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10/22/2004

More on Archbishop Chaput

I don't want to get bogged down in the mire of abortion politics, but just a couple more quick observations on Chaput's op-ed. Suppose Republicans proposed to outlaw poverty, then campaigned as the "anti-poverty" party. Would Catholics be obliged as a matter of faith to vote for those candidates? I realize that conservative Catholics think fighting poverty pales in comparison to outlawing medical procedures, but the real question is how do you get there from here? Political decisions, including who a person votes for, have to at least consider political reality. In the real world, supporting candidates like Kerry result in reduced abortions. There is a gap between the idea of legal prohibition and real world implication, a gap conservatives aren't usually shy about pointing out. That gap matters every bit as much in considerations of political morality as in policy decisions.

The part of Chaput's op-ed that originally piqued my interest wasn't his theologial argument, but his argument about the nature of democracy:

Lawmaking inevitably involves some group imposing its beliefs on the rest of us. That's the nature of the democratic process. If we say that we "ought" to do something, we are making a moral judgment. When our legislators turn that judgment into law, somebody's ought becomes a "must" for the whole of society. This is not inherently dangerous; it's how pluralism works.

Democracy depends on people of conviction expressing their views, confidently and without embarrassment. This give-and-take is an American tradition, and religious believers play a vital role in it. We don't serve our country - in fact we weaken it intellectually - if we downplay our principles or fail to speak forcefully out of some misguided sense of good manners.

People who support permissive abortion laws have no qualms about imposing their views on society. Often working against popular opinion, they have tried to block any effort to change permissive abortion laws since the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. That's fair. That's their right. But why should the rules of engagement be different for citizens who oppose those laws?
This argument is a trashing of the government action/inaction dichotomy. It is theoretically basically accurate, and I am in favor of discarding this distinction in some spheres, particularly in economic matters - "deregulation" is invariably reregulation, for instance, and pretending that it is a reversion to a less active form of government is mere casuistry.

But on more explicitly moral issues, the distinction retains considerable value, and should be retained. When questions of legislating morality arise, we should conceive of them as having three options: siding with a, siding with b, or reserving judgment. Reserving judgment, in a Liberal political system, usually entails government inaction. On abortion, inaction is equivalent to the pro-choice position.

 

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