are signs that McCain may be shifting on ESCR (again, more later). I'm not now making the case for McCain, but the case against Obama (or any candidate with an Obama-like agenda). It is enough for now to note that while McCain's qualified support of ESCR is a serious strike against him, Obama's unqualified support is even more serious. On every issue touching directly on the most fundamental right and the source of all other rights, Obama's stance is diametrically opposed to the foundations of the culture of life.

Very simply, Obama is the candidate of the culture of death. He's probably the purest culture-of-death presidential candidate in American history.

Does that mean Catholics can or should support McCain simply because he's not Obama? For now, let's just say: It's a start. I have more to say about this,' and will continue when I can.



Monday, September 22, 2008

My Lesson for the Day

How to be a gentleman and discuss politics a the same time:

How To Debate Politics Like A Gentleman: "

elephant-donkey-boxing How To Debate Politics Like A Gentleman

Kate grandpa’s is fond of repeating the mantra he and his fellow sailors repeated while serving aboard the USS Indiana during World War II. ‘Never discuss politics or religion.’ And he always adds, ‘So what does that leave to talk about? Girls, of course.’

Gramp’s advice is certainly appropriate if you’re going to be trapped on a ship with the same guys for months on end. And it’s a rule of good etiquette for dinner parties and other occasions when polite decorum should prevail.

But otherwise, politics should be debated, vigorously and often. Men in every age debated politics- from the Grecian Assembly to the Roman Forum, from the salons of France to the mutual improvement societies of colonial America. Being able to reasonably discuss the political issues of the day was considered a vital and essential part of being a well-rounded, well-educated, man. Indeed, one of the express purposes of education during this time was to equip men to be able to hold their own in the political forum.

These days rousing, yet respectful political debate is practically non-existent. The new media, far from presenting balanced, in-depth coverage of the important, meaty issues of the day, spend their time constantly regurgitating manufactured scandals and fanning the flames of personality contests. Debates between men in person, and especially on the internet quickly devolve into indignant shouting matches, where personal insults are substituted for rational arguments.

That’s not to say that our manly forebearers were the paragons of respectful debating. They too would often let their passions get away from them and unleash oratorical hell on their opponent. For example, during his days as a young state assemblyman in New York, Teddy Roosevelt would frequently lose his cool during debates on the Assembly floor. He’d call his opponents ‘cold blooded, narrow-minded, prejudiced, obstinate, timid, old psalm singing Indianapolis politicians’ or ‘oily-Gammon, churchgoing specimens,’ or simply ‘classical ignoramuses.’

Young Roosevelt quickly became the laughing stock of the Assembly and of the state newspapers with his outbursts. After bitterly insulting a senior assemblyman, Roosevelt was rebuked severely, and tearfully apologized for his unbecoming behavior. He soon learned to control his temper and direct his passion towards more constructive debate as opposed to petty insults.

Unlike men from the past, today’s men are unapologetic about their undisciplined, discourteous political rants.  Men need to learn how to bring back vigorous, yet civil political discourse. Here are a few suggestions on how we can.

Disagreement in politics does not a pinhead make.

When it comes to debating politics, men then often create the following faulty syllogism:

  • I’m a very intelligent man and I believe X.

  • This other guy believes Y.

  • Therefore this other guy is a complete moron.

This is what essentially lies at the heart of nasty political discourse. And it’s surely a tempting conclusion to make. But take a step back. Does your ‘opponent’ show other signs of being a feeble-minded moron? Did he graduate from college? Does he have a good job? Does he seem able to function as a normal adult? You know, dress himself, feed himself, and refrain from drooling? Probably so. He’s probably not an imbecile. He just feels differently than you do. He was raised in a home by parents with certain beliefs. He’s had life experiences that are divergent from yours. His faith or lack thereof has shaped him in ways that yours hasn’t. Now, once you have established that your friend is not a pinhead, you can begin to have a polite debate.

Try your darndest to see the other side

When you passionately believe in something, it can seem nearly impossible to even conceive how another person doesn’t see things the same way you do. But since we’ve established that having a divergent political belief does not a pinhead make, you should be duly curious about why your friend feels the way he does.

