the quick & the dead
Posted by: Diogenes - Jul. 11, 2008 11:16 PM ET USA
Amherst Professor Hardley Arkes is Jewish. Yet he has a sounder grasp of Church teaching on life issues than all but a few Catholics. In a recent posting at The Catholic Thing, he registers his bewilderment at the number of Catholics capable of disregarding Barack Obama's pro-abortion stance:
Some of our readers know that I [Arkes] was associated with the drafting of the "most modest first step of all on abortion," the bill to preserve the life of the child who survived an abortion. It was called, in that awful legislative style, the Born-Alive Infants' Protection Act. When it finally passed the Congress in 2002, not a single Democrat in Congress voted in opposition. But Barack Obama, as a Senator in Illinois, actually led the opposition to the comparable measure in that state, and as the chairman of a legislative committee managed to kill it. How does one explain then this close division among Catholics, with a tilt actually in his favor? And what is the worse account: that most Catholics in the country simply do not know about his radical, pro-abortion position, or that American Catholics by now have heard about Obama's position, and they don't especially care?
Perhaps most U.S. Catholics feel some moral discomfort with abortion-on-demand, but have been firehosed so thoroughly by the Seamless Garment treatment (according to which an erroneous position on infanticide, e.g., is neutralized by a liberal position on housing credits) that they are incapable of assigning a meaningful priority to moral issues in the political realm. Arkes acutely points out that even conceding the willingness to reduce abortions is senseless apart from a publicly reasoned conviction that abortion is wrong. Says Arkes:
And the candidate who offers us this "concession": Why should we even trust him to seek a reduction in abortions when he could not possibly share with us any ground of principle to explain why these human lives command our respect and our obligation to protect them?
A liberal might rejoin that abortions should be reduced on the same ground that dental extractions should be reduced: they're vexing, expensive, and painful, and on those grounds to be avoided where avoidable. Every tooth a wanted tooth. But as Arkes argues, having decided to discount arbitrarily the value of human life in one assaying of goods, you can't pretend to be balancing benefits that include goods for human beings whose lives are not thus disvalued. That would be like declaring that Hungarians, in the eyes of the law, are puppies, whence their masters are free to put them down humanely. The term "humane," in such context, attaches to the masters, not to the Hungarians.
During the debate between Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, Douglas suggested the diversity of goods at work in our national life: Maine had oysters, Indiana had cranberries, and some of the states used slave labor. Are we being asked now to adopt a similar state of mind, in which the killing of the innocent, on a massive scale, is regarded as just one of several "goods" that our people are equally free to choose, one no better in principle than the others?
It makes no sense to coerce one's fellow citizens to provide education and health care for a child whom you cannot legally protect from homicide. Most Catholic Obama-partisans have not grappled with the abortion problem directly and have no relish to do so; rather they talk more loudly about other issues in the hope that the abortion business will fade into the background by November. I believe it was SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich who asked, What better seamless garment than a body bag?