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the quick & the dead

By Diogenes (articles ) | Jul 11, 2008

Amherst Professor Hadley Arkes is Jewish. Yet he has a sounder grasp of Church teaching on life issues than all but a few Catholics. In a recent posting at The Catholic Thing, he registers his bewilderment at the number of Catholics capable of disregarding Barack Obama's pro-abortion stance:

Some of our readers know that I [Arkes] was associated with the drafting of the "most modest first step of all on abortion," the bill to preserve the life of the child who survived an abortion. It was called, in that awful legislative style, the Born-Alive Infants' Protection Act. When it finally passed the Congress in 2002, not a single Democrat in Congress voted in opposition. But Barack Obama, as a Senator in Illinois, actually led the opposition to the comparable measure in that state, and as the chairman of a legislative committee managed to kill it. How does one explain then this close division among Catholics, with a tilt actually in his favor? And what is the worse account: that most Catholics in the country simply do not know about his radical, pro-abortion position, or that American Catholics by now have heard about Obama's position, and they don't especially care?

Perhaps most U.S. Catholics feel some moral discomfort with abortion-on-demand, but have been firehosed so thoroughly by the Seamless Garment treatment (according to which an erroneous position on infanticide, e.g., is neutralized by a liberal position on housing credits) that they are incapable of assigning a meaningful priority to moral issues in the political realm. Arkes acutely points out that even conceding the willingness to reduce abortions is senseless apart from a publicly reasoned conviction that abortion is wrong. Says Arkes:

And the candidate who offers us this "concession": Why should we even trust him to seek a reduction in abortions when he could not possibly share with us any ground of principle to explain why these human lives command our respect and our obligation to protect them?

A liberal might rejoin that abortions should be reduced on the same ground that dental extractions should be reduced: they're vexing, expensive, and painful, and on those grounds to be avoided where avoidable. Every tooth a wanted tooth. But as Arkes argues, having decided to discount arbitrarily the value of human life in one assaying of goods, you can't pretend to be balancing benefits that include goods for human beings whose lives are not thus disvalued. That would be like declaring that Hungarians, in the eyes of the law, are puppies, whence their masters are free to put them down humanely. The term "humane," in such context, attaches to the masters, not to the Hungarians.

During the debate between Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, Douglas suggested the diversity of goods at work in our national life: Maine had oysters, Indiana had cranberries, and some of the states used slave labor. Are we being asked now to adopt a similar state of mind, in which the killing of the innocent, on a massive scale, is regarded as just one of several "goods" that our people are equally free to choose, one no better in principle than the others?

It makes no sense to coerce your fellow citizens to provide education and health care for a child whom you are unwilling to protect from homicide. Most Catholic Obama-partisans have not grappled with the abortion problem directly and have no relish to do so; rather they talk more loudly about other issues in the hope that the abortion business will fade into the background by November. I believe it was Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich who asked, What seamless garment better than a body bag?

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  • Posted by: - Jul. 17, 2008 8:14 AM ET USA

    The theology that destroys the "seamless garment" idea is clear to virtually any open-minded thinker. I am convinced that Its success can only be attributed to either the grossly poor moral/ ethical training in today's seminaries, and/or the the deliberate and widespread effort of politically minded Bishops to support a political agenda. Cushing - advising Kennedy - (and Dreiden) was not the sharpest knife in the episcopal drawer, but he surely was a Democrat.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 12, 2008 1:30 PM ET USA

    "that they are incapable of assigning a meaningful priority to moral issues in the political realm." This is because our Pastors (the US Bishops) have, in general, failed us and not taught us well and all we have to do to demonstrate this is to look at Catholic Charities in Richmond. Abortion could end very quickly in the US if our Bishops would lead, speak,and live what the Church really teaches and give us a unified example to follow instead of excuses and doublespeak.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 12, 2008 11:48 AM ET USA

    A zinger of a final logical. Alas, the Obama Catholics know they are in error--no amount of logical discourse will have an effect on their position. They are simply more "American" than Catholic in that they prefer happy-sappy live and let live to the scratchy necessity of maintaining a moral standard.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 12, 2008 7:04 AM ET USA

    “Catholic Obama-partisans” is an oxymoron. A Catholic simply cannot support as strident a pro-abortion candidate as Obama and remain a faithful Catholic. That some think they can revolves back to our pastors and bishops, who have so utterly failed to teach and shepherd, or worse, wear their Obama buttons under their vestments.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 12, 2008 12:55 AM ET USA

    This "seamless garment" approach by the US Bishops has certainly deepened the confusion among Catholics and is amounting to a "body bag" not only for the holy innocents but for Catholicism in America. What better way to show that there is a hierarchy of truths -and a difference in the gravity of sins (some being intrinsically evil)- then to enforce Canon 915. To paraphrase a contemporary "reverend": some of our leaders have been "talking down to Catholic people."