Dispense with the the how and why questions. Questions like, ‘How could you possibly believe that?’ and  ‘Why can’t you see how wrong you are?’ won’t get you anywhere. Instead, pose ‘what’ questions. ‘What makes you feel that way?’ ‘What has led you to come to that conclusion?’ Be earnestly and sincerely interested in what the person has to say. Do not ask these questions as way to dig up material to pounce on and attack. Take the time to really understand their sides of the issues.

Consume media that presents news from both sides. Why has political debate become so polarized and rancor-filled? Look no father then the current state of the media. Instead of modeling the art of healthy debate, news shows are political theater, filled with talking heads shouting over each other and licking their lips over the chance to cut someone down.

It’s also no secret that various media outlets give the news with their particular political slant. If all you consume is media from one particular source, a source that affirms and flatters your already preconceived beliefs, then you’re never going to be able to see the other side and will end up just another schmo contributing to the untimely death of respectful political debate.

Let’s face it: we all love to see our guy sticking it to the other guy. We love to see the commentators rip into the hypocrisy and inadequacies of the other party. It makes us feel good about ourselves and flatters our world view. But it’s dangerously narrow-minded. Men back in the day didn’t just read tracts and attend speeches of people with whom they agreed. They eagerly consumed what their opponents had to say as well. You must make an effort to read, listen, and watch news that may make your blood pressure soar, but will leave you better informed and ready to make fair assessments. If you’re a devoted Bill Maher fan, tune into Rush every now again. If you usually only read the National Review, spend some quality time with Mother Jones as well.

Concede a point where appropriate

Unless your friend really is an obtuse Neanderthal, he’ll probably say a few things that you actually agree with. A badger of a man will let these things pass by without a word, believing that to concede any point is to show weakness. An intelligent and secure man is able to say, ‘Yeah, that’s a good point. I hadn’t thought of that.’ Even if you don’t agree with something, at least pepper your discourse with the occasional ‘I understand why you feel that way.’ And ‘I can see that.’

Find common ground

Even if you and your friend are on opposite ends of the spectrum-he sleeps with O’Reilly’s Culture Warrior under his pillow and you have a signed photo of Keith Olbermann on your wall, there will always be a couple of things you can agree on. Even if its banal generalities like ‘Washington is broken,’ you can agree on that and then civilly present your varying perspectives on how it should be fixed.

Don’t use inflammatory language

The man who is insecure with the simple, bare validity of his argument will be tempted to resort to inflammatory language and insults.’ ‘McCain is a philandering, lying, corpse of a man!’ ‘Obama is a pointy-headed, liberal, elitist and a terrorist to boot!’ Such language only produces rancor and will quickly steer the debate into a pointless shouting match. Present you points in a calm, well-reasoned manner.

Stick to the facts

Only bring to the table those facts which have been thoroughly vetted as true. Information culled from emails forwarded to you by Aunt Gertie, articles from the National Enquirer, and stories from a pirated radio broadcast you listened to at 4 in the morning do not count. How you and your friend interpret the facts will of course vary, but you must at least be debating accurate information as opposed to  rumors and slander that no one can really prove or argue against.

What are you’re suggestions for engaging rigorous civil debate? Do you even think it’s possible today? Drop a line comment box and let us know.

If you liked this article, please share it on del.icio.us, StumbleUpon or Digg. I’d appreciate it.

Download Your Free Guide to Being a Gentleman in 2008.

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(Via New Advent World Watch.)

Sunday, September 21, 2008


(Look it up.) As long as I'm not commenting on affairs American, here's Domenico's musings on the Palin thing:

Sarah Palin and the end of feminism: "

I realize now I think I haven’t written anything about Sarah Palin— at least here; I’ve been very vocal on the subject on Twitter and Plurk— but I will say that I think she’s the best thing to happen to this election season. It is evidence of the apathy about the whole GOP slate until this point that both Republicans and Democrats have reacted to her like she’s running for President, not Vice-President.

