Friday, July 31, 2009
To readers and contributors of the Mirror of Justice, a blessed feast of Saint Ignatius of Loyola! May his company of Jesus be faithful to the vocation of the least Society of Jesus.
Saint Ignatius, pray for us! May Mary, the Mother of God, patroness of the least Society of Jesus and Mirror of Justice, pray for us!
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Inclusion of abortion in an official national healthcare plan is a communal imprimatur, similar to the imprimatur received for gay sex when gay marriage is approved. It does more than increase liberty; it says that nothing is significantly wrong with the act in question.
True tolerance, by contrast, takes no position in favor or against the act or relationship in question. It leaves others with full behavioral liberty to engage in the conduct, without endorsing what they do in any way. Gamblers may be left at liberty without affirming that what they are doing is a good thing. But the legal validation of gambling debts affirms that public policy supports them.
The great political problem for pluralism is that toleration alone may not satisfy the human heart. John Noonan (in A Private Choice) has reflected upon how slavery and abortion became polity-shattering to the degree that advocates for each cause escalated their demands from simple toleration to universal legal approval. Yet he also recognizes their difficulty in moderating those demands: “[I]n a moral question of this kind, turning on basic concepts of humanity,…you cannot be content with the practical toleration of your activities. You want, in a sense you need, actual acceptance, open approval,…the moral surrender of [your] critics.”
I learned the other day about a new group blog, run by a group of in-formation (not-yet-ordained) Jesuits, called "Whosoeverdesires". Check it out. Lots of interesting stuff. I also discovered that one of these young Jesuits has a blog of his own, called "Under a Chindolea". (Walker Percy fans -- and aren't we all Walker Percy fans -- might catch the reference.) Again, well worth reading.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Thanks for the info, Rick.
The reason for MOJ's high stickiness rating: Each time I visit MOJ, I remain for hours and hours, sometimes staring in disbelief, scratching my head at what I see, wondering what, if anything, to say in response. Often--if it's late at night--I fall asleep in front of the monitor. My wife will then have to come in, pick me up, carry me to our bedroom and gently lay me in our bed. All through the night, my computer is locked on MOJ, thereby increasing the stickiness rating of MOJ. Please, don't tell anyone!
It has been suggested -- at Slate, at Commonweal, and elsewhere -- that opposition to (or even, it seems, doubts about) the Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the Need for Abortion, and Supporting Parents Act makes one a "militant" (boo!) rather than a "pragmatist" (yay!). The Catholic blogger Blackadder (formerly of Vox Nova and now at American Catholic) expresses well the implausibility of this suggestion.
To be clear: I have said many times that, given all the givens, I would and do accept the inevitability of some "compromise" on abortion. For example, while I suspect that many of the "abortion reduction" proposals that are floated in the conversation are really just re-branded calls for increased social-welfare-spending programs that might not actually do much to reduce abortion and might have significant policy downsides, I would be more enthusiastic about a compromise proposal that including increases in such spending *if* the the pro-abortion-rights side were actually compromising. But -- and I realize I've harped on this point before, so apologies -- that side is, generally speaking, not giving anything up. Indeed, they are asking pro-lifers to agree that it is "compromise" to accept the roll-back of the gains they have secured.
What is happening, instead, is that many of us who are pro-life are being asked to accept a legal -- indeed, a constitutional -- regime in which citizens are disabled from meaningfully regulating (as opposed to financially disincentivizing) abortion, a regime whose premises are that unborn children are not in fact morally entitled to the protection of the laws and that those who think otherwise are required by the norms of good citizenship to cease trying to persuade, and a policy landscape in which public funds are being used not only to subsidize pro-abortion-rights activity (no, Mr. Saletan, not just contraception, but abortion-rights-advocacy, here and abroad) but abortions themselves.
To have doubts about the attractiveness of this faux-compromise is not to be a "radical", or a misguided "prophet." A real compromise -- one that actually reflected the views of the broad center of the American public -- would involve acceptance of reasonable regulations (and, in some cases, prohibition) of abortion; it would include the various (and popular) laws that structure and slow down the choice for abortion (waiting-periods, etc.); it would include agreement that public funds should not be used for elective abortions; it would include free-speech protections for (peaceful) pro-life expression and protest. It would also involve -- I am happy to agree -- increased social-welfare spending aimed at helping low-income women avoid the temptation to abortion and at helping low-income families raise and care for their children. (It would probably also involve various reasonable programs aimed at discouraging so-called unwanted pregnancies.) If Mr. Saletan were to endorse such a compromise, his scolding of pro-lifers might be warranted. At present, though, I don't think it is.
