Sunday, September 7, 2008

More on this emotional issue

Senator Joseph Biden was on Meet the Press today and he, like Speaker Pelosi last month, was asked directly about his position on abortion in light of his being a Catholic. You know what? He said nothing new! He articulated that second component of his position, the one about which I wrote he was confused and unreasonable. Anyway, Deacon Greg Kandra, writing on his most excellent blog, The Deacon's Bench, gives the details in Biden on abortion: "For me to impose my judgment is inappropriate". The post also includes some words from the man who tomorrow will become Sen. Biden's new bishop. Meanwhile, Rocco has video.

In the same post, Deacon Greg also writes about Barack Obama's appearance on ABC's This Week. On the program Obama was asked whether he thought his response to Pastor Rick Warren's question during last month's debate at Warren's Saddleback church was too flip, the senator responded, "Probably . . . What I intended to say is that, as a Christian, I have a lot of humility about understanding when does the soul enter into ... It's a pretty tough question". He continued: "And so, all I meant to communicate was that I don't presume to be able to answer these kinds of theological questions". This response is certainly an improvement over his previous one, in which he said the question of when human life begins was above his pay grade. Nonetheless, for a politician running for office or for a blogging deacon, it is not so much about being able to give a precise answer. Ensoulment is, indeed, a theological issue. The Catholic church teaches that human life, that is, ensoulment, begins at conception and that conception begins when a sperm fertilizes an egg. This is not a teaching that is above thoughtful and informed criticism or debate among informed people. However, like Sen. Obama, I am neither a scientist nor a theologian. Therefore, I am not qualified to engage in such a debate. I, too, am humbled before this question. However, humility leads me to err on the side of caution, on the side of life, not against it. To justify abortion on the basis of not knowing when human life begins does not strike me as humility. It strikes me as confusion. Besides, it is an unsound conclusion to draw from I don't know (i.e., a sound conclusion, logically, is one that is necessitated by the premise(s)). If the conclusion is not logically sound, it cannot be morally sound.

I think we can safely say that when a person is elected to public office and certainly when elected president or vice-president s/he has to make judgments. Not only is making judgments unavoidable, as an elected official it is basically your job, whether it is about abortion, federal highway funding, or how to deal with an international crisis. So, how is making a consistent, well-reasoned judgment on abortion so different, or even more difficult, from making judgments a myriad of other issues? What makes it more difficult is the political importance of the issue for people on both sides of it. This, of course, leads us right back into putting emotion over reason.

I am glad this is becoming an issue and that tough questions are being asked of candidates whose positions on this fundamental issue do not make a great deal of sense. Let's hope it extends to include fetal stem cells, not just for political reasons, but because many people who oppose abortion are alright with the creation of human life for the purpose of destroying it in order to harvest stem cells. I really dislike the relegation of one's faith to the background, making it a private matter. For someone to say, as did JFK and Mitt Romney, that their faith will not influence their decision-making as an office-holder is to say that your faith is something added on to your life and not very important to you. What you believe, what you really believe, inevitably informs the decisions you make. I am always amazed that some twenty-seven years after the publication of the first edition what an accurate diagnosis of our culture can be found in Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory. Ours is truly an emotivist society, especially when it comes to morals and politics. As Christians we do not have the option of a private faith. Fr. Neuhaus said it best when he wrote that Christian faith is always personal but never private.

Bishop Robert Morlino, SJ, of the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, who is a trained moral theologian, weighed in yesterday in a homily given in lieu of the one he had prepared at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Madison. You can link and listen to the mp3 via Whispers.

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