Thursday, November 09, 2006

Babies and bathwater

Via MOJ, a Commonweal post by Cathleen Kaveny listing framing methods used by conservative Catholics and other religious people that she hopes will go by the wayside.


1. A Manichean world view: it’s Good v. Evil, the forces of light v. the forces of darkness. And by the way, WE are GOOD.


Fair enough -- we could do with more self-examination.


2. A delight in demonizing the opposition: who could see anything good in the forces of darkness? How could the forces of darkness have any point worth considering whatsoever?


Also fair enough -- those who differ with us do so for what are good reasons that are typically rooted in compassion. We thing it's misguided compassion, but it will not be guided in the correct direction by us yelling about how evil they are, and by engaging them, we can make policies that work for all involved.


3. An inability to recognize hard questions, and to acknowledge good faith disagreement about difficult moral and political issues. To Catholic culture warriors, the question of stem-cell research, or the Terri Schiavo case, weren’t even hard questions. The very suggestion that they are hard questions proved your moral turpitude.


Eh, not so fast. Some questions aren't hard. It shouldn't be hard to know that theft is wrong. Or rape. Or, yes, wars of aggression and torture. For someone to suggest that these are hard questions suggests that some self-deception is going on.

And yes, it is hard for me to see how one can fail to recognize that destroyin one human life for another's benefit is wrong and something we shouldn't do. And that if all someone needs to continue to live is to be fed, we should continue to feed her. We were reminded in last week's Gospel how simple morality really is. Difficult, but simple. Pretending that it's complicated yes, is usually a sign of moral turpitude. Perhaps pointing this out isn't the best choice for an initial approach in engaging these people, but we shouldn't pretend it's not the case.


4. An ends-justifies-the-political-means mentality. If what it takes to rid the world of Saddam is prevarication on WMDs, so be it. If what it takes to save Terri Schiavo is to violate settled principles of federalism, so be it.


And now I'm officially off the bus.

End-means justification is perfectly fine so long as the means are not intrinsically immoral. I wouldn't normally rip off another person's sweater, but I might to administer life-saving CPR.

I can accept that lying or embellishing evidence of WMD's was and is immoral. Bearing false witness and all.

But "violat[ing] settled principles of federalism" is not intrinsically immoral. And it seems especially odd to see this implied in an article arguing for nuance. If adhering to settled principles of federalism means sitting on our hands while a woman is starving, screw federalism. If adhering to settled principles of federalism means botching a post-hurricane relief effort because things like that are really the states' responsibility, screw federalism!

Yes, I know -- federalism was more of a post-hoc excuse for the pathetic effort thatn a guiding principle for the governement's (non)-actions. But still, we all recognize that getting people out of a flooded city is a higher moral principle than federalism


5. An inability to see nuance, or to take into account anything but one moral principle at a time. Abortion is the taking of innocent human life. Nothing else needs to be said. Therefore it should always be illegal, even in cases of rape or incest. If you think the question of the woman’s consent to sex is at all relevant to the legal status of abortion, you’re the enemy.

In the paragraph above, Kaveny was suggesting that we sacrifice Terry Schiavo on the altar of federalism; now she's criticizing others for letting one moral principle wiegh to heavily?

Also, if I'm not mistaken, our own President Bush holds the position that Kaveny describes as that of the "enemy." And I thought he was the guy we were too attached to.

And what, exactly, is the moral principle that says that fetuses conceived by rape do not have a right to life?


6. A preference for the stick rather than the carrot – after all, you can’t fight a war with a carrot. Support marriage by banning gay marriage; don’t provide married couples with the social support and other resources they need to make their commitment stick. Be pro-life by banning abortion, not by voting for social services that will prevent unwanted pregnancies or help mothers and fathers make a long-term commitment to raise children.


Listen, I like things like the 95-10 initative. And banning abortion does not discharge our duty to babies conceived in difficult circumstances. But it is the necessary first step. Yes, first.

I know I'm displaying the characterisic lack of tolerance and recognition of nuance by even drawing this parallel, but if someone in the 1850's said that the best way to address the injustice of slavery is not to ban it, but to offer incentives and support to southern plantation owners so they could compete wihout access to slave labor, how seriously would you take his opposition to slavery. If you were a slave and had the ability to vote, would you vote for the candidate who proposed this solution (along with a commitment to never criminalize slavery), or the candidate who wanted to criminalize slavery?

Yes, there I go again, seeing things from only one side. But there is an injustice being done. And a prerequisite for effectively addressing it is legally recognizing it as an injustice.




I agree we could all do with a healthy dose of humility and compassion when we enter into debates. We should recognize that our adversaries are not neccesarily our enemies. But we shouldn't pretend not know what we know.
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