Saturday, December 10, 2011

Waterboarding and Torture

Introduction

Certain Catholic bloggers have been either challenging or annoying the internet (depending on your views) as of late with the discussion of waterboarding and Republican candidates for President.  The issue of contention in these articles and comments are varied.  The problem I have however with the whole debate is the fact that neither side really makes a reasoned argument.

Basically put, the argument is as follows:

  1. Waterboarding is torture.
  2. Torture is condemned by the Church
  3. Therefore Waterboarding is condemned.

However those who disagree generally reject point #1, and that is the valid point of attack.  If the premise is false, then the argument collapses.

However, instead of establishing the truth or falsehood of the claim, people on both sides seem to beg the question.  They assume that it is torture or it isn't and the entire debate is spent rebutting those who disagree, whether candidate or blogger or person who comments on the blog.  The problem is, if the argument is assumed proven without proving it, the whole argument goes nowhere.

So my thought is, why not start at the beginning and look at the whole issue to begin with and see where exploration leads us?

Preliminary Thoughts Before Beginning

I want to make clear at this point that while I attempt to use logic and reason and the teaching of the Church, I do not claim magisterial authority for my conclusions.  If the Church ever makes a formal statement which contradicts what I reason here, I will submit to the decision of the Church and not claim she is in error.

The point of this article is to attempt to explore the issue which is under such dispute and perhaps help people like myself who are morally troubled by waterboarding but want to understand the teaching of the Church on the matter.

I intend to look at this in two parts.  In the first part, the objective definitions.  In the second part, what we must consider in light of what we know and what is ambiguous.

Undisputable: The Catholic Church Condemns Torture

First, we need to recognize that it is not even an issue for debate that the Catholic Church condemns torture as intrinsically evil (always wrong regardless of circumstances).  The Catholic who decides that waterboarding is torture but thinks it is justified anyway holds a position in opposition to Church teaching.  Therefore, the person who wants to justify waterboarding must establish that it is not torture.

PART I: OBJECTIVE DEFINITIONS

Definition of Torture

Socrates always began by defining his terms, rather than by just discussing the right and wrong of an issue.  This is a wise thing to do, because all too often people use the same word and mean different things.  The result is talking past each other with no progress.  We need to understand what a thing is before we can get around to classifying it.

So let's begin with the Oxford English Dictionary and (since this is a Catholic blog) augment it with definitions from Church decrees.

The Concise OED defines torture as, the action or practice of inflicting severe pain as a punishment or a forcible means of persuasion.  Such a definition makes a good start, but there is a potential issue of equivocation here and that is over "pain."  Is pain to be understood as physical pain only?  Or are issues such as psychological pain (the infliction of fear etc.) also considered to be torture?  Without clearing this up, any dispute on the issue is doomed to failure.

The United Nations defines Torture as:

"any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions."

Under such a definition, it is not any pain and suffering which is incidental to lawful actions (people suffer for being in prison but that isn't automatically torture) but severe pain and suffering which is intentionally inflicted.

To increase our understanding from the Catholic perspective, the Catechism of the Catholic Church #2297 further expands the definition.  It is false to limit torture to physical pain, as it declares:

Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.

So, now we have physical and moral violence.  Blessed John Paul II, in Veritatis Splendor #80 also includes mental torture as equal to physical torture.  From this, we seem to reach a definition of torture we can use:

the action or practice of using physical, mental or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred.

What seems to follow from all of this are the following:

  1. Motive doesn't matter.  Blessed John Paul II spoke of torture as intrinsically evil – which means there can be no motive which can justify the use of it to claim it is good.
  2. It is not limited to physical pain.  If I use psychological means to terrorize a person, it is just as much torture as using the rack.
  3. However the pain is deliberately inflicted and is considered severe as opposed to accidental pain or mild.

I think we do have some problems of ambiguity here unfortunately which will come clear as we discuss waterboarding, and that is the question of where does the pain (physical, mental or moral) become "severe" and where does it become "deliberate."

Definition of Waterboarding

This definition is harder because it is an emotionally charged word.  Ask an opponent to define it and you get something that sounds like it comes straight out of the propagandistic distortions of the Spanish Inquisition.  Ask someone who favors the use in interrogations and it sounds like a mild inconvenience.  So what we need to do is find a definition which is as free from propaganda as we can manage.

There are almost no sources out there which seem to be free of bias one way or another, and that is a problem when we want to understand what it is before classifying it as torture or not-torture.

Unfortunately many definitions beg the question by automatically calling it torture or by denying it is torture when that is the issue under investigation.  This one (from duhaime.org's legal dictionary) seems to come the closest to balanced to use as a starting point:

A criminal investigation interrogation technique whereby a person suspected of having or withholding relevant information is blindfolded and bound on their back, sometimes with the face covered with porous or nonporous material, and subjected to water poured over their mouth and nose such as to simulate drowning and to thus, under duress, elicit information.

So the technique uses "duress."  Duress is defined (Concise OED) as:

noun threats, violence, etc. used to coerce a person into doing something.
Law constraint illegally exercised to force someone to perform an act.

That sounds deeply troubling right here.  Even if not torture, it is at least using coercion to gain information.  Then there is also the issue of simulated drowning which makes use of fear and/or discomfort.  Again, depending on whom you ask it is either an intense use of fear or else is not intense enough to qualify as "torture."

Who Defines?

And that's the problem.  We don't have any objective means of determining whether this use of discomfort meets the criteria of "severe."  A conservative can point to a liberal account and accuse them of bias and propaganda.  A liberal can do the same of a conservative account.  Both sides seem more focused on pushing their view than establishing the truth objectively.

It does no good to say "most nations think it is torture."  That's an argument from numbers (a logical fallacy).  Most nations seem to think abortion is right for example.  So regardless of what people think, it is important to find an authoritative source to settle the disagreements

The Church can authoritatively define the issue here of course (though only Catholics recognize this truth), but as deeply as I search, I find myself unable to find a definitive Church statement that can settle the issue one way or the other.

PART II: WHAT WE MUST CONSIDER IN LIGHT OF WHAT WE KNOW

Now, does that mean that since we do not have a definitive statement governments are free to use waterboarding if they choose?

I absolutely reject that notion.  This is the "Argument from Ignorance" fallacy.  Since the Catholic Church understands that it is only when ignorance is invincible (that is, impossible to learn the truth) that it is not sinful, we are certainly obligated to search to the best of our reasoning what the truth is.

Making Use of the Four-Square

I think here the use of the Four Square in a way similar to the way Dr. Peter Kreeft has done in terms of abortion is useful here.  We can have two sets of either-or questions to create four possibilities.

First, Is Waterboarding Torture?  It either is, or it isn't.

Second, do we know this?

This gives us four possible answers:

  1. It is torture and we know this.
  2. it is not torture and we know this.
  3. It is torture and we do not know this.
  4. It is not torture and we do not know this.

The ramifications of these four possibilities are:

In three cases it would be wrong.  In the 4th might be wrong for other reasons

In cases 1, 3 and 4 we would be in the wrong to make use of waterboarding.  However, since an action can be wrong even if it is not torture, case #2 does not mean waterboarding is "right."

In case #1, waterboarding must be condemned as torture.  There is no way around it.

In case #2, waterboarding is not torture, but that does not mean it is automatically right.  It merely means the debate about it being right or wrong is a topic other than torture.

In case #3, we are doing wrong and if our ignorance is vincible, we are condemned for not looking into the issue enough.

In case #4, we are reckless in acting without knowing the truth.

With cases #3 and 4, Dr. Kreeft has used a good example with a hunter seeing movement in the bushes.  Does he fire before determining what causes the movement?  If he does and he kills another person, he is guilty of manslaughter at the least.  If not, he was reckless and merely got lucky.

So, in three out of the four cases the accepting of waterboarding would be wrong.  The fourth would merely shift the focus of the debate.

Here is where the reader, whether Catholic or a non-Catholic person of good will must consider well.  If you consider waterboarding to be acceptable, you will need to be able to answer for your decision before God.

Conclusion: Where I Personally Stand

I want to make clear that while I believe my opinions below reasonably follows the Church teaching, I don't want people to think I am equating my personal belief with Magisterial teaching.  I accept the Church as mother and teacher and if she should decide that I err, I would accept her teaching with obedience, grateful that she has made clear the issues that I find difficult to understand.