What’s so exciting about Sarah? Is it that she’s good-looking? I suppose that’s part of it. But I think the greater part is that she represents so much of the hopes and dreams of conservatives (and the fears of libverals). She has a normal American family: five kids, a rugged blue-collar husband, beautiful kids, a son in the Army, a life lived open to all life, even when it’s a greater burden than expected. In her politics, too, she is a candidate unlike many we’ve seen in recent years: pro-life, fiscally and socially conservative, opposed to corruption in government no matter the party involved. Even in the so-called Troopergate scandal, Palin is accused of using the power of her office to remove a law enforcement officer about whom she has personal knowledge of his alleged acts, despite the niceties of regulations. In other words, even if she’s broken the ethics rules—which is by no means certain at this point—it’s an action with which most Americans can sympathize.

Meanwhile, many folks are trying to understand the reaction to Sarah Palin, from both sides of the aisle. Genevieve Kineke, an expert on both authentic Christian feminism as well as its deformed secular counterpart, says that what enrages the Left is not her motherhood, but the fact she doesn’t reject fatherhood. The piece is entitled ‘The End of Feminism.’

Genevieve considers that the aim of radical feminism over the years has been to undermine fatherhood.

The motherhood of Mary is instructive for all mothers, in that she received the seed of God and that she restored our relationship with the Creator, thus placing motherhood within a constellation of family of relationships. The enemies of motherhood strategically attack it — not primarily because of its capacity for life but because of the truth it contains: motherhood is the bridge to fatherhood, and fatherhood is the icon of God Himself. The war on motherhood is of a transitive nature: fatherhood is the true enemy.

And so, when we are presented with the image of a woman who not only does not choose to take the life of a child the world considers flawed and a burden on society—despite their vaunted rhetoric of choice—but she also does not present the men in her life as obstacles. Instead she shows reliance upon her husband. Contrast that with feminist icon Hilary Clinton: Is there anyone who seriously doesn’t believe that Hilary has actual contempt for Bill? It’s a given in the national political narrative that their marriage is a convenient sham left in place for the sake of her career.

Pope Benedict XVI long ago diagnosed this particular disease, when as Cardinal Ratzinger, he said that the root cause of nearly every ill facing humanity is a crisis of fatherhood. After all, at its root, wasn’t that the crisis in the Garden of Eden? A crisis of trust in the father? A crisis of fatherhood that transmitted itself to Adam’s own children, Cain and Abel.

I guess this goes a bit far afield from the political discussion about Sarah Palin, but her candidacy does raise some interesting questions on larger issues.

Photo by er3465.

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(Via Bettnet.com - Musings of Domenico Bettinelli.)

All Catholicism is Divided into Three Parts...

(A take-off on Caesar's Gallic Wars.) I've been following the American Presidential election cycle with considerable interest since the beginning of this year. But I've refrained from commenting because it doesn't feel right for a Canadian to pontificate on American political affairs. But some issues that have come up have application to our own situation here.

There has been a raging debate, some of which has spilled into the blogosphere, about how Catholic doctrine and sound reasoning apply to the election. There are among that minority of Catholics (those for whom conforming their thinking and action to that of the Church is a public duty) three basic divisions: Pro-Obama, Pro-McCain and Pro-Anybody Else. The first position is taken by Professor Kmiec and I will treat it as unreasonable and leave interested readers to investigate it for themselves. The next, perhaps the majority of this minority, argues that a vote for McCain/Palin is morally defensible and best in the circumstances. The last party is best represented by Mark Shea, though several other Catholic bloggers have expressed similar thoughts: both major candidates are morally objectionable and one must vote for some other, third-party candidate, even with no hope of defeating the first two. Steven Greydanus is attempting to engage these last two positions and his argument may have some bearing on our situation here in Canada, where viability of candidates is a tricker thing to assess:

Elections, Voting and Morality, Part 1: "

SDG here (not Jimmy).

In this election season, questions about voting and morality are naturally under discussion in the Catholic blogosphere and the larger Catholic world. At times, the range of possible answers being proposed and discussed has included some dubious opinions and claims.

