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Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Archbishop Chaput in First Things

I don't think I've seen this posted here, but if it was, it warrants repetition. Archbishop Charles J. Chaput wrote an important article in First Things last month.

Some significant passages as we consider who to vote for, how to prioritize our issues, and whether to participate at all:

One of the more miraculous, or suspicious, side-effects of the 2004 election was
the number of candidates in both political parties who suddenly began talking
about their religious faith. There's no doubt that many public officials,
regardless of party, do take their religious beliefs very seriously and do try
to live by them. That’s a good thing. So maybe this latest trend implies a new
Great Awakening. Or maybe, as one of my skeptical friends says, "it’s just
another charm offensive to get the shamans off their backs." Time will tell.
Words are important. Actions are more important. The religious choreography of a
campaign doesn’t matter. The content of its ideas does. The religious vocabulary
of a candidate doesn’t matter. The content of his record, plans, and promises

A good intro, and a reasonable admonition to view things through the prism of facts, not rhetoric.

Second, there's no way for Catholics to finesse their way around the abortion
issue, and if we're serious about being "Catholic," we need to stop trying. No
such thing as a "right" to kill an unborn child exists. And wriggling past that
simple truth by redefining the unborn child as an unperson, a pre-human lump of
cells, is the worst sort of Orwellian hypocrisy - especially for Christians.
Abortion always involves the deliberate killing of an innocent human life, and
it is always, inexcusably, grievously wrong.

Nothing new here, but important to remind ourselves as folks try to focus on reducing rather than ending this barbaric and evil practice.

Obviously, we have other important issues facing us this fall: the economy, the
war in Iraq, immigration justice. But we can’t build a healthy society while
ignoring the routine and very profitable legalized homicide that goes on every
day against America’s unborn children. The right to life is
Every other right depends on it. Efforts to reduce
abortions, or to create alternatives to abortion, or to foster an environment
where more women will choose to keep their unborn child, can have great
merit - but not if they serve to cover over or distract from the
brutality and fundamental injustice of abortion itself.

(italicized emphasis in original, bolding mine).

There is a heirarchy of issues. War is important to consider. The economy is ever on our minds. But these things admit of solutions and approaches that, while hotly debated, are rarely intrinsically evil. Some may be better. Some - like Communism - may very well push the line to intrinisic immorality. Abortion, however, is never a question. It is always wrong, and a society that permits it faces it's certain decline in the mirror.

Finally an urging to get active within, not abandon all hope and remain idle:

The real world involves hard conflicts and intractable issues that can't be
talked away or smothered under evasive language. Plenty of very good Catholics
inhabit both major political parties. It's our job as Catholic citizens to press
our parties and our political leaders to respect the sanctity of human life -
all of it, from conception to grave - whether our leaders and party elites like
us or not.

Sounds like a certain Pope from our recent past? In his 1988 Apostolic Exhortation, Pope John Paul II was clear that the right to life is the most basic right, without which all others are meaningless:

The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute
inviolability of God, fínds its primary and fundamental expression in the
inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made
on behalf of human rights-for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to
family, to culture- is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic
and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not
defended with maximum determination.
In his encyclical, Evangelium vitae, Pope John Paul II echoed that theme in an unambiguous way:

20 . . "If the promotion of the self is understood in terms of absolute
autonomy, people inevitably reach the point of rejecting one another. Everyone
else is considered an enemy from whom one has to defend oneself. Thus society
becomes a mass of individuals placed side by side, but without any mutual bonds.
Each one wishes to assert himself independently of the other and in fact intends
to make his own interests prevail. Still, in the face of other people's
analogous interests, some kind of compromise must be found, if one wants a
society in which the maximum possible freedom is guaranteed to each individual.
In this way, any reference to common values and to a truth absolutely binding on
everyone is lost, and social life ventures on to the shifting sands of complete
relativism. At that point, everything is negotiable, everything is open to
bargaining: even the first of the fundamental rights, the right to life.

This is what is happening also at the level of politics and government:
the original and inalienable right to life is questioned or denied on the basis
of a parliamentary vote or the will of one part of the people-even if it is the
majority. This is the sinister result of a relativism which reigns unopposed:
the "right" ceases to be such, because it is no longer firmly founded on the
inviolable dignity of the person, but is made subject to the will of the
stronger part. In this way democracy, contradicting its own principles,
effectively moves towards a form of totalitarianism. The State is no longer the
"common home" where all can live together on the basis of principles of
fundamental equality, but is transformed into a tyrant State, which arrogates to
itself the right to dispose of the life of the weakest and most defenceless
members, from the unborn child to the elderly, in the name of a public interest
which is really nothing but the interest of one part.

The appearance of the strictest respect for legality is maintained, at
least when the laws permitting abortion and euthanasia are the result of a
ballot in accordance with what are generally seen as the rules of democracy.
Really, what we have here is only the tragic caricature of legality; the
democratic ideal, which is only truly such when it acknowledges and safeguards
the dignity of every human person, is betrayed in its very foundations: "How is
it still possible to speak of the dignity of every human person when the killing
of the weakest and most innocent is permitted? In the name of what justice is
the most unjust of discriminations practised: some individuals are held to be
deserving of defence and others are denied that dignity?" When
this happens, the process leading to the breakdown of a genuinely human co-existence and the disintegration of the State itself has already begun.

To claim the right to abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, and to
recognize that right in law, means to attribute to human freedom a perverse and
evil significance: that of an absolute power over others and against others.
This is the death of true freedom: "Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who
commits sin is a slave to sin" (Jn 8:34) . . . .

73. Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can
claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws;
instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious
objection. . . . In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law
permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or
to 'take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for
it'." (emphasis added).