However, this is the conclusion I draw which my conscience tells me I must follow and it is a conclusion which I believe safely fits within the teaching of the Catholic faith.  Because it is an issue of conscience, I believe it would be wrong for me to go against this.

With this out of the way, I think waterboarding is torture and therefore something Catholics should not support.  Because it seems to make use of fear and discomfort, because there is the risk of injury (physical or mental) or death I believe that it meets the criteria of "severe pain or suffering."

This has ramifications.  If a candidate supports the use of waterboarding, it means that I must not support such a candidate except in the case where there is a greater evil to be opposed.

I do believe the issue of abortion is an issue of greater evil of course.  The torture of a thousand persons a year is a grave evil to be sure, but the sanctioned murder of a million unborn children a year is an even greater evil.

So, when it comes to choosing between two pro life candidates, the one who opposes waterboarding is to be preferred over the candidate who supports waterboarding.  However, if it comes to choosing between a candidate who favors abortion and opposes waterboarding and a candidate who opposes abortion and favors waterboarding, the first candidate is the greater evil and must be opposed.

However, in such a case, if the second candidate is elected, we must oppose any attempts to implement or further implement that grave evil.  We cannot be silent when it comes to an intrinsic evil.  I believe there would be a proportionate reason to vote for such a person to block a pro-abortion politician from becoming President, but we would have to recognize that such a vote would have to recognize that abortion is a greater evil and not that waterboarding is "not evil."

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Propaganda and Lies: The Accusation that We View Homosexuality Like Pedophilia

Introduction to the Category

There is a war against the Christian faith in general, and against the Catholic Church in particular.  In the eyes of those who consider us enemies, we are a foe who must be opposed and isolated, if not eliminated.  These foes employ differing methods of attack and different tools, sometimes spiritual, sometimes physical.  One tool constantly employed in the West against us is the tool of propaganda.

The propaganda used is to make us seem hateful people seeking to harm who will not accept our views.  We are accused of trying to force our views on others.  Many labels are applied to us: Racist, sexist, homophobic, small minded, bigoted etc.  We are also called the antichrist, anti-Bible, Works alone, worshippers of Mary and other labels.

However we reject these labels as false and having nothing to do with our beliefs.  Those who hate us tend to refuse to ask whether the charges are true, and merely repeat them as a mantra that seems irrational to question.

It reminds me of a biography (Soldat) of a German officer (Siegfried Knappe) who was a Russian prisoner after WWII.  He describes some of the attempts of the Russians to instill a sense of anti-Americanism in the prisoners.  So they were constantly bombarded with slogans that "Americans were for war, Russia was for peace."  Knappe reports that even there was no evidence for it, a person questioning it was often viewed as irrational by other prisoners.

This is often the case today.  People are told we are people filled with hatred and error to the extent that people will think we are lying when we try to explain that this propaganda is false and try to explain what we truly do believe.

Articles in the Propaganda and Lies category are intended to deal with gross misrepresentations of what we believe done with the intent of discrediting us when we teach the truth of Christ.

Introduction

Homosexuality is a controversial topic in the West.  This is why I feel obligated to deal with it, though I would rather deal with other subjects.  In the West today, it is seen as a sexual preference just as valid as heterosexuality, and those who dare question that assumption are viewed as irrational or as suffering from "homophobia."

Christian values, once respected, are now treated as evidence of bigotry.  There are angry people out there who accuse us of being responsible for those thugs out there who attack homosexuals because of what they are.  They consider our message inflammatory and inciting acts of violence.  If we did not claim homosexuality is wrong, the argument goes, people would not perform acts of violence against them.  It doesn't matter that the Church commands that persons with homosexual tendencies must still be treated as persons.  Because some thugs do violence, we must be to blame.

Such people fail to distinguish between different groups of course.  The Westboro Baptist Church and the Catholic Church are thought to share the same hatred for persons with homosexual inclinations.  It is a lie of course, but the charge remains unquestioned.  What we as Catholics believe is often grossly misrepresented to make us seem hate-filled.

The Propaganda: Accusing us of Believing Homosexuality is the Same as Pedophilia

One common inflammatory bit of propaganda is the accusation that we see homosexuality as no different than pedophilia or bestiality.  Because we cannot distinguish between these things, it is obvious we must be blinded by hatred.

This is a gross distortion of the truth when it comes to this issue, though I don't doubt that some Christians through either a poor choice of words or a lack of proper understanding of the Christian faith do express it this way.

Defining Reductio ad absurdum

Actually, the truth behind the propaganda is that this is a reductio ad absurdum (reduction to absurdity) and not an allegation.

Now a reductio ad absurdum is a logical tool which exposes the flaws in an argument.  It works this way.  It takes Position [A] which is put forward as a justification for behavior.  The person challenging [A] brings up the point that if [A] is true, then situation [B] must also be true.  But since [B] is either absurd or offensive, we can't accept [A] as a valid position.

A Look at the Real Argument

Now in this case, what we have is an argument that homosexual inclinations exist, and it is unjust to expect people not to act on them.  It is considered a sexual inclination no different than heterosexual inclinations.  This will be our Position [A].

This is where the reductio ad absurdum comes into play.  A person looking at this argument can validly point out, "Ah, but pedophilia, zoophilia and necrophilia are also sexual inclinations.  If we accept that because homosexuality is an inclination and it is unjust to prevent people from expressing that inclination, we can also apply the same argument to pedophilia, zoophilia and necrophilia."

Note this does not say that homosexuality is no different than pedophilia, zoophilia and necrophilia.  It merely shows that the "inclination" argument justifies far more than just homosexuality.  Since there are natural and unnatural inclinations, the person who wants to justify the homosexual inclination as natural needs to demonstrate why the homosexual inclination is natural.

In other words, they need to prove the inclination is natural and morally acceptable, and not merely assume it is.

Defining Red Herring

The Red Herring fallacy introduces a new tangent unrelated to the original issue under dispute.  It is done to derail the original argument and lead those arguing to a different topic.  We need to be aware of the common Red Herring which will be often used when we explain the above reductio ad absurdum.

The Red Herring of the "Consenting Adults" Defense

At this time, some will argue that since homosexuality involves consenting couples while pedophilia, zoophilia and necrophilia do not.  Therefore the comparison is wrong.

This is a Red Herring fallacy.  The issue being discussed is not consent, but whether or not the inclination is natural.  Pedophiles, necrophiles and zoophiles can never act on their inclinations except in their fantasies – but most people would recognize that the existence of those tendencies are unnatural whether they are acted on or not.

Actually, the "consenting adults" argument merely deals with the issue of whether an act is a crime, not whether it is a morally acceptable act.  Adultery between consenting adults may not be illegal, but most people would consider it morally wrong.

So to claim that homosexuality involves consenting adults while pedophilia, zoophilia and necrophilia merely says such an act is not a criminal act and says nothing about whether it is a moral act.

Conclusion

It should be clear at this point that the reductio ad absurdum used to refute a defense of homosexuality is not an act of homophobia seeking to equate homosexuality with pedophilia, zoophilia and necrophilia.  Rather it points out the defense is flawed and justifies a lot more than the person defending homosexuality would want, therefore the defense must be abandoned as failing to justify homosexuality.

The person of good will should recognize that even if they disagree with the Catholic Church over the issue of homosexuality, it should be clear that the attack on us that we are homophobic and think there is no difference between homosexuality and pedophilia is a gross distortion used as propaganda to demonize us.

To continue to repeat the "Christians believe homosexuality = pedophilia" propaganda is to speak falsely about us.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

TFTD: Hypocritical Champions of 'Tolerance.'

Introduction

A friend brought to my attention the campaign being used by certain homosexual activists to attach the name of Rick Santorum to a rather repugnant substance.  This article was conceived while reflecting on the utter hypocrisy of the action from people who claim to champion "tolerance."

The Scenario

Case #1: Homosexual activists try to stamp out the teenage use of "That's so gay!" (used as an equivalent of "that's bad") as an intolerant statement.