There are good reasons not to be thrilled with either of the two major candidates, and it's not surprising that some thoughtful and serious Catholics and others may choose not to vote at all, or to vote for some quixotic third-party candidate as a form of protest against the major candidates.

More surprisingly, some serious Catholics have seemed at times to incline toward the view that, although one of the two major candidates is far less problematic than the other, even the less problematic candidate is still problematic enough to make supporting or voting for either of the two major candidates not only not obligatory, but actually objectively wrong. Rarefied theories regarding the purpose and moral significance of voting have been floated that seem hard to reconcile with Catholic teaching.

Even more surprisingly, some serious Catholics have actually gone so far as to argue that the preferable candidate is one whose agenda is about as radically opposed as it is possible to be to Catholic teaching on fundamental moral issues (including abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research, therapeutic cloning and same-sex marriage) rather than his opponent whose views are much more convergent with Catholic teaching on most, if not all, of those issues. (More on this later.)

This last view has become most widely associated with Douglas Kmiec, Professor of Constitutional Law at Pepperdine University's School of Law and former Dean and St. Thomas More Professor of Catholic University's law school. After working with fellow Catholic scholar Mary Ann Glendon on Mitt Romney's presidential bid, Kmiec stunned American Catholics by endorsing Barack Obama for president.

While acknowledging that McCain's opposition to abortion is consonant with Catholic teaching while Obama's abortion advocacy is contrary to it, Kmiec seems to feel that the social and economic benefits of Obama's overall agenda could actually help reduce the incidence of abortion more effectively than any anti-abortion actions McCain is likely to undertake. Similar views have been taken by, among others, Catholic bloggers at Vox Nova and Eastern Orthodox convert Frank Shaeffer.

Kmiec also challenges McCain's pro-life credentials by citing McCain's failure to oppose the death penalty. (Perhaps oddly, I have not seen Kmiec mention the more crucial issue of McCain's failure to oppose embryonic stem-cell research. Surely Kmiec knows that Catholic teaching permits a diversity of opinion on the death penalty, but not on embryo-destructive programs.)

Kmiec's arguments for Catholic Obama advocacy have been roundly rejected by prominent Catholic commentators. At times, unfortunately, resistance to Kmiec's views has been taken to extremes: On one occasion a priest wrongly refused Kmiec communion because of his Obama advocacy, a canonically unjustifiable move.

The Church has penalties for procuring an abortion (automatic excommunication), and there seems to be a growing consensus among the bishops that Catholic politicians who actually support legalized abortion should not receive communion. (Strong arguments have been mounted that, following Canon 915, politicians who obstinately persist in manifestly supporting legalized abortion should be denied communion, though consensus on this point among the bishops has been slow in coming.)

However, when it comes to citizens supporting or voting for politicians who support intrinsically evil policies like abortion, Church teaching acknowledges that this can be morally justifiable if two conditions are met. First, one must support the politician in spite of his evil policies and not because of them. Second, there must be proportionately grave reasons outweighing the evil policies (again, more on this later). The question whether such morally proportionate reasons exist in any particular case, like the question whether a particular war is just, is not a matter of binding teaching, but of a permissible diversity of opinion.

This doesn't mean, of course, that all opinions are equally good, or all arguments equally plausible. I agree with those who find Kmiec's reasoning and his Obama advocacy indefensible. But people may hold indefensible views, and engage in indefensible acts, in good faith. Church teaching provides clear lines that cannot be crossed without cutting oneself off from communion. Mere advocacy for particular politicians, even with very problematic views, is not such a line. Although Obama advocacy is (in my judgment) objectively wrong, it is wrong extrinsically, not intrinsically. (For example, Obama advocacy would obviously be morally defensible if, say, Obama were running against Hitler.) But good Catholics can disagree in good faith — though again, not always with equal plausibility — about what is or is not extrinsically wrong.

Among these rightly dismissing Kmiec's arguments is my long-time friend, Catholic writer and blogger Mark P. Shea. Mark is strongly critical of both major candidates, but he clearly sees — as most informed and non-dissenting Catholics see and as even most reasonably fair-minded observers can see — that anyone giving priority to fundamental Catholic moral concerns must regard Obama as far and away the more problematic candidate.

