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By Fr. Paul Mankowski, S.J. (articles ) | May 01, 2003

Richard Cohen takes a shot at Rick Santorum. And misses.

In advancing religious arguments for public policy, Santorum and others foreclose both debate and compromise -- the basic ingredients of democracy. If you think, simply as a matter of faith, that homosexual sex ought to be a crime, then I cannot reason with you. We might as well argue over the parting of the Red Sea, the virgin birth or whether Muhammad really ascended to heaven on a winged horse. As history has shown, when these issues get into the public square, absolutes are declared and swords are drawn.

Cohen has it backwards. The Catholic Church teaches that the truths of morality, even those which have been revealed to man by God in Scripture, are of themselves "accessible to reason alone" (Catechism #2171). That means the wrongness of sodomy (like the wrongness of murder and lying) can be firmly grasped by the unaided human intellect. And, in fact, pagan thinkers, Plato and Aristotle prominent among them, reasoned to the same conclusion as Rick Santorum wholly independently of the Judaeo-Christian tradition. Cohen must be aware of the latter point, and it is hard to see his reference to "religious argument" as anything more than a cheap scare tactic -- cheap, because Cohen is capable of carrying on battle by worthier means. Joseph Sobran nails the bull's eye:

If cannibalism ever becomes popular, and the rest of the world, led by its progressive-minded intellectuals, decides that anthropophagy is a basic constitutional right, opposing cannibalism will become a "Catholic position" too. Catholics will once more be accused of wanting to "impose" their "views" on everyone else (even when they are far too weak to do so), and the reformers will cry, "Lets keep government out of the kitchen!"

Is your repugnance to eating Aunt Margaret based on your adherence to the Levitical dietary code or the Acta Apostolicae Sedis? Of course not. But the Progressives might almost convince it were if it suited their purposes. Nor does the taunt of "imposing your morality on society" hold water. As the redoubtable Hadley Arkes has said, the nature and logic of all law is, precisely, to replace private choice with public obligation.

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