Case #2: Homosexual activists seek to promote the term "Santorum" as a neologism involving some pretty disgusting things as revenge for Rick Santorum speaking out against homosexual acts as a moral wrong.  They are so successful that the #1 and #2 Google hits for "Santorum" [at the time of this writing] involve this repugnant action, and it is not until the #3 hit that we are directed to any entry about Rick Santorum himself (the Wikipedia entry).

It is an interesting contrast.  In the first case, people are seeking to eliminate a pejorative meaning to a word commonly associated with homosexuality.   In the second case, the same people are seeking to create a pejorative meaning for a name belonging for a man they despise.

Now, if I were to campaign to make a pejorative meaning to "homosexual" (such as, "Oh man, I stepped in some homosexual… it's all over my shoes!"), I have no doubt that this action would be widely denounced (assuming anyone actually reads the site) as hateful.

So why is it that such people who campaign against "That's so gay" as being intolerant also make use of intolerance when it suits them?

Definitions

These people certainly do not practice what they preach.  If they did, they would recognize that, if it is wrong to give the term "Gay" a negative term, then it reasonably follows that it is wrong to give other terms a negative connotation.

Given that the term 'Tolerate' means:

allow the existence or occurrence of (something that one dislikes or disagrees with) without interference.

Soanes, C., & Stevenson, A. (2004). Concise Oxford English dictionary (11th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

It seems that the person who claims tolerance is a virtue must accept the existence of views they disagree with.  Otherwise, they are not tolerant.  They are hypocrites, defined as:

The practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one's own behavior does not conform.

The Syllogism

SYLLOGISM:

  1. [Tolerance] [Allows the existence of something one dislikes or disagrees with without Interference] (All [A] is [B])
  2. Some [Homosexual Activists] do not [Allow the existence of something one dislikes or disagrees with without Interference] (Some [C] is not [B])
  3. Therefore Some [Homosexual Activists] are not [Tolerant] (Therefore Some [C] is not [A])

I use the weaker [Some] and not the stronger [No] in recognition of the fact that some activists have human decency and do not act like these barbarians.  The use of [Some] limits the argument to certain people and does not attempt to lump all people into one category.

This courtesy is unfortunately not returned, as it is common to see Catholic teaching compared with being no different than the Westboro Baptist Church and their hateful activities.

The Inescapable Reasoning

The accusation of hypocrisy on the part of these activists is just and cannot be denied.

Since Tolerance is the virtue preached by these activists, but they will not apply to others what they demand for themselves, we can reasonably conclude that these activists claim a moral standard to which their behavior does not conform.  Since that is the definition of hypocrisy, those activists are hypocrites.

Absolute Values, Absolute Truth

There is only one way to attempt to escape the charge of hypocrisy, and that begins with recognizing that tolerance is not a universal value, but it is relative to an absolute truth.  Since one can refuse to tolerate something on the grounds that it is, by nature, dangerous to others and therefore cannot be permitted to exist without causing harm, one can attempt to argue that the Christian opposition to homosexuality is harmful to others.

Universal truths would be true in all times, for all people in all circumstances.  So if it is universally true that I cannot murder a person arbitrarily, it would be true a thousand years ago, now, and a thousand years from now.  It would be true whether I lived in America, Afghanistan or Australia and whether I was rich or poor.  Asian or Caucasian etc.  Even if some cultures utterly rejected this truth, it would not change the fact that it is universally true.

This is why Tolerance cannot be a Universal Truth.  If it was, one would have to give equal tolerance to the Jews and the Nazis who persecuted them.  It would have to give equal tolerance to the view that child molestation is wrong and to the views of NAMBLA.

Sane people recognize that these views cannot co-exist.  If it is wrong for the Nazis to persecute the Jews, one cannot tolerate the view of the Nazis.  If child molestation is wrong, the views that it is acceptable cannot be tolerated.  The person who tries to tolerate both views would have to be overlooking some serious issues.

This is also why Islam and Christianity cannot both be true.  If Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the fulfillment of Revelation, then the claim of Islam that He was merely a Prophet but lesser than Muhammad must be false.  Likewise, if the claim of Islam be true, then Jesus cannot have been the Son of God.

The point is, truth cannot contradict truth.  So if one view is seen as truth, a view which contradicts it cannot also be truth.

"Tolerance" and Truth

What this comes down to is this.  If Christians say that homosexual acts are wrong, and certain activists say homosexual acts are morally acceptable, both views cannot be seen as true.  Both must demonstrate why their views are true.  Christianity has done this, and one can look up the teachings on the matter.  Those who reject the Catholic teaching as being false need to demonstrate why it is false and provide reasons for why their view is true.

Yet this is exactly what is not done.  It is argued that the Catholic teaching is "intolerant," without showing why homosexual acts need to be tolerated as morally acceptable behavior.  Instead, logical fallacies are used, notably the appeal to fear and pity, to lead one to think that if Gay "marriage" is not made law, the Westboro Baptist Church and people murdering homosexuals will become the norm; and that the denial of the "right to marry" means homosexual persons will be forced to live alone without love.  We are told that we must either sanction "gay marriage" or else sanction the "persecution" of homosexuals.

The Position of Catholics Must Be Distinguished From Popular Distortions

It only makes sense to invoke the Westboro Baptist Church or those people who assault homosexuals against the position of the Catholic Church, if the Catholic Church accepts their actions as valid.  If they do not, the comparison is invalid.

Of course since the Catholic Church condemns treating persons as less than persons, this sort of argument is a slander.  Blessed John XXII wrote in 1963:

158. It is always perfectly justifiable to distinguish between error as such and the person who falls into error—even in the case of men who err regarding the truth or are led astray as a result of their inadequate knowledge, in matters either of religion or of the highest ethical standards. A man who has fallen into error does not cease to be a man. He never forfeits his personal dignity; and that is something that must always be taken into account.

So the right thinking Catholic recognizes that even though we must condemn homosexual behavior, we must still treat the person with homosexual tendencies as a person and not as a sub-human who may be mistreated.  However, one can still believe homosexual behavior is wrong without contradicting the view that persons must be treated as persons:

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,141 tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered."142 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection. 

Catechism of the Catholic Church

In other words, persons are to be treated with respect as persons even though we must oppose homosexuality as wrong.  There is no justification to the accusations of "homophobia" or bigotry against us, and to say our beliefs are wrong requires one to prove what beliefs are right and why.  Otherwise it is an ipse dixit claim.

Conclusion

This is the dilemma for the activist which rejects the Christian moral teaching and calls us "intolerant."

On one hand, if one wants to invoke Tolerance as an absolute value, they must either tolerate the views they disagree with (including us Christians) or else be labeled Hypocrite. 

On the other hand, if they want to avoid the hypocrite label while condemning our view as wrong, they must stop hiding behind the label of "tolerance" and acknowledge that universal and absolute truths exist and are knowable, and they must demonstrate the truth of their claims and not claim that their views must be true on the account that they reject our views.

If they will not, if they will simply continue on in personal attacks, using labels like "homophobe," "bigot," or "intolerant," then we can see that such activists are motivated by emotion and hatred, not by reason and logic and that they are guilty of the behaviors they accuse us of possessing.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

TFTD: This Catholic's View on the Abortion stance of Ron Paul

A good, even handed approach to describing Ron Paul's position can be found HERE.  For a summary of his positions, see HERE.  Of course all Catholics should read Evangelium Vitae which will be referred to often in this article, for it shows the great evil of abortion and how it must be opposed at all levels.

Introduction

Ron Paul is mentioned by some Catholic bloggers (and commentators on Catholic blogs) as being the ideal candidate for President. Much is made of his being personally pro-life, and his voting against Federal legislation is explained as believing the Federal Government has no such authority to regulate the issue of abortion, and it is really an issue for the individual states to deal with.

While I am underwhelmed by his views, I am more troubled by Catholics who seem to think his views are satisfactory.  They are not.  While Ron Paul lacks the hypocrisy of Mario Cuomo's infamous "personally opposed but…," he seems to fail his moral obligation based on a false understanding of law and authority.

Now I do not doubt the sincerity of Ron Paul in his emphasizing in campaigning for President that he believes abortion is wrong.  It is reported he left the Episcopalian Church over the issue of abortion.  The problem is, if one recognizes a law is evil, one is obligated to overturn or (if this is impossible) at least seek to limit the harm of the evil law.

Unfortunately this is what Ron Paul has failed to do.

