"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Finding unity in morality

I have no desire to turn this blog into a political forum, so I wasn't going to post anything here having to do with politics. But I believe that Protestants and Catholics can find much common ground in the moral questions that face us as citizens when determining which candidates should receive our vote. The more we recognize this common ground, the more we see each other as [separated] brothers and sisters, and the more we yearn for full communion.

The opening line of that ancient text known as the Didache says the following:

"There are two ways, one of life and one of death; but a great difference between the two ways."

Those two ways remain before us today. Pope John Paul II referred to them as the "culture of life" and the "culture of death". As Christians we must seek to bring about within our nation the culture of life, and stand firm in opposition to the culture of death.

What does the Church teach us about the selection of candidates for political office? The issues have to be weighed according to their importance. Which issues are the most important? That is, which issues are the ones upon which the very continuation of society stands or falls? I'm not talking about our contemporary 'way of life'; I mean society itself. The most fundamentally essential issues are the issues of life and family, because these two issues are at the core (i.e. the intrinsic heart) of the possibility of society. (In addition, see here.)

There are outside threats to a society, but the most dangerous threats are the ones that destroy it from the inside, just as the most dangerous threats to an individual person are not the external threats to his body, but the corruption of his soul. A healthy body and a corrupt soul is a far worse condition than an ailing body and a virtuous soul. And the same applies to a society. The economy is a secondary priority, because it concerns secondary goods having to do mostly with external possessions and bodily goods. As a society we can survive with less material wealth than we presently have, so long as the right to life and the institution of the family are respected and preserved. But if the right to life and the institution of the family are lost sight of or practically eliminated, we cannot survive at all, nor can we sustain an economy. Similarly, the military is a secondary priority, precisely because it protects us from an external threat. And the environment likewise is a matter of secondary importance for the very same reason. It concerns our bodily well-being. And the same is true of health care -- it concerns bodily goods. And the same goes for foreign policy.

If we do not recognize the absolutely essential role that public recognition, respect and protection of the right to life and the institution of the family play in the preservation of a society, then issues of life and family will seem like merely private non-essentials, and all these other issues will seem equally important or maybe even more important. But respect for life and the family are the internal preconditions for the possibility of society, and as such are sine qua non. All the other issues ultimately draw their importance from the intrinsic value of human life made in the image of God, and the flourishing of human life in the family as its natural and most basic social institution.

In certain respects we as a people are losing sight of the intrinsic value and dignity of human life, and the intrinsic right to life. Take as an example our present treatment of children with Down syndrome. The number of children with Down syndrome is rapidly falling, because now in the US ninety percent of babies whose Down syndrome is detected in utero are aborted; in Norway 84% of all Down syndrome children are aborted. In Spain the number is 95%. Contrast that attitude with that of this man, who gave his life on September 8. (See here for an update.) We can keep belittling the 'slippery slope fallacy', but the fact is that we are rapidly (from an historical point of view) descending that slope. And if we don't stand up and stop it, God won't have to send any fire and brimstone, because we will have destroyed ourselves and the hope of future generations. We face before us the real possibility of the moral and social equivalent of the runaway greenhouse effect.

That is why the person most opposed to protecting the lives of infants is ipso facto the least qualified person to lead our country. How can a man for whom determining when a baby has human rights is "above [his] pay grade" be entrusted with protecting and upholding those very rights? That would be like entrusting one's children to a babysitter who says that determining the age of sexual consent is above his pay grade. We would not hesitate to direct such a job-seeker to a different line of work. How much more then, should we firmly insist that one entrusted with the government of our country's 300 million citizens at least understand and be committed to upholding and defending the basic human right to life from conception to natural death.

As Christians, our voting should not be just like that of the world, having the very same priorities and values; it should reflect the divine perspective found already in the first chapters of Genesis. There we see that humans are made in the image of God. Therefore we must stand up to defend human life, especially the innocent and defenseless. Likewise, in Genesis we see that marriage and family were established by God, as the fundamental basis for all of human society. That is why we must require of our governing leaders formal recognition and defense of the institution of the family. In short, to qualify for public office, candidates must recognize the foundational primacy of the public recognition and respect for the intrinsic sanctity of human life and the natural institution of marriage.

The objection to the notion of a 'single-issue voter' is based on the assumption that no single issue or single category of issues is so much more important than the rest. But that is not a safe assumption, as is made clear if the candidate supported child pornography, or wanted to bring back slavery, or annihilate a particular race of persons. We should seek to see things as they actually are, according to their actual importance. And that is why, according to the Church, we need to see the issues of life and family as the two most important issues that stand before us. Abortion has become such a commonplace event and a throwaway term that many of us have become numb to what it actually is, the gratuitous killing of innocent and defenseless human beings at the rate of 1,300,000 per year in the US. If Abel's blood cried out from the ground, what must be the sound of all this innocent blood?

The Church has always condemned abortion as homicide. And one political candidate has promised to pass legislation that would result in an additional 125,000 abortions per year. His party risks becoming a "party of death". There should be no downplaying of this issue on the part of Christians. It should be well known that from the Christian point of view (whether Protestant or Catholic), anyone who does not oppose abortion does not qualify to be considered for public office, because he or she has failed to perceive the most fundamental value, foundational to all the others that a public servant must defend, namely, the intrinsic value of human life. My brothers and sisters, let us stand together and choose the way of life, not the way of death.

1 comment:

jmw said...

On this we can agree.