Now, one might say, "but why should pro-lifers insist on real compromise if the proposed faux-compromise still reduces the number of abortions?" A few (restatements of earlier) responses: First, overall, all things considered, the policy agenda of the current Administration and congressional majority cannot plausibly be regarded as one that will reduce abortions. Dramatic increases in the subsidization of an activity, combined with calls for the removal of all restrictions on that activity, are not well designed for reducing that activity. Next, the concern of pro-lifers is, but is not only, with the number of deaths (if it were, then calls for a 25 mph speed limit would have to be regarded as "pro life" moves). It is with a distorted constitutional and jurisprudential framework that excludes entirely from the protection of the law an entire class of human beings and that disrespects democracy by removing from the political arena (i.e., the arena of "dialogue" and "compromise") a question about the role of the law in expressing and protecting human dignity.
I'm ready for a pragmatic compromise, Mr. Saletan. No radicalism here. Debate and dialogue welcome. What about you?
UPDATE: Douglas Johnson's response to Saletan's essay is devastating. It is a must-read.
UPDATE: Saletan responds to me (and others) here.
According to uber-law-blogger Paul Caron, Mirror of Justice is the sixth (!) "stickiest" law blog; that is, our visitors spend, relatively speaking, much more time at our blog than do the visitors to most law blogs. I choose to chalk this up to our readers' well-developed attention spans and desire for intellectual engagement, rather than to the density or impenetrability of our bloggers' writing.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Here's a deftly written open letter to ESPN Magazine on the news that it is considering publishing an issue of "no clothes" pictures of athletes in an effort to one-up the Sports Illustrated swimsuits.
And here, by the same author, an open letter to possibly-returning quarterback Brett Favre: a letter of less relevance to Catholic social thought, although maybe of more interest to fans of the Vikings, Packers (Sisk!), or Bears (Berg).
Many of us very much want to be reasonable and realistic when it comes to difficult and divisive questions regarding the use of law to promote and protect moral goods. The perfect should not, this side of Heaven, be seen as the enemy of the good, compromise in politics and policy should not be regarded as unprincipled selling-out, etc. And, particularly for those of us in the academy, the appeal of "dialogue" and "debate" is undeniable.
In this (I think) clear-eyed and provocative essay at Public Discourse, Patrick Lee writes:
In his commencement address at the University of Notre Dame, President Obama suggested that he valued debate about the issue of abortion. He congratulated Notre Dame’s president, Father Jenkins, for his “courageous commitment to honest, thoughtful dialogue,” and spoke approvingly of “citizens of a vibrant and varied democracy” engaging in “vigorous debate.”
However, for "vigorous debate" to actually happen, Lee notes, "[the President's] own position must be clarified. The picture that emerges is not a flattering one."
Obama has chosen to fund abortion overseas, clearly favors funding abortions here, and has reversed the limitations on funding of embryo-destructive stem cell research Given these facts, it is fair to ask: what is his position on the beginning of human life and when human life has or acquires inherent dignity? What position on the beginning of human life could he possibly hold?
After considering six alternatives, Lee concludes:
So, which is it? Does Obama just not care whether what is killed in abortion and embryo-destructive research is a human person or not? If he does care, what does he think occurs in abortion or embryo-destructive research? Each of the positions that might justify his actions has insuperable logical and/or philosophical difficulties. It is time to have some of that vigorous debate Obama claims to favor.
Read the whole thing. And recall how often it has been charged, in recent years, that pro-lifers don't really believe what they say they believe about unborn children (because if they did, they would be engaging in armed revolution, killing abortionists, etc.). It seems fair to ask of the President, "given what he has actually done, and believes should be done, with respect to abortion, what must he actually believe about human dignity, equal justice, and so on?"
It has struck me as a shame that David Brooks's columns are not more often as good as yesterday's, "The Power of Posterity." Although Pope Benedict is not mentioned, the column reveals the author's (perhaps unconscious) appreciation for the fact that authentic human development and community are not easily separable from the embrace of children. (The Pope emphasized this connection in the recent encyclicals; many of those who regard encyclicals as occasions for cherry-picking snippets for use in public-policy debates missed it.) Here's a bit:
What would happen if a freak solar event sterilized the people on the half of the earth that happened to be facing the sun? . . .
Without posterity, there are no grand designs. There are no high ambitions. Politics becomes insignificant. Even words like justice lose meaning because everything gets reduced to the narrow qualities of the here and now.
If people knew that their nation, group and family were doomed to perish, they would build no lasting buildings. They would not strive to start new companies. They wouldn’t concern themselves with the preservation of the environment. They wouldn’t save or invest.
There would be a radical increase in individual autonomy. Not sacrificing for their own society’s children, people would themselves become children, basing their lives on pleasure and ease instead of meanings to be fulfilled. . . .
In previous postings, I have commented on the International Theological Commission's recent paper entitled "The Search for Universal Ethics: A New Look at the Natural Law." A while back I offered a synopsis of the text. While no official English translation exists yet, Joseph Bolin, a seminarian pursuing a doctorate in theology in Austria, has made available a fine English Translation which can be read here. I hope hat we'll be able to have some exchange of ideas on the ITC paper thanks to Joseph's great work! We are in his debt since his labor makes this important document available to a wider readership, and I wish to thank him personally for enabling the Mirror of Justice readership to have access to his translation.