The Role of Law and Government

What is most troubling when it comes to certain Catholics supporting Ron Paul's views is that his views of Libertarianism seems to overlook what the law is for and what the government is obligated to do.  Now since Ron Paul is a Baptist, it is understandable that his understanding of law and government is not going to follow the Catholic stance.  However, the Catholic does need to be aware of the Catholic understanding of law and what we must do in regards to law.

St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of law as follows:

[A] law is nothing else than a dictate of reason in the ruler by whom his subjects are governed. Now the virtue of any subordinate thing consists in its being well subordinated to that by which it is regulated: thus we see that the virtue of the irascible and concupiscible faculties consists in their being obedient to reason; and accordingly "the virtue of every subject consists in his being well subjected to his ruler," as the Philosopher says (Polit. i). But every law aims at being obeyed by those who are subject to it. Consequently it is evident that the proper effect of law is to lead its subjects to their proper virtue: and since virtue is "that which makes its subject good," it follows that the proper effect of law is to make those to whom it is given, good, either simply or in some particular respect. For if the intention of the lawgiver is fixed on true good, which is the common good regulated according to Divine justice, it follows that the effect of the law is to make men good simply. If, however, the intention of the lawgiver is fixed on that which is not simply good, but useful or pleasurable to himself, or in opposition to Divine justice; then the law does not make men good simply, but in respect to that particular government. In this way good is found even in things that are bad of themselves: thus a man is called a good robber, because he works in a way that is adapted to his end.

Summa Theologica (I-IIa. Q 92 a. 1)

Since every law has the aim of being obeyed and the proper effect of the law is to make those to whom it is given, good, it seems to follow that those who are lawgivers must make laws which are just and strive to overturn laws which are unjust at whatever level they are legislating: the local level, the state level and the federal level.

To fail to do this is to fail to be a good lawmaker.

Blessed John Paul II pointed out in Evangelium Vitae #20:

To claim the right to abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, and to recognize that right in law, means to attribute to human freedom a perverse and evil significance: that of an absolute power over others and against others. This is the death of true freedom: "Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin" (Jn 8:34).

So we can see here that the law which permits these evils is a threat to human freedom and must be opposed.

Ideology and Doing Right

While Mark Shea calls Ron Paul, "one of the only people in Congress whom I would call an honest man" I would have to question this assessment  (To clarify, Shea does disapprove of some of Ron Paul's stances so it should not be said he is pro-Ron Paul).  By saying this, I don't mean to call Ron Paul a liar of course.  Rather I mean that because of his ideology, he avoids doing what is right and seems to avoid the hard questions he needs to ask… perhaps because taking the right stand would call his ideology into question, perhaps because he is blinded by a false ideology into thinking it trumps the issue of abortion.  At any rate, his views of abortion are modified by his views of the authority of the government to make laws.

He believes that the Federal Government has no authority to make laws on abortion, so he has voted against restricting of minors being transported across state lines to have an abortion, making it a crime to harm a fetus during the commission of a crime etc.  Both of these votes do show a disregard for the importance of the family and the legal acknowledgement of the fetus as a person.

The problem is, the Federal Government is making laws about abortion, and therefore he is obligated to act on his principles that abortion is wrong at the Federal level.

Blessed John Paul II has said:

The deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of his life is always morally evil and can never be licit either as an end in itself or as a means to a good end. It is in fact a grave act of disobedience to the moral law, and indeed to God himself, the author and guarantor of that law; it contradicts the fundamental virtues of justice and charity. "Nothing and no one can in any way permit the killing of an innocent human being, whether a fetus or an embryo, an infant or an adult, an old person, or one suffering from an incurable disease, or a person who is dying. Furthermore, no one is permitted to ask for this act of killing, either for himself or herself or for another person entrusted to his or her care, nor can he or she consent to it, either explicitly or implicitly. Nor can any authority legitimately recommend or permit such an action".

As far as the right to life is concerned, every innocent human being is absolutely equal to all others. This equality is the basis of all authentic social relationships which, to be truly such, can only be founded on truth and justice, recognizing and protecting every man and woman as a person and not as an object to be used. Before the moral norm which prohibits the direct taking of the life of an innocent human being "there are no privileges or exceptions for anyone. It makes no difference whether one is the master of the world or the 'poorest of the poor' on the face of the earth. Before the demands of morality we are all absolutely equal".

Evangelium Vitae #57

If the Federal Law permits the evil of abortion, lawmakers of good faith are obligated to eliminate or at least slow down the evil to the best of their ability.  Blessed John Paul II has also written,

A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on. Such cases are not infrequent. It is a fact that while in some parts of the world there continue to be campaigns to introduce laws favouring abortion, often supported by powerful international organizations, in other nations-particularly those which have already experienced the bitter fruits of such permissive legislation-there are growing signs of a rethinking in this matter. In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.

ibid #73

In failing to seek limits to abortion at the Federal level, he is failing in his duty as a lawmaker and taking part in making it possible for abortion on demand to remain legal.

Why Catholics Cannot Accept His View that Abortion is a State Issue

The problem with Ron Paul's views is that if the Federal Government has no authority to pass laws on abortion, the individual states have no authority to pass these rights either and the attempt to push the decision about abortion to the state level is an evasion of the issue.

Again, Blessed John Paul II has said:

The real purpose of civil law is to guarantee an ordered social coexistence in true justice, so that all may "lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way" (1 Tim 2:2). Precisely for this reason, civil law must ensure that all members of society enjoy respect for certain fundamental rights which innately belong to the person, rights which every positive law must recognize and guarantee. First and fundamental among these is the inviolable right to life of every innocent human being. While public authority can sometimes choose not to put a stop to something which-were it prohibited- would cause more serious harm, it can never presume to legitimize as a right of individuals-even if they are the majority of the members of society-an offence against other persons caused by the disregard of so fundamental a right as the right to life. The legal toleration of abortion or of euthanasia can in no way claim to be based on respect for the conscience of others, precisely because society has the right and the duty to protect itself against the abuses which can occur in the name of conscience and under the pretext of freedom.

ibid #71

So his position is really an evasion of his duty as a member of Congress and is seeking to shift the issue to the states where a certain number of states decide it is legal while others decide it is not.  Admittedly, we would then have the possibility of 50 winnable battles in comparison to the tyranny of the Supreme Court which absolutely refuses to question Roe v. Wade and it's legalization of abortion of demand (an issue I had with Doug Kmiec in the 2008 election cycle), but the problem is that Ron Paul seems to think the problem will be solved simply by a strict constitutionalist point of view that puts the onus on the state.

In contrast, the Catholic point of view holds that the right to life needs to be respected at all levels of government and it is an obligation for the Federal Government to protect the right to life and for lawmakers at the Federal level to act to protect this right.

It is similar to the pre-Civil War stance that states could decide for themselves whether to have slaves or not to have slaves.  Such a view overlooked the fact that if slavery was wrong, no state could legitimately keep slaves.  Likewise, if abortion be wrong, no state can legitimately legalize abortion.

Conclusion

Time will tell whether Ron Paul gets the nomination for president (I doubt it myself – but then again, in 2008, I expected Hillary Clinton to get the nomination over Obama).  If he does, we'll have to decide about his positions in relation to Obama's positions.  However, in terms of the primaries I am inclined to think he is an unsatisfactory choice for the nomination for president.

If Obama were to receive a failing grade on the issue of abortion, I think it safe to say that Ron Paul can at best be given a D- as his grade.  Given how strongly the Church speaks about the obligation to defend the right to life, we can't really think of him as anything more than a "better than nothing (but not by much)" response to the current culture of death.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

On Discrimination and Persecution against Religion in America

Preliminary Notes: Accident and Essence

Since I will use the terms below, I should very briefly explain them. Essence is what a thing is. A triangle has three sides and three interior angles which total 180°. If the shape has more or fewer sides than three or the interior angles do not equal 180°, then you do not have a triangle.

Accident are qualities a particular thing has but are irrelevant to the essence. I can have a green cardboard triangle. I can have a chromed sheet metal triangle, but the color or the materials do not make a thing a triangle.

