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the price of victory

By Diogenes (articles ) | Aug 14, 2007

Here's the scenario:

A fire has somehow started in the bushes just outside your home. It's not a very big fire yet, but it's dangerous; if the flames jump over to the porch, your whole house could catch.

Fortunately the garden hose is just a few feet away. Turn it on, dowse the flames, and clean up. Easy.

But you don't like that garden hose. Never did like it. Been wanting to replace it for years. It's dirty now, after years of disuse, and if you pick it up you'll soil your hands. You refuse to use it-- even if it means jeopardizing your home.

Irrational, you say? Absurd? Then how about this:

Over on the Commonweal blog, Peggy Steinfels frets that "one can hardly say embryonic stem cell before someone starts quoting Humanae Vitae." Quoting Humanae Vitae is not a popular occupation among the Commonweal crowd. So Steinfels says: "I propose that those opposed to ESCR try some other opposing arguments." She offers several.

If Humanae Vitae is cited so often in this debate, it's for a reason. It's handy and it's effective, like that garden hose. Pope Paul outlined the relevant moral considerations long before anyone was thinking of stem-cell research, and his prescient encyclical exposed the moral defects in the arguments that now being used to justify embryo research. The fact that Humanae Vitae offers such excellent guidance on the question of embryonic stem-cell research is one more reason to recognize the persuasive force of this prophetic document. Even a hardened skeptic might find himself musing: If the traditional moral teaching of the Catholic Church is so very right when applied to embryo research, maybe it's worth taking another look at how that some teaching can be applied to conjugal love.

But don't make that argument around Peggy Steinfels. For some people-- e.g. for the editorial staff of certain Catholic magazines-- opposition to Humanae Vitae is so deeply entrenched that it is inconceivable (no pun intended) that anyone could find the encyclical persuasive. Steinfels assumes that invoking HV in a public debate would have the same effect as quoting Cromwell to an audience of Irish patriots; that's certainly the reaction you get from the Commonweal group. So she pleads:

Now remember: no references to HV! What we want are winning arguments.

But why are so many people referring to Humanae Vitae? Because it is a winning argument. It all depends, I suppose, what price you're willing to pay for victory.

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  • Posted by: - Aug. 26, 2007 10:00 AM ET USA

    Peggy Steinfels apparently subscribes to the Dogma of the Immaculate Contraception, which states that the inventor of modern oral contraceptives was born without the stain of original sin. The circular vials are their imitation of the Rosary, and alms are given at the local pharmacy, via the intermediation of the Doctor-Priest.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 18, 2007 11:47 AM ET USA

    While I obviously agree with the argument for using the HV garden hose (which is a really pregnant metaphor, so to speak), I don't think it's fair to make such a blanket characterization of a "Commonweal group," or, as in the comments here, a "crowd" of "Commonweal regulars." There are intelligent, good Catholic teachers among the contributors, doing some of the best writing around. Present company excepted, of course.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 16, 2007 7:50 PM ET USA

    " . . .the editorial staff of certain Catholic magazines . . " Don't you mean "certain "Catholic" magazines"? As for HV, Jesus tells us we can know a tree by its fruits - jtake a look at the "fruits" of the sexual revolution over the past forty years, and then look back at HV, especially section 17. Whom have events proved correct, the Pope or the dissidents? That's why the Steinfels et. al. crowd doesn't even want to talk about it.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 16, 2007 4:52 PM ET USA

    The comments by the Commonweal regulars are remarkable. Not just because the regulars believe their heterodox ideas are the "authentic" teachings of the Church, but because they have zero respect for opinions that vary from their own. If liberals ever totally controlled the Church I think we'd quickly learn what real oppression was.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 15, 2007 12:53 PM ET USA

    Well, we had a fire in our spiritual home, the church;and the theologians stoked it up and invitated everyone to a marshmellow roast. Pride was the downfall of Lucifer. Theologians were not exempt. Sophisrty is still making a run at natural law and conformity to Catholic doctrine. Too bad theologians are not all based in Las Vegas if whatever happens there stays there.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 15, 2007 12:40 PM ET USA

    I have a solution for the pro-abortion faction. Give a woman the RIGHT to kill her husband. More women suffer from evil wife beaters than women who suffer from children. I was a magistrate in Virginia for a time and dealt more with these suffering women who married or lived with the wrong chap. Women need more rights I think.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 15, 2007 6:08 AM ET USA

    I am uncertain that Ms. Steinfels wants an argument without HV as much as an argument to convince nonCatholics that ESCR is wrong. Why should a nonCatholic take HV at face value? The comments, though, are much more telling than the original question.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 15, 2007 1:49 AM ET USA

    There is a very simple argument against ESCR that doesn't invoke religion at all, but is just as valid from a purely scientific standpoint: embryonic stem cells have NEVER produced any treatments. They produce tumors when grown in the lab, making them useless in treatment. Don't work--period. Only treatments that have been developed have come from adult stem cells, cord blood, and other nondestructive sources. Aside from the destruction of humans, ESCR has also been a huge waste of money.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 14, 2007 5:54 PM ET USA

    Right on the money. I did an article a few years ago contrasting the two Pauls, who wrote about the same time. Paul Ehrlich, the fly biologist, made dozens of predictions in Population Bomb, none of which came true. Paul VI made a handful of predictions in HV. All have come or are coming true. Who is the true prophet? Deuteronomy knows!

  • Posted by: - Aug. 14, 2007 5:41 PM ET USA

    Way before Humanae Vitae God told Moses, "Thou shalt not kill" (probably in a language other than English which Moses could understand). Now the question becomes one of "When does life begin?" Did anyone ever hear a pregnant woman say she was having anything other than a "baby"? I don't know of any cases where that "baby" was anything other than a human being. So what's being killed is another human being. Simple. Probably too logical for the well educated liberals.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 14, 2007 5:35 PM ET USA

    Let us mention the Sylabus of Errors everytime someone cites Humanae Vitae, and if the argument is really historical throw in the Encyclical against Americanism for good measure. We must not pick and choose amongst the Great Teachings of the Church. AMDG

  • Posted by: - Aug. 14, 2007 5:00 PM ET USA

    I guess the winning arguments Ms. Steinfels is looking for are on her side. Take away the Humanae Vitae and all that is left are shallow, morally bankrupt arguments similar to the arguments the Commonweal crowd are offering. Why kick the ladder out from under ourselves when we know we are getting to where we want to go!