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

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Why Waldstein's Defense of Jackson Labs Fails

So I listened to the Ave Maria forum on Jackson Labs, and Michael Waldstein, a Catholic theologian and Ave Maria University professor, spoke in defense of the Jackson Labs deal. Up until now, I thought highly of Professor Waldstein considering his good work on the Theology of the Body translation, but I was deeply disappointed in his performance at the forum.

Waldstein tried to frame his position as the middle ground between two equally valid and reasonable positions: namely, assuming that Jackson Labs engages in immoral conduct, there was a good argument to be made for a duty to protest the coming of Jackson Labs, but that it was also reasonable to think that there wasn't a duty to protest (ie, if you didn't protest Jackson Labs, you probably wouldn't be formally cooperating with evil).

But Waldstein is misstating the issue. This isn't a situation where Jackson's move to Ave Maria is inevitable and unavoidable and we are debating whether one should protest against it or not. The issue is whether people should actively invite, support, and encourage Jackson Labs to move to Ave Maria, as Tom Monaghan, Eugene Milhizer, Nick Healy, and many other Catholic people and organizations are doing.

During the forum, there was one clear instance of Waldstein's obfuscation on this issue: someone asked Waldstein whether the community should invite Planned Parenthood, just as Jackson Labs is being invited. Waldstein answered by saying: "There is a good and subtle discussion about what material cooperation involves. If Planned Parenthood came to this area without being invited, would you have a duty to protest their coming and attempt to prevent it? Maybe so, I think a good argument could be made. If you didn't protest it, would you be formally cooperating with evil? I don't think so." Unfortunately, the questioner didn't follow up and point out that Waldstein had just dodged the question, because the issue is not whether someone should protest or not protest an uninvited PP but whether someone should invite or not invite PP in the first place.

From this faulty premise, Waldstein then made two arguments in support of the Jackson Labs deal, even when assuming that Jackson Labs is engaging in all the immoral conduct alleged. His first and primary argument was that this was a good opportunity for dialogue with a scientific culture that we, as Catholics, often disagree with. Several times, Waldstein gave the example of his own attendance at Harvard Divinity School as a similar instance of engaging the culture. Waldstein also observed that we should not automatically reject things that come from people we disagree with, just as universities and Aquinas didn't reject Aristotle's writings which came from Muslims. Neither of the examples are on point. Waldstein again ignores the difference between simply engaging those people in our community with whom we disagree, and inviting those with whom we disagree into the community to expand their business. One is a much greater cooperation with evil than the other. Does Waldstein have a good answer to the question "If an opportunity for dialogue is good, why not also invite Planned Parenthood to set up next door to Ave Maria, since that too would be a good opportunity for dialogue?"

Waldstein's second argument in support of the Jackson Labs deal is that Jackson Labs is not as bad as some other institutions, like the current presidency for example. On two separate occasions, Waldstein brought up the fact he thought the current presidency was an institution much worse than Jackson Labs. I think Waldstein was trying to build a foundation for countering the argument that inviting Jackson Labs is like Notre Dame inviting Obama to its commencement for a "dialogue" on abortion, but this comparison was never brought up during the forum.

There are several problems with this argument:
-The fact that there are other institutions worse than Jackson Labs is irrelevant to Waldstein's first argument that we should dialogue with people and institutions with whom we disagree as Catholics. Actually, it cuts against Waldstein's first argument because isn't there even more reason to dialogue with those "worse" institutions with which we disagree to a greater extent?
-Waldstein offers no explanation for distinguishing between immoral institutions. Why is it alright to dialogue with immoral Jackson Labs, but not alright to dialogue with the current president?
-Waldstein's position that the current presidency is an institution much worse than Jackson Labs, is, in my opinion, quite untrue, considering the president is not in the business of directly supporting HESC research through marketing products and conducting workshops.

And that is why I think Professor Waldstein's defense of Jackson Labs fails.

UPDATE: I forgot to commend Waldstein for his statement that he was in complete agreement with the local bishop and whatever stance the bishop takes. (Unfortunately, I think the bishop and his office has been too reserved and unclear when speaking about the Jackson Labs deal.)