Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

For Politicians: A Papal Reality Check?

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | May 15, 2007

Eighteen Democratic members of the US House of Representatives objected yesterday to Benedict XVI’s recent confirmation that pro-abortion politicians should not receive communion and may be subject to excommunication. The group of legislators was led by Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut. Unfortunately, their statement reveals a depth of confusion which should render them ineligible for public office.

Two initial points of confusion are immediately evident in the group’s assertion that the Pope’s comments “offend the very nature of the American experiment and do a great disservice to the centuries of good work the church has done.” First, it is completely irrelevant morally whether something offends “the American experiment”. God does not ask, in separating good from evil, whether a particular decision offends “the American experiment.” Nor does right reason use the demands of “the American experiment” as a yardstick for ethical action.

Presumably, these politicians believe that a church has the same obligation as a state to be open to the advocacy of conflicting ideas. A state is an involuntary association, with coercive power over the bodies of its citizens, organized to pursue worldly affairs in a manner consistent with the common good. As such, states should be extremely hesitant to withdraw the rights of citizenship on the basis of individual ideas. But a church is a voluntary association, with no physical coercive power, organized to teach the truths necessary to please God and enjoy eternal life. As such, a church should insist that, to remain in good standing, its members accept its teachings.

Second, one wonders how it is a disservice to the good the Catholic Church has accomplished in the past to continue to try to accomplish that same good in the present. The Church has not changed her definition of what it means to be good. But if these politicians wish to subscribe to a new definition of their own making—if they wish to be “like gods” so that they may distinguish good and evil for themselves—then let them be very clear about whom they think should have the right to define what is good. Above all, let them think and speak clearly about whether they accord any formative authority to the Church at all. This alone will tell them whether they should present themselves for Communion.

Sadly, these confusions can only appear paltry in comparison with the most ludicrous confusion of all. For these politicians assert, in the face of Benedict XVI’s warning, that “advancing respect for life and for the dignity of every human being is, as our church has taught us, our own life’s mission.” The sheer hubris of that statement is astonishing. It is astonishing because of its exalted—almost divine—claim about the very reason for being of these politicians; and it is even more astonishing because of its assumption that these politicians are more qualified than the Pope to determine what it is that the Church has been trying to teach them about how one goes about “advancing respect for life”.

But apart from the hubris, this self-serving assertion contains not only the very seeds of confusion but of insanity itself. Apparently, these eighteen political leaders are prepared to stake their “life’s mission” on a rejection of the one basic principle upon which all logic rests, the one principle without which coherent thought is actually impossible—the principle of identity or non-contradiction. According to this principle, something cannot be and not be under the same aspect and at the same time. But our eighteen leaders are not bound by such petty restrictions. Thus their specific public positions are irrelevant because their very mission ensures “respect for life”. It doesn’t matter if they promote death in some instances, because their one goal is to advance life. Indeed, everything they do supports life, whether what they do supports life or not.

It must be comforting to believe oneself square no matter how circular one’s shape. Personally, when I look in the mirror, I don’t see fat. Ah well, let Pope Benedict’s remarks serve as a reality check for someone else. For these confused House Democrats, reality no longer enters into it.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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