In the issue of racism, properly speaking a human being is a human being regardless of gender, ethnicity or skin color. Gender, ethnicity or skin color are accidents of the essence of human being. Whether the person is male or female, dark or light, Asian or Caucasian is irrelevant to whether the person is a human being. So a person should not be treated as less than a person because of the accidents of appearance. Neither should they receive benefits on account of the accidents.

Introduction

One attitude I have encountered over the years as American Law and Government becomes more hostile towards religion is the argument that since the treatment of religion in America is not like the treatment of religion in China or the former Soviet Union, it means the Church is not persecuted in America.

Thus when people speak out against the actions of the American government and use terms like "persecution" it is easy to be dismissive and say, "you're not persecuted… people aren't locking you up!"

The Fallacy of the accident

This is a metaphysical fallacy – The fallacy of the accident – which Peter Kreeft (See Socratic Logic 3e page 110) describes as either treating something accidental as something essential (for example, racism wrongly assumes the accident of skin color is essential in determining whether a person is to be treated as human) or treating something essential as accidental (such as denying that there is any difference between heterosexual coitus and homosexual sodomy since both can result in orgasm).

A common demonstration of the fallacy of the accident is:

  1. Cutting people with a knife is a crime.
  2. Surgeons cut people with knives.
  3. Surgeons are criminals.

(The accident of cutting people with knives depends on the essence of why a person is cutting you with a knife, to heal or to harm).

In our case, the argument that there is no persecution in America works this way:

  1. Communist China persecutes religion by imprisonment, torture and executions
  2. The United States does not imprison, torture or execute people on religious grounds
  3. Therefore the United States does not persecute people on religious grounds.

In this case, the accident of how persecution is carried out in Communist China (imprisonment, torture, execution) is confused for the essence of discrimination itself existing (the unequal treatment on the basis of religion).  Since the degree of persecution is greater in Communist China, a degree which is less is argued as not being persecution at all.

That would be like a triage nurse in the Emergency Room saying that because the patient's pain level is not at 10, the patient is not in pain.

Persecution and Discrimination Defined

To clarify issues, we ought to begin with the definition of Persecution and Discrimination

Persecute: 1. subject to prolonged hostility and ill-treatment. 2. persistently harass or annoy.

Discriminate: make an unjust distinction in the treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, sex, or age.

—Oxford English Dictionary

The two concepts are very similar.  The state discriminates when it treats one group of people less fairly than others because this group is different.  The state persecutes when it treats a group hostilely or harasses them.  Ill treatment can vary from unequal treatment under the law to active coercion.

In America, the Catholic Church can be said to be treated unequally under the law on the grounds that the First Amendment is ignored when it comes to State interference in compelling Church institutions to either act against their beliefs or else discontinue their services.  The political elites in America are treating those who act on religious convictions with hostility.  Our institutions have been ordered to act contrary to what they believe God requires of us and have needed to seek justice in the courts to try to protect ourselves from what the government has no right to do to begin with.

Lest anyone attempt a tu quoque and say we are hypocritical because we discriminate as well, we utterly deny the charge.  Catholic hospitals do not refuse to treat non-Catholics or sinners.  Catholic schools do not refuse to teach non-Catholics.  Catholic orphanages do not refuse to let non-Catholics adopt or refuse to take in non-Catholic orphans.

We merely insist that our institutions, being based in the Catholic faith, be allowed to carry out our mission according to the way we believe God calls on us to behave.  Those who come to a Catholic institution and insist on making us behave in a way we call sinful are not being discriminated against when we refuse.  Rather they are discriminating against us by trying to force us to act in a way we call sinful.

Now the state can make unjust decrees that it enforces through legal, physical or financial coercion.  However, such decrees are not binding laws in our eyes because the state has no authority to force us to do something that God forbids.

Conclusion

The degree to which the United States makes use of coercion to comply or face repercussions when it demands Catholic institutions to follow the Government commands may not be to the extreme of China or Afghanistan, but this does not mean that the coercion does not exist.  It does exist and it is unjust because even if one rejects our claims to be the Church established by Christ to teach with His authority, this coercion does violate the US Constitution.

To borrow from Pastor Niemöller, they are coming for us first.  You may not speak out because you are not Catholic.  However if one stays silent during these early and less extreme violations of our rights, you may find that eventually, "Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me."

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Apologia: Religious Faith Free of Government Interference

Introduction

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

—The First Amendment (Emphasis added)

America was founded with religious freedom recognized as a primary right.  The state can neither compel people to belong to one faith, nor to persecute a faith because of what they believe.

Vatican II Document, Dignitatis Humanae, speaks of religious freedom in this way:

2. This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.

The two stances are remarkably similar – the State does not have the authority to force a person or a group to do what they believe is morally evil.

Unfortunately, the modern stance of the US Government and the political elites is one which seeks to compel the Catholic Church and the institutions affiliated with her to participate in behaviors she finds contrary to what she believes to be right.

CREDO: Right Belief and Right Practice

Doctrine is what is professed by the Church as believed, and denial of the doctrine is to deny what we believe to be true.  A person who denies the Trinity cannot be said to believe what the Catholic Church believes, even if he or she is a part of the Catholic Church.  Indeed, throughout the centuries, holy men and women have been martyred because they would not deny what the Church professes to be true and would not agree with what the Church teaches is false.

This point must be understood.  Even under the threat of punishment, we cannot go against what we believe.

In the Catholic view, we can know of God through Divine Revelation and through reason.  Through reason, we can grow in understanding about why the commands of the Lord are as they are and understand what reasonably follows from what we believe.

We believe God is all powerful, all knowing and perfectly good.  From this we recognize that His moral law is not based on an imperfect understanding of human nature and is not arbitrary (it isn't a case of "whatever God feels like is good").  God is perfectly good and His moral law reflects His goodness.  God's law also reflects what is good for persons.  He does not command us to do what is harmful for ourselves and does not forbid what is good for us.

Because our Lord has made it clear that to love Him is to keep His commandments, we who profess to love the Lord must obey Him.  It isn't a matter of merely following rules legalistically.  When you love a person, you act in a way which has the good of that person in mind.  The beloved can forgive actions done which are offensive.  However, a habitual contempt for the good of the beloved demonstrates a lack of love.

We believe that right practice (orthopraxy) depends on right belief (orthodoxy).  For example, a person who believes people are nothing more than cogs in a machine to serve a higher purpose will treat persons differently than those who believe people need to be treated with dignity and cannot have this dignity taken away for the sake of expedience.

From this we can see that Catholics – at least those with a proper understanding of the faith – believe that to love God is to behave in a way that is in keeping with what He commands, and that to act in opposition to His commands is not only to treat God wrongly but also are harmful to ourselves.

Non-Catholics may disagree with us and claim we have a wrong understanding about what God intends.  However, it cannot be denied that under the Constitution, Catholics and Catholic institutions are free to act according to what we think right.  We harm none by refusing to take part in abortion, homosexual "marriage" and other things we believe to be against what God commands.  We do not violate anyone's rights.  Rather, those who come to a Catholic group and insists we accommodate their demands against what we believe violate our rights – especially when they take us to court to force us to act against our faith.

Moreover, we do have the right as American citizens to seek to reform our nation and to reach out to others to teach them why our beliefs are true, just as every other American citizen does.

The US Government and Political Elites Are Behaving In A Way That Contradicts the Constitution and our Inalienable Rights

Now, our rights are being infringed upon.  A Catholic individual, a Catholic school, a Catholic hospital are no longer protected when it comes to living according to what our conscience demands.  Catholic institutions are told that they must take part in things we call evil or cease to function.  Moreover, members of the political elites are speaking out against us, claiming our beliefs are harmful and must be opposed.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, when asked about the arguments against homosexual marriage, replied, "There is no answer from the opposition. There really isn’t.  Ultimately, it’s, ‘I want to discriminate.’ And that’s anti-New York. It’s anti-American."  He has also been on record as saying, "The laws would have to be paramount, and would have to be paramount to your religious beliefs."

That's chilling.  Either Cuomo misspoke or he is saying that law trumps religious belief.  I have found no evidence of the former (no clarifications or retractions).  If it is the latter, then it is Cuomo who is anti-American, because it is he who violates the First Amendment, not us.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D.-Fla.), chair of the DNC, describes beliefs that the informed Catholic holds protecting the personhood of the unborn as, "an extreme and radical step."  She says that it is, "divisive, dangerous, and destructive laws which would cripple a woman’s right to choose, limit access to birth control, and put the lives of women with difficult pregnancies at risk."

