Friday, August 14, 2015

Culture Wars

You hear evangelicals say sometimes, "The culture wars have really hurt our Christian witness." Nonsense. Hypocrisy has hurt the Christian witness.

When someone speaks derisively of the "culture wars," they mean the politics of sexual "liberation." They think somehow that there is some formulation of the good news that doesn't include sex, and if we talk about that other stuff, well, maybe that other stuff will go away.

Isn't it obvious that politics at its core is the imposition of public morality by force? The libertines know this; their opponents shouldn't be so naive. The very people you want to reach, Christian, nod their heads in tragic approval of your surrender, because that's exactly what it is. The people who say, "We shouldn't legislate morality" are actually saying, "I don't like the one you want to legislate." It's either deception, or stupidity, and we shouldn't find it compelling.

Law has not only a restraining influence, but a forming one, and any advocates of traditional morality--whether for religious motives or not--who cede the public sphere in this way make their goals moot.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Pro-Life, No Exceptions, Revisited

I was talking politics with an older, more liberal friend last night, and he said he thought Sen. Rubio not believing in abortion exceptions for rape and incest would hurt him. I remember thinking I didn't care, because he's right on the issue, if indeed he believes this. Indeed, as I have said, it's the most principled position to take, if a pre-born child is a person.

Sen. Goldwater had said that extremism in pursuit of liberty is no vice, and if we say "virtue" in place of "liberty," he's right. The game of politics is about persuasion as much as anything, though, and that's why winning is about not seeming to be extreme, even if you are. More interesting still, when discussions about principles and policy degenerate, the game of politics becomes about convincing the people one's opponent is "extreme," an outlier in relation to some mythical middle that you and your travelers occupy. "Extreme" is the postmodern secular way of saying "immoral," in the language of people who have convinced themselves that they are relativists, and that only crazy zealots believe in absolutes.

Nuance is the currency of compromise and cooperation, though. The tricky part is to not be an operator when principles are at issue, at least for an honest person, and to not mobilize the people who fundamentally disagree against you. That is, as much as possible. Still, it should be noted that bad politicians inspire frothy hate from opponents, and manage to demoralize supporters in the process.

I will not support, defend, or otherwise permit exceptions for rape and incest in any future abortion bans. If I do, it is with the explicit intention of working gradually toward its absolute abolition. This is at the level of fundamental principle, and it's no time for nuance or shading. I believe abortion is the gravest evil we have faced since chattel slavery, and I will oppose it at every opportunity.

There are those who will listen to nothing I say besides because of this; that is their right. It is also tragic that some will conclude that I favor rape or incest because of my position. On the contrary; I refuse to trade one person's life for another. It's that simple.

I will work via all morally licit ways to limit abortion, and with those who do not share my conviction. I am happy to do that whenever possible. If we can make that "choice" less likely, and less seemingly necessary, I'm in.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Pro-Life, No Exceptions.

It's not just an abortion stance. Not to me. It is the deepest, most fundamental conviction I own: that the fundamental dignity of the human person is the beginning and the end of my political philosophy. I think the gravest indictment of the Democratic Party I could articulate is this: If every Republican became an anti-abortion George McGovern or Paul Simon in exchange for the end of the evil of abortion, and its advocate, Planned Parenthood, no Democrats of any consequence would take the deal.

You want to lecture the GOP on its anti-child, anti-family, anti-mother policies after birth? Fine; I'd probably join you. It wouldn't allow any of us to affirm corruption, inefficiency, mismanagement, and policies that don't work. Liberals can shout, "Seamless garment!" until the final resurrection; if we don't oppose abortion in all its forms, we're close to useless. There is no garment, if the emperor has no clothes.

If it sounds at once like a political speech, and an intra-Catholic family fistfight, it is. We're the ones with the broadly-applicable social teaching; we're the ones with the treasure hidden in a field; I don't care if most people don't want to hear about God; we can't and we won't shut up about Him.

Back to the point, I don't concede this notion that pro-lifers only care about babies; I've got a list of liberal heroes as long as my wingspan; I'd sell my house for an army of Nat Hentoffs among the Democratic political class. Most of the great statesmen died before I was born; the ones in their place dash off ad hominems about people they don't know, in order to feel superior. And while carrying the banner for Murder, Inc., they don't even have a right to feel that way!

I long for agitated discussions about just wages, instead of about when life begins; it's actually settled science, and legions of intelligent people want to pretend it's a religious conviction. It's not my job to assuage your guilt; it's my job to tell the truth. Religion tells you that murder, adultery, and tons of other things merit the fires of Hell; physical sciences tell you other useful things; philosophy tells you how to think logically, and how to discern truth by reason. It was only the foolish who conspired to pretend that all these things had no harmony; it was other ideologues who decided that only the physical is real; we have gotten stupider, while vainly pretending we are "enlightened."

I don't fully have the right to apologize to Rebecca Hamilton that a great many Republicans outright denied her pro-life credentials and achievements because she comes from the other tribe, but I'll do it anyway. I love everything you write, Mrs. Hamilton. I love your honesty, your faith, your conviction, and your charity. I will pray that many more arise like you.

