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?