Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Chasm

I'm tempted to not even bring this up, because in some ways it runs counter to the general lessons that I drew from Benedict XVI's visit to the United States, but it struck me as so typical that I think it deserves a brief look.

On Tuesday last week, as millions of Americans watched Pope Benedict XVI touch down at Andews Air Force Base and be welcomed personally by the president, Senator Brownback (R-KS) and Senator Casey (D-PA) jointly introduced a Senate resolution welcoming the pope to American soil. Both senators describe themselves as devout Catholics, and the language of the welcome would, one would think, be fairly uncontroversial.
Welcoming Pope Benedict XVI to the United States and recognizing the unique insights his moral and spiritual reflections bring to the world stage.

Whereas Pope Benedict XVI will travel to the United States for his first pastoral visit as Pope and will visit Washington, DC, and New York;

Whereas Pope Benedict XVI was elected as the 265th Bishop of Rome on April 19, 2005, succeeding the much beloved Pope John Paul II;

Whereas the visit of Pope Benedict XVI will mark the 9th visit of a pope to the United States, recognizing the historical importance of the Catholic Church in American life, the deep faith and charity of its members, and the responsibilities of the United States in world affairs;

Whereas Pope Benedict XVI has spoken approvingly of the vibrance of religious faith in the United States, a faith nourished by a constitutional commitment to religious liberty that neither attempts to strip our public spaces of religious expression nor denies the ultimate source of our rights and liberties;

Whereas Pope Benedict XVI remains committed to ecumenical dialogue and, during his trip to the United States, will meet with leaders of world religions and representatives of other Christian denominations and will visit a synagogue in New York City, all demonstrating his commitment to sincere dialogue and unity among all members of the human family;

Whereas Pope Benedict XVI has authored 2 encyclical letters inviting the world to meditate on the virtues of love and hope, ‘‘Deus caritas est’’ and ‘‘Spe salvi’’;

Whereas millions of Americans have discovered in Pope Benedict’s words a renewed faith in the power of hope over despair and love over hate;

Whereas Pope Benedict XVI has been a clear and courageous voice for the voiceless, working tirelessly for the recognition of human dignity and religious freedom across the globe;

Whereas Pope Benedict XVI has spoken out for the weak and vulnerable, witnessing to the value of each and every human life;

Whereas Pope Benedict XVI seeks to advance a ‘‘civilization of love’’ across our world; and

Whereas Catholics in parishes and schools across the Nation, and countless other Americans as well, eagerly await the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the United States: Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That the Senate welcomes Pope Benedict XVI on the occasion of his first pastoral visit to the United States and recognizes the unique insights his moral and spiritual reflections bring to the world stage.[source]
You might think this was the kind of nice gesture which even in our highly partisan political atmostphere could fly right through the Senate on a wave of goodwill. After all, 25% of Americans identify as Catholic, the pope is a unique world figure, and the resolution was joint sponsored by a Republican renowned for his work on social justice issues and a Democrat who has been held up to Catholics as a sign of a new tollerance for pro-life Democrats and a "seamless garment of life" approach to moral/social issues.

However, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), by whom I had the dubious honor of being represented before moving to Texas, held up the resolution until Thursday when Senator Brownback agreed to remove two "controversial" phrases:

"witnessing to the value of each and every human life"


"that neither attempts to strip our public spaces of religious expression nor denies the ultimate source of our rights and liberties"

Jay Anderson and his commentors note that one could see this as a startling honesty on Sen. Boxer's part, since generally pro-abortion politicians insist that there is no "human life" involved in abortion, but merely "pieces of tissue" or "potential life".

More deeply, though, I think this speeks to a chasm that runs through American politics. There is a not-so-small portion of the American citizenry for whom the idea that Pope Benedict and the Church he leads should have anything to say on issues such as human life, the source and nature of human freedom, etc. is not only incorrect, but also offensive. The Daily Kos is so consumed with hatred at the idea that the pope might mean anything for Americans and American civic discussion that in its coverage of the stalling of the Senate resolution, it refers to the pope only as "this pedophile enabler". And Senator Boxer sees the pope so exclusively through the lens of American partisan politics that she sees the phrase "witnessing to the value of each and every human life" as offensive.

It's clearly not the case that all those who tend to vote Democrat are radical secularists and abortion advocates. However, a large enough number of those who are radical secularists and/or abortion advocates are also passionate Democrats that any national-level Democratic candidate who wants to be successful at this time seems to feel it necessary to do nothing that will seriously offend that constituency -- and a certain amount to please them. (Thus the invariable realization by any Democratic politican who decides to run for national level office that any pro-life convictions he personally held were only "personal".)

