Friday, May 28, 2004
I'm generally a proponent of a "marketplace of ideas" approach when it comes to the moral shaping of a secular, pluralist society. That is, we should hesitate before bringing the trump of state power to bear on contested visions of the good, instead encouraging, by word and example, our fellow citizens to cultivate moral virtues. This approach presumes, however, that modern Americans are open to outside moral influence. I'm wondering if that even holds true for Catholics anymore. A just-released survey shows that 66 percent of American Catholics say the bishops should not publicly pressure Catholic lawmakers on the abortion issue, and a whopping 87 percent say the bishops' comments on abortion would have no influence on their ultimate voting decision. (When non-Catholics are included, the latter response falls to 85%, so I guess the bishops carry more authority among non-Catholics these days!)
From teaching ethics to law students, I know that the sin of all sins today is to purport to sit in judgment of someone else, so I could have guessed that the poll numbers would be trending in the direction of our unique brand of American hyper-individualism on all things moral, but the numbers themselves are still surprising.