At the same time, Mark is, entirely legitimately, no fan of McCain. I've always had significant reservations about McCain myself, and in a recent blog post I discussed why I might not vote for him, particularly if he chose a pro-choice running mate. (He didn't, of course, and his choice potentially addresses some concerns while arguably raising others; I'll be posting more on this soon.) I am thus sympathetic to Mark's choice not to vote for either of the two major candidates, but to register a protest vote for a quixotic impossible candidate instead.

Where I think Mark goes wrong is in leaning toward the view that not voting for either of the two major candidates is not only a morally legitimate option, or even a morally preferable option, but the only morally viable option. Although he argues, far more credibly than Kmiec, that McCain is the less problematic candidate, Mark seems at times to feel that McCain is still problematic enough that McCain advocacy is also objectively wrong. This view has been maintained and defended even more assiduously (and problematically IMO) by Mark's co-belligerent, anonymous blogger Zippy Catholic.

Some caveats here are necessary. In leaning toward such views, Mark naturally means to express an opinion, not a definitive fact. It is an opinion about objective right and wrong, but still an opinion, and Mark would certainly acknowledge that it is an area of permissible dispute, and in principle he could be wrong. Second, I take it for granted that Mark makes no judgment about the culpability of McCain advocates, any more than either he or I judges Kmiec's culpability for his Obama advocacy. Third, Mark clearly doesn't put McCain advocacy on a par with Obama advocacy, either regarding plausibility or degree of evil. Still, it does seem that Mark feels or has felt that there are two unequal but objectively wrong choices — voting for either of the two major candidates — and only one morally legitimate course, not voting for either one.

I find this position untenable. In any contest between two or more viable candidates, I submit that it is always morally legitimate to support and vote for the candidate one regards as the preferable — or least problematic — viable candidate. (By 'viable candidate' I mean of course 'candidate with a realistic chance of winning.')

In fact, not only is it always morally legitimate, by default supporting and voting for the preferable or least problematic viable candidate should be the usual, preferred course of action. Other courses of action should be comparatively extraordinary, though in particular circumstances it may reasonably be judged preferable or more prudent to take another course.

For example, there may be legitimate reasons in a particular contest for considering it preferable (though not morally necessary) not to vote at all, or to vote for an admittedly nonviable, quixotic candidate as a form of protest. However, one can never rightly claim that it is morally necessary not to vote for any viable candidate, or that those who do support or vote for the least problematic viable candidate are (however sincerely) objectively wrong to do so.

Again, in a three-way contest, one may regard all three candidates as somewhat viable, but may still choose not to vote for the least problematic viable candidate, if one feels that the second–least problematic candidate is more viable and thus has a better chance of defeating the most problematic candidate. Others may feel, also credibly, that the least problematic candidate is worth supporting, even if he is a long shot.

Such decisions can be very difficult, because if opposition to the candidate viewed as most problematic is split among two challengers, the candidate viewed as most problematic by most people may eke out a victory. Whether this works out for the best or the worst, or to the advantage of one party or another, may vary with circumstances. From a democratic point of view, it is probably an unfortunate outcome, but for better or worse it is the nature of our current one-person, one-vote system. Whether another system would be better is a question for another time.

Another good question for another time concerns the nature of the system that yields the particular viable candidates we get. However that may be, once it becomes clear that one or another of a very small pool of people will in fact win the election, my thesis is that it is always morally legitimate to support and vote for the candidate one regards as the preferable or least problematic viable candidate.

In upcoming posts, I'll try to make the case for this thesis and answer objections to it. I will also discuss the particulars of fundamental moral principles and Catholic teaching in connection with the two candidates, and why I think McCain is the least problematic viable candidate.

For some, if I can make this case persuasively, this may be good news. Many, like Mark, may feel conflicted, opposing Obama but feeling unable to vote for the only viable alternative. Mark has said to me that he's not voting for McCain because he feels he can't; if felt he could vote for McCain, he would do so. I want to make the case that, in fact, he can if he wants to — and so can others.

To be continued...