This is what makes me deeply, deeply skeptical of the claim, by self-identified conservatives and Catholics such as Prof. Kmiec, that an Obama presidency would somehow bring in an era of self responsibility and respect for others that would help heal the abortion issue more than anything continued restrictions and conservative Supreme Court appointments could achieve. It's not that many on the liberal side of the political spectrum do not have passionate feelings about helping "the little guy" as they identify him, but those feelings are always couched in terms that make abortion, euthenasia, and a host of other, smaller (and thus far more widely accepted) assaults on human life not only credible, but merciful.

Some might argue that Senator Boxer is some sort of fringe character -- and it's true that California is one of the bluest of blue states. However she is by no means seen as fringy in the Democratic Party itself.

Boxer, and a not small portion of the base she represents, seems to see the pope and the Church he leads in strictly partisan terms. So rather than taking the phrase "witnessing to the value of each and every human life" to be something that everyone could agree to in a spirit of welcome (while in her mind holding to disagreement as to what the term "every human life" could be taken to mean) she sought to have it struck out, along with the suggestion that religious belief had a place in public conversation and as the root of our liberties.

Until someone seeks to root this kind of thinking out of the Democratic Party mainstream, I think serious Christians would be right to remain leary of a claimed openness in that party to "people of faith". If positions and beliefs are to be held to mean anything, it would seem that one of the things that the Democratic Party would like to tell us is: However much you may agree with us on other issues, pro-lifers and Christians need not apply -- unless you want to leave your faith at the door and act like a good little secularist.

No amount of platitudinous words will bridge this chasm which has been dug throught he center of American political discourse if there is no effort to get rid of the attitudes and ideologies which dug the chasm in the first place.


Anonymous said...

"Until someone seeks to root this kind of thinking out of the Democratic Party mainstream, I think serious Christians would be right to remain leary of a claimed opennes in that party to "people of faith"."

Actually it's pretty easy to find evidence that prominent Democrats are trying to root this kind of thinking out of their party even now. I would point to both Obama's and Clinton's expressions of their own faith*, or the discussions on various liberal blogs and magazines about the fact that a resolutely secular political philosophy might not be a winning strategy in a country where over 90% of the population professes some sort of religious belief. Pelosi is an old Democratic war-horse and her views on religion in public life are not shared by most of the younger generation of Democrats. The change has already begun.


* I know, they were probably phony. But the fact that they both felt it necessary to say such things, rather than making Pelosi-esque denials of religion in general, is a good sign.

Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

Joel, how do you figure that a "probably phony" expression of pretend religious faith by a candidate, or a few bloggers looking for a more successful strategy, constitutes any sort of meaningful effort to "root out" anti-religious thinking in the Democratic Party?

The sad truth is, not only are the Democrats succeeding in winning over hearts and minds to the culture of death and the ethics of "if if feels good, do it", but many Republicans are saying that cultural issues are losers for them, and that the GOP has to "get past" (to quote Mayor Giuliani) issues like abortion.

Darwin said...

I certainly hope that that is the case.

Though I myself would find myself on the conservative end of things even in a world in which both parties were equally pro-life and open to religious belief, I know that there are many who find themselves at a very painfull crossroads because of the generally anti-religious and pro-abortion bent which has ruled the Democratic party for the last twenty years or so.

That said, at least as an outsider, it remains unclear to me whether recent developments represent a real shift or just an attempt not to lose the remaining seriously religious Democratic voters. Time will tell.

Anonymous said...

Also, FWIW, the Senate Majority Leader is a Mormon with a moderately anti-abortion voting record. The D party would certainly not have let that happen even 10 years ago.


Pro Ecclesia said...

Sorry to disagree, but there is little if any discernable difference between Harry Reid's leadership of the Senate and Tom Daschle's.

In fact, it could be argued that Tip O'Neill was far more amenable to Ronald Reagan's reaching across party lines on matter of importance to faith voters than Harry Reid has been to similar efforts by George W. Bush.

Pro Ecclesia said...

Granted, Tip O'Neill was Speaker of the House and not Senate Majority Leader, but the point remains.

Walter said...

