Monday, October 30, 2006
Notre Dame law prof Julian Velasco responds to my question about where to find the natural law if the dictates of our consciences tell us that it's morally permissible to remove an embryo when the mother's life is at stake:
It may well be true that "the vast majority of persons of faith who do value life, including pre-born life, would choose my course of action on this issue." But I suppose that it would also be true that the vast majority of person of faith who do value marriage, including chastity, would choose to engage in premarital sex. It is probably also true that, in many times and places, the vast majority of people of faith who did value life, including the lives of slaves, would also choose to have slaves. Consciences can be corrupted by culture. The "everybody would do it" defense, assuming its accuracy, may be a mitigating circumstance reducing the degree of an actor's culpability, but it has no bearing on the objective morality of the issue.
I think the problem is one of presumption. It's not so much that people believe that what they are doing is perfectly good in God's eyes, but rather that they feel comfortable that a loving and understanding God will forgive the offense. ("After all, I would forgive this, and God is much more forgiving than I am, so surely He will forgive it.") And well He might; but the issue is whether there is an offense, not whether there will be forgiveness.
Presumption becomes especially problematic when one moves from the truly difficult circumstance, e.g., an ectopic pregnancy, to the more general one, e.g., an unwanted pregnancy. If it is wrong to move from "abortion is wrong" to "no abortions, even in ectopic pregnancies," it is far more wrong to move from "abortion may be permissible in extreme circumstances" to "abortion may be permissible more generally."
I agree with Julian that Americans are easy prey for the "cheap grace" mindset. But at least on the question of the permissible means of ending an ectopic pregnancy, I think the issue is not whether I will be forgiven, but how I've given offense in the first place. Given the difficulty of articulating the moral claim at issue (you must remove the tube, not just the embryo) in a way that resonates with our core convictions, to what else do we appeal? This gets back to Steve's earlier observation that "If natural law is written on our hearts, the Catholic position should be capable of defense without resort to authority."