There is no respect for our rights here.  Instead the motives for our beliefs are characterized as being motivated by hatred and by wanting to deny women their "rights."  Essentially the constitutional guarantees of our religious freedoms in America are being undermined, and the political elites are misrepresenting our motives to permit their violations of our freedom.

In the name of "fairness" we are treated unfairly.  Apparently all people are free to live out their lives in accord to what they believe to be right – unless those beliefs are religious beliefs which say certain actions are immoral.

Absolutes and Relativism

I've gone over this theme before, but it is important: If there are no absolutes, then there is nothing wrong with Catholics living as we do without interference.  However, if there are absolutes, and we Catholics are in the wrong, then we are justified in demanding that proof be shown to us that we are in the wrong and how this truth is known.

But if our accusers want to do this, they must be honest.  We are not "homophobes" because we believe homosexual acts to be wrong.  We are not "misogynist" or "anti-women" because we oppose abortion and contraception.  We believe that both homosexual persons and unborn infants must be treated as human persons with the rights belonging to all persons.

We condemn the view which says a person with homosexual tendencies may be treated as less than a person, but this does not mean we must support and promote homosexual acts as being morally acceptable acts.

Extremism, By Nature, Is Not the Norm

Our accusers must be honest and recognize that the extremist does not represent the Catholic position.  The person who assaults persons with homosexual tendencies and the person who shoots abortionists does not act in accord with the Catholic faith, but AGAINST the Catholic faith.  So it is either ignorance or dishonesty to label such persons as being inspired by our beliefs – such a person clearly overlooks the prohibition against murder for example.

The extremist, by definition, is: "a person who holds extreme political or religious views" according to the Oxford English Dictionary.  To label the Catholic position as extremist, is to declare a knowledge of what the norm is.  The norm is the standard and the further one deviates from the norm, the more extreme it is.

So to call us "extremist" means the accuser claims to know the truth (eliminating the claim of relativism) and then is obligated to prove their claim of what is the truth that we deviate from.

Our Guilt is to be Proven, Not Assumed

The fact is the US Constitution lists freedom of religion as part of the Bill of Rights.  If one wishes to argue that the Catholic faith is an ideology which is harmful to others, then it falls to that person to prove the charge.  Our rights cannot be taken away until we are proven guilty of a crime for we are innocent until proven guilty.  Yet people like Cuomo assume our guilt is proven and the state can compel us to act in a way our religion forbids.

We are accused of hatred and bigotry as our motives for opposing homosexual "marriage."  However, nobody actually looks to see if these are our motives.  In fact we explicitly reject this accusation as slander.

Our detractors dismiss our reasons and our faith, ipse dixit, as being without merit – but they cannot be bothered to learn our reasons.  They merely assume that because our views reject theirs we must be motivated by hatred.

Is it reasonable or just to condemn us out of ignorance?  Is it just to lump us together with those who commit crimes without investigating  whether we share their beliefs and motivations?

Not only is it unjust, it is actually bigotry.  The same sort of bigotry which assumes all Hispanics are "Illegals," that assumes all Jews are "misers" and all Blacks are "dishonest."  An entire group is accused of possessing a trait on account of a few people who fit that trait.

Conclusion

The Constitution of the United States gives us freedom to live as we feel obligated to live in the Freedom of Religion.  Yet today, the government and political elites would deny us our rights and would compel us to do things we have believed to be immoral far longer than the United States was a nation.  Not only do they infringe our rights, but they refuse to listen to our defense, insisting we must be motivated by bigotry because we believe their views to be wrong.

Americans will need to ask serious questions about justice and who is really being deprived of it.  The charge of being "anti-American" and the charge that we are dangerous because we consider homosexual acts to be immoral and personhood to begin at conception are unjust charges.

However, since the freedom of religion is enshrined in our Constitution, the charge of "anti-American" and "dangerous" does not apply to us, but rather to those who would restrict our rights to practice our faith and operate institutions according to our faith.

Postscript: Can This Apologia Be Applied Against Us as Well?

Some may argue that we do not practice what we preach, that we demand rights for ourselves and deny them to others.  We would reject this as a false charge.  We do not argue that homosexual persons should be denied the rights due all human persons.  We do not demand they be denied the rights they possess in the Constitution.  Rather we say certain actions are not rights to be recognized (abortion, homosexual "marriage") but the demand of recognizing a self-gratification now in vogue by misusing titles.

Homosexual persons can of course marry a person of the opposite gender.  But if our beliefs (that marriage is between a man and a woman) are true, then the whole concept of Homosexual "Marriage" is an oxymoron.

On the other hand, religious freedom is not a self-gratification in vogue, but a right which the Constitution recognizes that all people are entitled to.  Denying us this right is not denying us a privilege but denying us what is our due.

In other words, we deny nobody their rights by saying homosexuality and abortion are wrongs and refusing to accommodate these wrongs by having our religious institutions take part in them.  But people who do force us to accommodate what we believe to be wrong or else close up our institutions are denying us our rights. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Reductio ad absurdum: Latin, English and Spanish at Mass

(Preliminary Note: This article is not written to take a doctrinal stand on anything.  Rather it is a reflection for people to consider what our motives are when we express dislikes over certain things.)

I've encountered in the region I live in a certain group of people who object to Spanish being used at Mass to reach out to the Hispanic members of the community.  They say things like, "We're in America.  They should speak English."

Many people of this group also champion the use of the 1962 missal, and saying that the Mass should be said in Latin.

Very well.

If we accept as a given their claim that the Latin is the best language for the Mass, we can argue the following:

Major Premise: The closer the Mass is to Latin, the better it is.

Minor Premise: Spanish is closer to Latin than English is.

Conclusion: Therefore, a Spanish Mass is better than an English Mass.

Now I am sure that nobody (I sure don't) would accept the conclusion of this argument.  But this is the point of a reductio ad absurdum.  It points out the problematic conclusions one could draw if one accepted an argument at face value.

Now, I'm not going to accuse these individuals who dislike Spanish within the Mass as being racist.  God knows what is in their hearts.  I don't.  However, I do believe that these individuals are dogmatizing what is mere preference for them.  They prefer the old Latin Mass because that is comfortable for them.  They prefer English over Spanish because that is comfortable for them.

Such individuals need to remember that those who speak a different language than we do are just as much members of the Catholic Church as we are, and they take comfort in hearing the Mass in their own language just as much as we do.

I don't write this to condemn any individual.  I merely ask every person to consider in their heart whether their attitudes show love for their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Is Voting 'None of the Above' the Least Evil Choice for 2012?

What if they gave a war and nobody came?
Why, then, the war would come to you!
He who stays home when the fight begins
And lets another fight for his cause
Should take care:
He who does not take part
In the battle will share in the defeat.
Even avoiding battle will not avoid battle.
Since not to fight for your own cause
Really means
Fighting on behalf of your enemy's cause
.

—Bertolt Brecht

Introduction

In my last article I wrote about my revised maxim of voting based on what seems to reasonably follow from Church teaching.  My conclusion was that we needed to discern which was the least evil before deciding to vote for the opposition party vs. not voting or voting for a Third Party.  That article was more of a general principle to consider.  This time, especially in light of recent evidence of hostility to the Church, I think it is time to ask whether it is true that voting for a third party/no party is in fact the least evil.

I started off with this controversial poem because I believe it does illustrate the issue which must be considered when choosing how to vote in 2012.  I am not saying that whoever votes for a third party or declines to vote is guilty of refusing to fight.  Rather, I am saying we must consider whether such a vote will result in a greater evil.

Catholics always need to remember that a mindset of always voting for Party [X] is not a proper attitude.  Party views change over time and must always be reevaluated in light of the unchanging truths given to us by Christ.

Caveat

This kind of article runs the risk of being perceived as being motivated by partisanship because it will judge the reality of the Political Parties.  Nowadays, labels of conservative or liberal are slapped on everything as a substitute to thinking.  However, this article is an attempt to work philosophically using the reality of the political situation and the teachings of the Church in search of an answer.

I am NOT trying to claim that the conclusion I reach is one which is binding under the pain of sin however.  Rather it is a case of, "Given what we know, what seems to be the least evil?"

