The National Catholic Review
John F. Kavanaugh
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In this election year, two questions will guide my deliberation: What evidence is being ignored when people make political or economic claims? And what questions are not being asked about social and moral issues?

Making political judgments, like making moral judgments, ideally approximates the procedures of a courtroom. In fact, when we exercise our conscience, which is our practical moral judgment, we are acting as a judge. And like any good judge, if we are going to be able to render a judgment, we must have evidence. Otherwise our judgments are groundless and, in a worst case scenario, dangerous.

Hearsay is not enough. Interpreta-tions are tendentiously inadequate. Unexamined premises nullify arguments. Evidence that has been tampered with is disqualified. And yet these tactics are the stuff of the political and media discourse that seems to rule the day.

We have already witnessed previews of the diatribes that will be launched against President Obama: “He hates America.” “He has a hatred for white people.” “He hates capitalism.” Could someone please name the source that justifies such assertions? At best these are perverted interpretations. At worst, they are vile slanders. We will no doubt hear again the claim that Obama “goes around apologizing for America.” Well, even if you grant the questionable proposition that calling us an “imperfect union” or admitting that our country has “made mistakes” is making “apologies,” it is a gross distortion of Obama’s public words and actions.

The other side knows how to distort evidence as well. Now that former Senator Rick Santorum seems to be surging as the possible Republican nominee, look for (if it has not happened by the time this column appears) liberals to mount an orchestrated ridicule of his approach to human sexuality and his antipathy toward abortion. If you have not heard it already, you will soon hear that Santorum has outrageously compared homosexual acts to bestiality or polygamy. True, he did utter the words in the same sentence, but if you are able to find an unedited video of his talk, you will see that he was asking for a principle, rather than making a comparison.

The question is this: if autonomy is the supreme principle in matters of sexual attraction and love, then on what grounds do we deny marriage between five consenting adults or someone who wants to marry a domesticated pet? We may not like the examples or analogy, but has anyone offered an answer to his question? Similarly, in his opposition to partial birth abortion, Santorum has been criticized for his graphic description of the procedure. But why? Must such evidence be suppressed?

A telling moment occurred recently during a Republican debate, when Ron Paul was questioned about his “non-intervention” policy. To a cascade of disdain and hoots, he invoked the golden rule. Perhaps the idea of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you should be applied to nations, he suggested. The largely Christian audience in this largely Christian country was outraged. How dare he wonder whether Jesus’ summation of the law and the prophets be applied to contemporary life? Such questions must never be asked.

And yet, the unasked questions are often just a request for principles and evidence. I for one would love to hear a few more of them, including a few like these:

If Obama ever succeeded in bringing the graduated tax rates back to where they were in the time of Ronald Reagan, would that mean Reagan was a socialist bent on punishing the rich?

How does the refusal to pay for someone’s abortion deny the rights of that person?

If the government, with our taxes, has never created a job, what paid for the interstate highway system, our standing armed forces and our stellar politicians?

If you want no restraints on a woman’s right to abortion, do you support abortion for sex selection?

If you wish to criminalize abortion, should people who play a role in one be imprisoned?

If torture or the killing of the innocent is justified for national security, does that principle apply to other nations and political groups?

Oops. There’s that golden rule again. Better not to have asked the question.

John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., is a professor of philosophy at Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Mo.

Comments

Marie Rehbein | 3/4/2012 - 6:23pm
Let's say that Rick Santorum was not rhetorically equating bestiality with homosexuality, but asking for clarification of principle even though he is a trained lawyer.  Would not the principle behind marriage generally become questionable?  Why should anyone marry?  My answer has always been that marriage exists to keep track of naturally occuring offspring - who are their genetic relatives, who has an obligation to feed, clothe, house, and educate them, who gets to inherit property, titles, authority, etc. 

However, many people are given the Church's and the government's blessing who do not have the potential to produce naturally occuring offspring and everyone knows it, and because of that, it is clear that there are additional factors being taken into consideration.  The primary factor in our age seems to be that the couple is in love. 

Now it might seem quaint to establish law based on validating a couple's feelings of being in love, but that is what we do.  Is it possible for a man to be in love with his dog?  Sure.  But the dog, while loyal, is probably not even capable of being in love even within its own species.  Is it possible for a man to be in love with a woman even though he is already married to another woman?  Sure.  But that other woman, while she might be in love with the man, is surely not in love with his other wife or wives.  Reciprocity counts.

We cannot test whether people asking to marry are properly in love, and so we cannot objectively refute a quintet's claim that they wish to marry for love, but we can say that for the sake of social order, we will only permit monogamy.  In fact, the establishment of monogamy as our standard has a long standing.  In contrast, the laws have never excluded same sex couples from monogamous marriage, though obviously it probably seemed no more necessary than excluding man-beast combinations.

Now is the time that we can make it clear that ours is a monogamous human society, though not an exclusively heterosexual one, the principle being one of respect for the human need to find a life partner.  And, while we're at it, we can make clear that while we permit a variety of individuals and institutions to perform marriage ceremonies, we do not ever require any to do so.

As a final point, I believe Father Kavanaugh gives Rick Santorum too much credit.
ROBERT OCONNELL | 3/2/2012 - 2:25pm
I spend a lot of time with critics of President Obama.  I have no recollection of hearing any say,  “He hates America.” “He has a hatred for white people.” “He hates capitalism.”  Would the assertion that such utterances are made be admissible in a court, especially without any foundation as to who makes those comments, when did they do so, etc? 

In the spirit of the golden rule, we might remember that the Reagan administration's Tax Law of 1986 consolidated tax brackets from fifteen levels of income to four levels of income, lowering the top rate from 50% to 28% while increasing the bottom rate  from 11% to 15%. Many lower level tax brackets were consolidated, freeing many people from any federal income tax obligation  - e.g., making the upper income level of the bottom rate $29,750 a year for those who filed joint returns as married people, as opposed to the prior tax starting with a $5,720 per year income.  Maybe Reagan had some socialist DNA!
Beth Cioffoletti | 3/2/2012 - 10:54am
One more thing that I wanted to add to that list of what is feeding the frenzy is the insecurity and panic within our own souls.
Beth Cioffoletti | 3/2/2012 - 9:14am
What you're suggesting, Fr. Kavanaugh, is that we all slow down and calmly consider what is being said (in its context), rather than jumping into the collective passion of reacting.  But we're all in war mode, and something is feeding this frenzy.  The media?  The 24/7 TV news and the non-stop blogs?

We definitely need to take a chill pill, but could we also need silent 10 day retreats?  

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