The National Catholic Review
John F. Kavanaugh
'The Iraq war is largely about oil.' --Alan Greenspan
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In my previous column (11/26), I recommended Francis Beckwiths book Defending Life for serious arguments in defense of human life at its earliest stage. Another powerful defense, more accessible and less technical, is forthcoming in Embryo, by Robert P. George and Christopher Tollefsen, to be published by Doubleday. This second book is particularly valuable for its critique of body-person dualism, a position that supposes that our personhood somehow enters our bodies when we start thinking and then leaves our bodies when our higher brain functions stopa key but false move in many arguments offered in defense of abortion and euthanasia.

Among the responses to my earlier column were complaints about my concentration on abortion. What about all the other life issues that deal with the already born? It seems the only thing that some pro-life people get passionate and judgmental about is embryonic life. Well, I agree with such complaints. We are very selective in applying our moral and religious convictions, as a recent media event displayed.

During the bizarre CNN/YouTube debate by Republican presidential hopefuls, a video participant held up a Bible to the camera and asked the candidates, Do you believe this book, all of it? Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas and a Baptist minister, gave the best answer. Rather than get all worked up over particular texts, he advised, like the figurative pluck out your eye, that we should, as Christians, first get the basics: love of God and love of neighbor. He then quoted Matthew 25: Whatsoever you do to the least of these, you do to me.

It was a stirring response. But would it be equally jarring if applied to some of his other responses, especially his heartfelt explanation of how pained he was to execute so many people when he was governor? Was it painful because he was thinking of Matthew 25? I was in prisonand you executed me? Or I was in prisonand you tortured me? Or I was a strangerand you locked me up and sent me away?

On this last point, about undocumented aliens, Huckabee and especially John McCain are much better than the other Republican or Democratic candidates (McCain is the only one in line with Gospel values on the matter of torture). But all of them, like so many other Americans who affirm the dignity of human life, are quite selective in the application of the principle. The pro-life Hadley Arkes, for example, writes in the journal First Things that he could bite his lip and vote for Giuliani, presumably for the traditional Republican themes: preserving the Bush tax cuts, seeking free-market solutions to problems such as medical care, and standing firm on the war in Iraq.

Tax cuts. Free-market medical care. War in Iraq. Interesting. Are these Gospel imperatives? Is there a pro-life concern for the least here? Or is it just American capitalism and power that make Giuliani palatable?

Tax cuts are primarily an appeal to greed. The sitting president has made clear his message: Who knows better how to spend your money than you? Forget the common good, forget the needs of the least, forget the fact that our military and infrastructure benefit the least the least.

Free market medical care. The great free market can exact a terrible price from the least. Consider those newborn babies around the world who do not even have clean water, much less food or health care. Think of our own country, its infant mortality rates, its millions uninsured and the threat that free market health care is to caregiving.

Finally, Arkes mentions the war in Iraq. Was invading Iraq a pro-life activity? What might we think of the million refugees, the hundred thousand dead (not by our hand, mind you, but because of the presidents actions), the thousands of our own dead and so many more tragically maimed and diminished? Where are the least in all of this?

And as long as Christians support a pre-emptive, unjustified war of choice, they are fatally compromised. The Ayn Rand disciple and oracle of economics, Alan Greenspan, blurted out in his recently published memoirs, I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil. He later tried to spin the truth (at the urging of our government?), but if this was indeed the reason for our Persian Gulf wars, it was an abominable reason, a disgrace. It is confounding to think that some Christians judge this to be of lesser moral importance than electing someone who merely offers pro-life rhetoric.

The American Catholic bishops remind us in Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship of the range of immoral actions and policies that confront a conscientious believer. But I hope this will not be misread as a fixation on unborn human life. If it is, this will, sadly, be seen as a CNN-Huckabee moment. Those who are concerned only about abortion will applaud. Others, concerned about pro-choice wars, executing criminals and tearing apart undocumented families, will see this as just another proof that the only thing we Catholics are concerned about is prenatal life.

We now have two fine books by Christians who are defending life and protecting the embryo. Where are the voices, the scholars, the theologians, the leaders who will make a courageous case for the born?