Also, please keep in mind I am primarily thinking of the Presidential election.  Some Congressional and local elections may have the same considerations.  Others may have candidates who differ from the norm of each political party (There are Pro-Life Democrats out there and Pro-Abortion Republicans for example).

Depending on who the Republicans nominate (it seems a foregone conclusion that Obama will again be the Democratic nominee), the situation may change from what I am exploring in 2011, as there will be a specific candidate to evaluate.

Ultimately this article will conclude with a statement that I do not know what is the least evil (so that will save you some time wading through it) but it is my hope that when it comes to making such a decision, this article will give the person some things to consider.

And, as always, this blog should never be interpreted in a way that is in opposition to the Magisterium of the Church.  The reader who wants to use this article to refute Bishop X uses this article wrongly.

Four Voting Choices for 2012

For Catholics in 2012, we essentially have four options for the Presidential elections.  These are:

  1. A vote for the Democratic Party
  2. A vote for the Republican Party
  3. A vote for a Minor Party
  4. Declining to vote

Hopefully we shall add some clarity as to how we should consider them as options.

The Reality of the Two Party System

The United States is effectively a two-party system.  Yes we do have minor parties, and yes we did have a situation where one political party became extinct and was replaced by another once.  However, barring a major upheaval, the person elected to the presidency in 2012 will either be a Democrat or a Republican.  Not a member of the Reform Party, Green Party, American Independent Party or a Libertarian.  This is because far too few American voters will vote for a third party.

Therefore a vote for a minor party or not voting will not change the outcome without massive dissatisfaction with the system which does not appear to be present at this time.

However, a third party vote can play a "spoiler" role.  In the 2000 elections, Ralph Nader running on the Green party ticket split the Democratic party vote.  If those 97,488 Green Party votes in Florida had gone to Al Gore instead of to Ralph Nader, Al Gore would have been elected regardless of issues with hanging chads and butterfly ballots (Gore lost Florida by 537 votes).

What we can learn from this is that so long as we have a two-party system, a liberal voting for a third party or not voting will benefit the Republicans and a conservative voting for a third party or not voting will benefit the Democrats.  An undecided voting for a third party or not voting will merely reduce the voting pool by 1.

So, to sum up:

  1. The US is essentially a two party system
  2. We will continue to be a two party system unless there is such a wide level of disgust against both parties that a third party seems to be a good alternative.
  3. Voting for a third party or not voting will not change the fact that, unless there is a (currently non existent) wide level of disgust with both parties, either a Democrat or a Republican will be elected to the presidency in 2012.

The Lesser of TWO Evils

We can see from this that the statement "lesser of two evils" is still true even if one should vote for a third party.  We need then to look at the positions of the two parties in relation to Church teaching.  It seems to me there are four basic positions a party can have.  This list is done from the perspective of best to worst.

  1. The party agrees with the Church on both intrinsic issues and lesser issues.
  2. The party agrees with the Church on intrinsic issues but not lesser issues.
  3. The party disagrees with the Church on intrinsic issues but agrees on lesser issues.
  4. The party disagrees with the Church on both intrinsic issues and lesser issues.

Now there can be differing degrees of agreement (from lukewarm to fervent) and disagreement (from indifference to hostility).  So if both parties were in category #1, a fervent support would be superior to a lukewarm support and if both were in category #4, indifference would be a lesser evil than outright hostility.

Now, I think we can agree that neither party falls into category #1 (party agrees with the Church on both intrinsic issues and lesser issues).  Nor does either party fall into category #4 (The party disagrees with the Church on both intrinsic issues and lesser issues).  So it seems that the Democratic Party and the Republican Party will either fall into category #2 or #3.  Category #2 is superior to #3 – not because the "lesser" issues are unimportant, but rather because the intrinsic issues are so important that to fail to be with the Church is disastrous for the nation.

What are the Intrinsic Issues?

The Church teaches the following are vital, and cannot be denied without dehumanizing people and creating an evil society (evil meaning a severe lack moving away from the good):

  1. The fundamental right to life from conception to natural death.
  2. The recognition of the heterosexual family as the building block of society.
  3. The freedom to practice one's faith free from government coercion.

To deny #1 would be to claim that one person has the right to arbitrarily end the right to life of another person and that some lives are worth less than others.  To deny #2 is to weaken the basic building block on which society is based.  To deny #3 is to claim that the government has the right to coerce a person to act against what they believe is right.

So, in practical terms, a party which supported abortion on demand, euthanasia and the like would be violating #1.  A party which sought to give the same standing to homosexual "marriage" and other non-family sexual relationships as to the traditional family would be violating #2.  The party which sought to interfere with institutions run by a religious group or to institute policies which force a person to choose between his beliefs and his livelihood would be violating #3.

With this in mind, we can look at the two big political parties and see where each party falls.

This is Where the Risk of Being Accused of Being Partisan Comes into Play

(Again, I want to make this clear: It is not that other issues are unimportant, but rather because the intrinsic issues are so important that they cannot be ignored or made out to seem less important than, say, immigration or health care reform).

I think this is where a person who dislikes what I have to say will find an excuse to accuse me of partisanship, so let me again clarify that I am not writing with the perspective that disagreeing with me is sinful.  I am writing from the position that based on Church teaching, while there is not a good and a bad, there is a worst and a less bad when it comes to the positions of the two parties, and we need to acknowledge this to make an informed decision on how we should vote.

I think it is obvious that the Obama administration is not only opposed to the Church on these intrinsic issues, but is actually hostile to the Church on these issues.  In the four categories I mentioned earlier, the Democratic Party, so far as national office goes, seems to be defined as #3: The party disagrees with the Church on intrinsic issues but agrees on some lesser issues.

So how does the Republican Party fare on the issues?  They generally seem to be anywhere from lukewarm to moderate in favor of the Church position on these issues.  Yes, their support is far less than it should be, and they seem to be half-hearted about defending these issues.  In some states (New York for example), the party is actually in opposition to the Church on these issues.  However, we can be sure that the Republicans will not introduce new legislation which increases these evils.

The Republican candidates do seem to be in opposition of varied levels to some of the social teachings of the Church.  I was certainly appalled watching the Republican debate hearing the major candidates seeming to take positions which were against the Church understanding on justice.  However, on the intrinsic issues, the Republican Party at least gives them token support in contrast to the hostility of the Democratic Party.  So, we would most probably put them right on the edge of group #2.  Their support is not so low as to claim they are opposed to the Church teaching on intrinsic issues, but they are not fervent supporters.

This leaves us with this assessment of the two parties:

  • The Democratic Party is strongly hostile towards the teaching of the Catholic Church on intrinsic issue and agrees with the Church on some lesser issues.
  • The Republican Party gives lukewarm support for the Catholic teaching on intrinsic issues and tends to disagree on some lesser issues.

Lukewarm support is better than active hostility, so it seems that of the two parties, the Democratic Party is the greatest evil in the 2012 Presidential elections at least.

Therefore one choice is eliminated as being acceptable for Catholic voters. 

  1. A vote for the Democratic Party
  2. A vote for the Republican Party
  3. A vote for a Minor Party
  4. Declining to vote

Now we must ask about the remaining three choices.

Is the Third Party or Not Voting An Acceptable Choice?

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

—Attributed to Edmund Burke

Again, like it was with the Bertolt Brecht poem, I am not saying that the Third Party vote or declining to vote is the equivalent of good men doing nothing.  Rather I am saying all must consider the consequences of their vote and form their conscience with the teaching of the Church.

So if we recognize that a party which is expressly hostile to the Catholic Church on these issues is the greater evil, and if we recognize that the third party or non-vote will not change the fact that the 2012 elections will either put a Democrat or a Republican in the White House, it seems that the Catholic pondering such a vote must consider whether his vote will promote the least evil or whether it will help enable the greater evil to be elected.

Now of course, the person does not intend the bad end of allowing the greater end of allowing the worst candidate to be elected.  If they did will such an end, that would be sinful indeed.

But to be honest, it truly is a hard call in making a decision for 2012.  The American political scene is truly wretched for Catholics.  There is no "good" party to vote for.  Rather we merely have the choice of which is the least offensive choice – which is the least harmful to the state of souls in America.