Some have said that they are hard on Republicans because there is still hope for us; you have a funny way of expressing your optimism! You have no right to write off the Democrats--though they deserve a large amount of disdain, so long as they persist at the highest levels in defending murder--or to write off the Republicans, whom you arrogantly scold as though no one here agrees with you. Before the age of Christian engagement on abortion, Republicans were its defenders! Before the Democrats largely became spineless, irreligious consequentialists, they were its steadfast opponents, and rightly so.

Archbishop Cupich recently spoke about a great many issues that ought to be of concern to us as Catholics. Because he also spoke on so many issues that could easily be identified with the political left, he drew swift ire from conservatives like Dr. Mirus, who pointed out that murder is in fact graver than theft, for example, and that it's highly possible to be concerned about a great many issues, and that to endeavor to possess an holistic approach is not to deny truth about any area of human life. It still does not entail concurrence with means or methods, at the level of prudential judgment. The fact that some who self-identify as conservatives or Republicans might take a facet of social doctrine and attempt to make it into a matter of prudential judgment does not relieve a liberal or non-conservative from making a real argument in favor of his means or methods. I agree with Dr. Sowell, in this respect: the average progressive has too long pretended he is the only one of good will and formed conscience. The existence--in theory, or in fact--of holes or blind spots in my social vision makes this no less infuriating.

Finally, it is my fervent hope perhaps most of all that the common good is acknowledged as real by those who style themselves as defenders of individual liberty. I also hope that those who style themselves as defenders of the weak and marginalized will apply that conviction to all without exception. Moreover, I hope that the common good is not forcibly re-defined as an odious collectivism. Let this be my one rhetorical flourish. I can recall when the Nation magazine published what would become the book "How We Survived Communism, And Even Laughed." Fears of government oppression are too numerous and actual to be so roundly mocked. This remains true if the most odious of socialisms is invoked to deny the legitimate exercise of political authority for the common good, or, to use the terms of our Declaration, the general welfare.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

I'm On Your Side

I may spout any number of political ideological heresies from this space, as is my right and duty. Yet I think it is important to say that I like Republicans; I think like them, and talk like them. I am them.

As Catholics wishing to adhere to all that the Church teaches, we may find ourselves at odds with deeply-held ideological commitments; if we do it well, we can articulate a bold, truly humanist conservative vision that will be compelling to the body politic; if we do it poorly, we alienate the very people we want to reach, and we unwittingly reinforce the piecemeal approach to ethics and political engagement that we abhor.

The very first rule of effective communication is to connect with the audience; dispose them to hear what you are saying. If a faithful Catholic is indeed compelled to question the philosophical basis for the broad economic vision of his political party, for example, he can do this more easily by frankly acknowledging the things the listening or reading audience finds compelling about that vision. In short, you don't persuade an audience by insulting them.

When a person makes a party identification, he's probably doing one of 2 things: he's indicating to members of his own tribe that he'd like to discuss something with them, or he's attempting to broaden his own appeal beyond the tribe, based on a shared commitment across the party identifications.

I think a person who doesn't connect with his audience, who appreciates nothing of their points of view, and who thinks ad hominem suffices for argument deserves a dwindling audience. I say this as someone who knows a thing or two about snark, to my great regret.

If I say to you, "Ayn Rand's vision of society does not comport with Catholic social doctrine" I'd better be able to say why. And frankly, I've read and appreciated enough of her to know why a reasonable person could pick her up and say, "I like this; I find this compelling!" If that makes you uncomfortable, you don't read enough. If you think insulting a person who likes Ayn Rand and exalting yourself as a better Christian is all you need to do, you probably write columns for the National Catholic Register, or (ironically) the Acton Institute. I read "Anthem" at least once a year. I've read parts of "Atlas Shrugged," and the last time I read "The Fountainhead," I was too young to remember it. In short, I don't think it makes you a bad person to read her books, and even to like them. The fact that she was a raving atheist who hated Christianity and C.S. Lewis (the nerve!) is actually immaterial to the merits or demerits of the case. If Joe Carter knows this, it sure doesn't show. She may well have been a vile person, but again, that doesn't really help us intellectually.

I think writing column after column about The Donald, and insulting the GOP primary electorate (most of which isn't paying attention) is simply pride, plain and simple. Somebody is either too proud of their own ability to receive the social doctrine, despite the ideological challenge it poses, or lazy, or both.

Personally, I'm just getting tired of gearing up, waiting to see if we get "Martin Luther at the pub" Mark Shea, or "Reasonably articulate, serviceable Catholic apologist" Mark Shea. If politics makes you this angry, don't write about it. Sheesh. 

I take the risk of blogging about him again, though it could be vanity on my part, because I think it's important to cultivate the best voices we can for the faith, and for political engagement. I don't think the Register is helping us right now. Maybe they really fear the "right-wing Catholic" charge they get from the left; I don't know. I only know that this song of, "I'm fiercely independent!" sounds like sneering to me.