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

Comments

Marie Rehbein | 12/19/2007 - 12:30pm
Don't we all wish people would stop having abortions so that we could stop debating which of society's imperfections is most deserving of our attention? Given that we seem to get carried away with judging one another's attitudes toward the legality of abortion, I would like to offer a couple of stories. The first story: When we were discussing potential names for our third child, our three year old second child offered the name "backhoe loader with bucket attachment". However, after the baby was born and he could see it, when I offered to put "backhoe loader with bucket attachment" on the birth certificate, he strongly objected because he realized the difference between a person and something else of which he thought highly. The second story: Not long after abortion was legalized nationally, a woman came to talk to our public high school Social Studies Independent Research class about abortion. The topic was of interest because a hotel in town had become notorious as the site of several illegal abortions that had resulted in reproductive organ damage and one subsequent death. The woman's presentation had nothing whatsoever to do with the negatives of illegal abortion. Her point was that now that abortion was legal, it would be possible for people to have "full control" over their reproduction. She was proud to say that she had aborted her fourth pregnancy because a fourth child would have reduced the standard of living for her other children. Those of us who heard this presentation, were appalled by this woman's materialistic attitude. However, we continued to be appalled over the illegal abortions and concluded that it would be better if those determined to have abortions, even if they were not nice people, would not have their health and lives endangered. I think we would have found it interesting to have the man who had done the illegal abortions tell us about his understanding of the status of the unborn and of his life, which was reported to have been one of substance abuse funded by these illegal abortions. Considering the above, I have some practical questions for John F. Kavanaugh, S.J.: 1. What causes people to think of unborn life as comparable, or not, to born life? 2. If all of society is brought to the same page in understanding philosophically, theologically, or biologically, why an unborn person has an actual right to life--as opposed to only a right to a chance for being born--will it stop abortion given that born people have so much resentment over the trials of their lives? 3. If abortion is made illegal, what kind of intrusions will pregnant women (even with no intention to abort) have to endure to ensure that there is an actual reduction in the number of abortions, instead of only the number of legal abortions--or don't we care about that--and what will the penalties be for illegal abortion?
Marie Rehbein | 12/19/2007 - 12:27pm
Don't we all wish people would stop having abortions so that we could stop debating which of society's imperfections is most deserving of our attention? Given that we seem to get carried away with judging one another's attitudes toward the legality of abortion, I would like to offer a couple of stories. The first story: When we were discussing potential names for our third child, our three year old second child offered the name "backhoe loader with bucket attachment". However, after the baby was born and he could see it, when I offered to put "backhoe loader with bucket attachment" on the birth certificate, he strongly objected because he realized the difference between a person and something else of which he thought highly. The second story: Not long after abortion was legalized nationally, a woman came to talk to our public high school Social Studies Independent Research class about abortion. The topic was of interest because a hotel in town had become notorious as the site of several illegal abortions that had resulted in reproductive organ damage and one subsequent death. The woman's presentation had nothing whatsoever to do with the negatives of illegal abortion. Her point was that now that abortion was legal, it would be possible for people to have "full control" over their reproduction. She was proud to say that she had aborted her fourth pregnancy because a fourth child would have reduced the standard of living for her other children. We high school seniors were appalled by this woman's materialistic attitude. However, we continued to be appalled over the illegal abortions and concluded that it would be better if those determined to have abortions, even if they were not nice people, would not have their health and lives endangered. We envisioned that the unwanted, aborted offspring would agree with us. I think we would have found it interesting to have the man who had done the illegal abortions tell us about his understanding of the status of the unborn and of his life, which was reported to have been one of substance abuse funded by these illegal abortions. Considering the above, I have some practical questions for John F. Kavanaugh, S.J.: 1. What causes people to think of unborn life as comparable, or not, to born life? 2. If all of society is brought to the same page in a philosophical, theological, or biological understanding why an unborn person has an actual right to life--as opposed to only a right to a chance for being born--will it stop abortion given how much people resent the trials of their lives? 3. If abortion is made illegal, what kind of intrusions will pregnant women (even with no intention to abort) have to endure to ensure that there is an actual reduction in the number of abortions, instead of only the number of legal abortions--or don't we care about that?--and what will the penalties be for illegal abortion?
Elaine Tannesen | 12/18/2007 - 2:54pm
Finally, someone in the church has addressed our real “culture of death”. We are repeatedly directed by our bishops to give the abortion issue priority in political decisions. Sadly, after 25 years of support, I withdrew from the National Right to Life organization. I feel that the good people who have worked so hard to end abortion have been duped by the neo-cons of the Republican Party. A vote for Bush did not save one baby’s life but brought us a pre-emptive war, torture, rendition and the gutting of our Bill of Rights. As the rich get obscenely richer, the middle class and poor in this country struggle while our tax money is poured into our war machine. Is this the preferential option for the poor? As a 60 year old woman I have heard the stories of many who have chosen abortion. Abortion is a failure of an entire community, a failure of a community to communicate the value of each human life and to provide the means to sustain this life with dignity. A community that does not value life outside the womb will not value it inside the womb. Words are cheap but it is “by their fruits you will know them”. What are the fruits of many of these politicians that call themselves “pro-life”? Are they peace and justice, care for the least of us? I think not. Abortions will not end until all human life is valued, until the dark river of our obsession with vengeance and greed flows into healing dialogue and reconciliation. The words “pro-life” are misleading and hypocritical unless they embrace all of life, unborn and born, inside and outside our borders. Until we value all of life we will remain in this “culture of death” even though many call themselves Christians.
ANN ODONOGHUE | 12/17/2007 - 1:01am
I couldn't agree less with Dr. Gray. Fr. Kavanaugh always writes with passion and clarity and I've yet to read anything of his that wasn't factual. I greatly enjoy both his books and his columns; always insightful and certainly to this reader, a solid reinforcement of my values in this unstable world of ours.
MARIAN GRAY | 12/14/2007 - 9:31pm
I fail to see where am attempt by a religious brother, priest or nun while having good intentions, attempts to interpret the gospels with political snippets and political phrases out of context and believe that you have stated something profound. I find this trying to decipher a war or economic policy by a using quip from a debate or news program is pure nonsense at best and stupid muttering at worse. It isn’t interesting, factual, amusing, or more than a waste of the writer and readers time.

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