As a personal opinion, I believe the option to decline to vote is not acceptable to Catholics.  That is essentially a state of good men doing nothing.  This would leave us with either the option of voting for a third party or voting for the lesser of two evils.  This eliminates another choice and leaves us with two.

  1. A vote for the Democratic Party
  2. A vote for the Republican Party
  3. A vote for a Minor Party
  4. Declining to vote

Some Considerations in Voting for a Third Party (Personal Opinions to follow)

One argued reason to vote for a third party, in light of the fact that it tends to benefit the opposition seems to be to send a warning to the party that it must change its ways or lose support.  I think (again, personal opinion here) that such a response is valid on those occasions when a candidate adopts a position which is in opposition to Church teaching (in California, we've had elections where both parties were pro-abortion and I've felt obligated to vote for a third party).  When this is not the case I think (personal opinion) we need to be very cautious in taking this route.

It's long been a dream of mine that for one election, all Catholics refuse to vote for the two main parties to send them a warning that our vote counts.  However a priest I once knew gave a response which reflects the sad truth of American Catholics.  To paraphrase, he said Catholics aren't a bloc.  They're as divided as the rest of the country so this could never happen.

Sadly, I think he was right.  So the idea of sending a message to a party will likely never be effective barring an unforeseen upheaval in this nation.

So ultimately, I believe there is only one valid reason to vote for a third party in 2012, and that is the reason of conscience.  For some people, conscience simply forbids them to vote for the Republicans.  If an individual's conscience convicts them that they would do evil in voting for either party, then they must follow their conscience rather than do what they think is evil… but they must be sure their conscience is formed in harmony with Church teaching (this last part is not personal opinion).

The Catholic Task is Not Done on November 6th 2012

However, whether one chooses the Republican Party as the least evil choice or whether one feels they cannot vote for either major party in good conscience, our task is not over on November 6th 2012 (Election Day).  Whichever party wins in 2012, we are obligated to stand and speak out about what the nation must do and must reject.  If the victorious party goes the wrong way on an issue, we are obligated to voice our objections and not merely say, "Hey I voted, that's enough."

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Arnobius' Maxim of Voting Revised for 2012

Preliminary Note: I never claim binding authority for myself.  I believe my original maxim and this updated one reasonably follow from Church teaching and reflect things we are called by the Magisterium to keep in mind when forming our decisions.  Of course this article mainly applies to a situation like America's (effectively) two-party system.  A nation with multiple parties and coalitions would probably have a different set of criteria to consider.

Introduction

Back in the 2008 elections, I wrote an article dealing with an attitude among some Catholics which invoked conscience to vote for the party they preferred even though that party promoted policies explicitly condemned by the Catholic Church.  That maxim was, I believe, what reasonably followed from the Catholic obligation to obey the Church and the Catholic obligation to never disobey our conscience when it condemns something.  To sum up, I had said that if one political party holds a view which the Church condemns and the other holds views which an individual's conscience cannot allow them to vote for the other, then in order to reconcile these views, one could vote for a third party or decline to vote but could not vote for the party promoting views the Church condemned.

It made sense for the time.  In 2008, the dispute was essentially based on whether or not the Catholic could vote for the pro-abortion, fetal stem cell research, gay "marriage" party.  I think it still applies for voters who are choosing between these two parties.

A New Situation

However, in 2011, we see a few Catholic bloggers who oppose both parties as equally rotten and argue that the proper attitude is to vote for a third party or not at all.  We also see some opponents of these bloggers who claim that to act this way is to throw the election over to those who support the greater evil by taking away votes from the only party with a chance to oppose them.

It was this new perspective which leads me to reconsider the former maxim I drafted to take into account this new dispute.

The Issue of Double Effect

In considering the two sides of this dispute, we need to consider the principle of Double Effect.

Briefly, Double Effect deals with the situation where an action intends a good result but has an unintended and undesired negative effect which cannot be avoided.  Catholic teaching holds that the negative effect must be unintended and that the intended good must outweigh the unintended bad.  This is why the Church permits a hysterectomy (removing a diseased or damaged uterus which cannot safely undergo pregnancy) with the unintended bad effect of removing the woman's fertility but condemns the sterilization of the woman (directly intending to remove the woman's fertility).  The first views the loss of fertility as an undesired effect which would be avoided if possible.  The second directly intends the loss of fertility.

In terms of the debate of not voting for one of the major parties vs. the risk of allowing the greater evil to become elected is essentially a dispute over Double Effect.

So:

  1. The intended good is to obey conscience by not voting for candidates who are considered to have immoral positions.
  2. The unintended bad effect is that the greater of two evils may benefit from a split votes.

The moral dilemma is then to balance out the obligation to follow conscience vs. the preventing the greater evil from taking effect.

Voting and Morality

Voting is not a neutral act.  It is a moral act in which we are obligated to use to achieve a greater good or oppose a greater evil.  We need to consider the ends our vote is intended to achieve and whether the unintended negative consequence outweighs that intended good.  Certain actions are intrinsically (by their very nature) evil and can never be done.  The Church authoritatively teaches abortion is a grave evil:

The deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of his life is always morally evil and can never be licit either as an end in itself or as a means to a good end. It is in fact a grave act of disobedience to the moral law, and indeed to God himself, the author and guarantor of that law; it contradicts the fundamental virtues of justice and charity. 'Nothing and no one can in any way permit the killing of an innocent human being, whether a fetus or an embryo, an infant or an adult, an old person, or one suffering from an incurable disease, or a person who is dying. Furthermore, no one is permitted to ask for this act of killing, either for himself or herself or for another person entrusted to his or her care, nor can he or she consent to it, either explicitly or implicitly. Nor can any authority legitimately recommend or permit such an action' (Evangelium vitae #57)

So it seems to follow that not only are we never to vote for a candidate who supports this grave evil, we cannot permit the grave evil to become possible by our inaction either.

On the other hand, since we are never to support evil actions, what are we to do if the other party also seems to support evil?  Especially since they seem lukewarm on the issues of Life?  After all, Blessed John Paul II also pointed out:

Christians, like all people of good will, are called upon under grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God's law. (ibid #74).

An Attempt to Find a Solution to the Impasse

Conscience is not infallible.  It must be formed with the teaching of the Church in mind and it requires us to inform ourselves to the facts to avoid making an error by wrongly interpreting the situation or how the Church teaching is to be applied.

There are times when Catholics must vote for a lesser evil to avoid the greater evil.  Blessed John Paul II gave an example:

A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on. Such cases are not infrequent. It is a fact that while in some parts of the world there continue to be campaigns to introduce laws favouring abortion, often supported by powerful international organizations, in other nations-particularly those which have already experienced the bitter fruits of such permissive legislation-there are growing signs of a rethinking in this matter. In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects. (ibid #73)

In this case, we can see that voting with the intent of limiting the evil of abortion is not a cooperation with evil.  If we can't abrogate an abortion law, we can certainly vote to limit its effects.  Lukewarm opposition to abortion is superior to no opposition.

Finding the Least Evil

So it seems to follow that when it comes to voting for a third party or not voting, we are obligated to consider the consequences of such an action.  Is it, in fact, the least evil?

That is the hard decision to be made.  Since we may never do what our conscience condemns and may never refuse to do what our conscience commands, we are obligated to inform our conscience through the teachings of the Church and to educate ourselves on the consequences of our action or inaction.  Conscience is not sentiment.  It is not a matter of like and dislike.  Conscience is the interior voice which says I must or must not do.

The Arnobius' Maxim of Voting Revised

So with these points in mind, I would reformulate the maxim on voting as follows:

  1. We must never vote for a candidate who openly supports a position condemned by the Church if an alternative exists.
  2. We must never vote in violation of our conscience.
  3. We must always form our conscience to be in line with the teaching of the Church.
  4. We must be informed so as to recognize the greatest evil and the least evil and act accordingly in casting our vote.
  5. Finally, whomever is elected, we must not ignore their lesser evils but instead make it known to them the importance of rejecting those evils.

Final Caveat

Again, I do not claim binding religious authority for this maxim.  Rather I write this as what I believe is a summary of Church obligation on this subject.  I certainly submit to the authority of the Magisterium of the Church and nothing I write should be given an interpretation against the lawful teaching authority of the Church.