Thursday, December 25, 2008

Not New But Relevant

I am reading a series of essays by James Hitchcock, about the Church in the 70s and 80s. For all that they were reactions to Vatican II (which took place during the 60s), they might have been written yesterday.

One essay about abortion, "Abortion and the Moral Revolution," is particularly interesting.

Hitchcock observes, " THe new orthodoxy (the new popular opinion) fits closely with the reality of class conflict, already discussed, in that this orthodoxy is essentially located in what has often been called the "new class" - those persons who regard themselves as enlightened and emancipated in their opinions and who are maximally receptive of new ideas. In essence these people believe that moral belief, although necessary to society, is also dangerous because of the passions it arouses. Publicly they espouse the idea of relativism and equal toleration of all opinions, in order to dampen possible outbreaks of moral passions of which they disapprove. In practice, however, they concede to themselves the sole right o have moral passions, the sole right to mount moral crusades. Moral passion is treated as a dangerous substance which must in effect be licensed."

As anyone who has ever expressed a non-PC opinion derived from a moral conviction knows, the writer is right on target here. This is particularly the case with abortion. But the writer goes on to discuss anti-abortion feelings and the political scene. This really struck home for me:

"Since the late 1960s there has been talk of a "conscience constituency": in American politics, meaning an element among voters which shuns traditional party loyalties and traditional considerations of economic self-interest in favor of political behavior based on the perceived moral importance of particular issues. These are issues - war, racism, poverty, ecology, the "Third World" - which ordinary politics either takes little interest in or seeks to avoid, precisely because they are emotional and divisive.

"The intense hatred which many "new politics" people have for the antiabortion movement stems form their feeling that the kind of people who are opposed to abortion, especially if they are demonstrably religious, have no right engaging in moral crusades. Such crusading is permissible only if directed toward subjects which have been certified as genuine issues of conscience. Conceiving themselves as authentic keepers of the public conscience, such people are rendered angry and frightened at the prospect of others - the wrong kind of people - claiming the authority of conscience for their own concerns.

"Those "single-issue" voters who have allowed their political loyalties to be guided solely by considerations involving, say, war or the Equal Rights Amendment, are commonly admired, within the "conscience constituency," for their purity, even if their single-mindedness is sometimes thought a bit short-sighted. Those who cast their ballots solely on the question of abortion, however, are accused of being dangerous fanatics and threats to the democratic system, the remedy for such a threat being a renewed sense of party loyalty, in which antiabortion voters would not hold politicians accountable for betraying them."

In this most recent election, I was pretty up-front about my inability to support Obama first and foremost because of his position on abortion. I had one very telling discussion with a man who, when questioned, agreed that late-term abortion was tantamount to murder. He agreed that if Obama supported it, he would have a problem with that. Even though Obama supported it verbally, and even though he promised to rescind the ban of partial-birth abortions as soon as he attained office, this man insisted that because Obama did not cast an actual vote (he politically voted "present" rather than go on record), he could not find Obama guilty of supporting murder.

Moreover, this man, and others, insisted that I was being dumb, irresponsible, and, as the article mentions, short-sighted by voting a single issue: abortion.

My answer? A respect for human life - a belief that human life is somehow more valuable than anything else on earth, and that it should always be protected - is central to all our other understanding of life, politics, culture, art - simply put, a valuing of human life is central to everything we do, are, stand for, and are likely to become. This is not to say that issues of war and ecology are not important - they are. But, particularly in the case of war, they are important for one reason: they are harmful to human life.

We might argue that our responsibility to manage the ecology transcends human life, and so it does. Still, absent human life, many of the most powerful destructive forces in the universe and on this planet - fires, volcanoes, tidal waves, comets, novas, and so on - would continue to kill, to change ecologies, and to punish innocent animal life, without our expert help.

But as to all the rest - I still maintain that if we truly respect human life above all, most of the depredations we so fear and loathe - murder, greed, theft, torture, war, and so on - would, if not disappear, be minimalized, without the need for political intervention.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Chicken? Or Egg?

It occurred to me a while ago that perhaps the reason there are so many Christ-like stories in world mythology is that we were designed to "recognize" that story - because it is the truth.

At Mass on Sunday another thought struck me - perhaps the odd fact that we must eat to survive is linked to our spiritual need to consume the body and blood of Christ. Why weren't we created to manufacture our food from the sunlight, air, and perhaps minerals from the soil the way plants do? Why this necessity to keep consuming plant and animal life? Many think it odd that Christians, Catholics in particular, "eat" their Savior. But maybe it's just all of a piece.

Interestingly, in Mere Christianity, which I am reading now (slowly - there is so much to think about!), C. S. Lewis points out that God did, indeed, choose to create us as creatures who must eat to survive, and must have sex to procreate. He might have made many other choices, but these are the ones He chose. That is simply the way it is.

So I can't help wondering if we (perhaps I should say, social and other scientists) persist in looking at things backwards: we don't discount the Christ story because it has been told in other cultures, but in fact we recognize the thread of human truth in it; we don't discount the Christian notion of Holy Communion as bizarre and superstitious but rather we see the perfect symmetry of our need to consume to live - both spiritually and physically. What other method might God have chosen in order to demonstrate to us our need for Him as the sustenance of our spiritual lives?