I read about this last week and at that point offically considered myself an ex-Democrat. Over the past year or so I struggled to answer why I was still a Democrat as I no longer agree with most of their economic rhetoric and,thanks to God's grace, stopped lying to myself that i could be "pro-choice" but against abortion;the false "safe, legal and rare" stance. I am a convert to the Church and this is a huge change for me.
On election day 20 years ago (my first chance to vote after turning 18) my beloved grandmother said "Make sure you vote straight Democrat." I have volunteered on many local, state and national Dem campaigns and even worked as a district staffer for a very prominent Congressman.

Now I don't think i will ever say to any future grandchild God blesses me with to vote straight Dem as I can truly say I no longer agree with them on anything policy related and can not feel comfortable voting for a party that I am sure will allow more leniency towards abortion and the genocidal acts of Planned Parentood, ease same-sex 'marriages" and vote to fund embryonic stem-cell research.

Anonymous said...

"There is a not-so-small portion of the American citizenry for whom the idea that Pope Benedict and the Church he leads should have anything to say on issues such as human life, the source and nature of human freedom, etc. is not only incorrect, but also offensive."

And these people are in control of the Democrat. This is also the reason why, in a year that any Democrat should beat any Republican in the Presidential contest, John McCain stands a decent chance of being elected. The unguarded remarks of Obama regarding bitter small towners and their "clinging" to guns and religion, merely recycled the common wisdom of most Democrat leaders and most Democrat activists. The idea that rational intelligent people could take religion seriously is foreign to them, and therefore there must be some other explanation as to why so many people in our nation are religious. The old Democrat party, prior to 68 never had a problem attracting people of faith, however since 68 the Democrats have become a party where "God botherers", to use a charming phrase popular on atheist web-sites, need not apply when it comes to shaping party policy.

Walter said...

"The unguarded remarks of Obama regarding bitter small towners and their "clinging" to guns and religion, merely recycled the common wisdom of most Democrat leaders and most Democrat activists."

Don't forget his wife is proud if this nation for the first time in her life. I know they and others would say this was just a slip, but as someone who used to not stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, that was no slip. Her church and 'Rev." Wright, and this "slip" show it is something she truly believes cause i would have said the same nonsense a few years ago.

Anonymous said...

Mickey Kaus, as usual, is brilliant and funny in looking at the "vulgar Marxism" of the "bittergate" remarks of Obama.

What is telling about the type of attitude typified by Obama remarks is that this type of snide pose has led to electoral defeat time and time again. However, the elites of the Democrat party "cling" to this type of ridicule of people of faith, knowing full well that such scorn is definitely not a way to win elections. Better to lose elections, I guess, rather than be suspected of being "unsophisticated", or, even worse, a "Christer".

LogEyed Roman said...

The abortion issue is the main symptom of the much more general culture of death, as slavery was the main symptom of racism. In the 1850s, the pro-Slavery people, increasingly threatened, became more and more extreme in their attempts to justify slavery. They also put more and more pressure on the Federal government to support it. Many in the North who were indifferent or lukewarm beforehand found themselves aroused by hearing about slavery more and more, and by the South's increasingly bullying political tactics.

Sound familiar?

No, we are not going to have a civil war with armies from the Culture of Life fighting those of the Culture of Death out on open battlefields. But like slavery, abortion is not going to go away, and there comes a point where compromise will not be possible.

My crystal ball is cloudy on further details. But I'm sure it's going to get worse before it gets better, and it will NOT be settled by compromises.

LogEyed Roman

Anonymous said...

LER wrote: "abortion is not going to go away".

Yes, it is going away. Someday, probably soon, the Supremes will strike down Roe v Wade. And then the legislatures of 47 or 48 states will move with lightning speed to legalize abortion in their own jurisdictions. Two or three states (Utah? Mississippi?) will ban abortion completely, 20 or 30 states will ban third trimester abortions, and several will require parental consent for minors. Something like 98% of women who want abortions will be able to get them. (The little town of Elko, Nevada will probably set up an abortion clinic for women driving from Salt Lake City. A thriving Nevada business generated by the Utah ban.)

And since abortion will now be a state issue, it will indeed go away from the federal stage. No compromise needed.

rose said...

Anonymous, I'm not so sure about that. The thing is that, for hardcore pro-choicers, limited access to abortion is as unacceptable as it is to hardcore pro-lifers (though for opposite reasons). So if abortion does get turned into a state matter, I suspect the pro-choice faction will start on a crusade to get a "right to choose" amendment into the constitution, or some other federal guarantee of access.

Turning abortion over to the states might make it *less* of a federal issue, but I think it would still be one.

Katherine said...

I am pro-life and my local Democratic Committee is very welcoming to me as a precinct committeewoman. My GOP counterpart is on the Board of Directors of Planned Parenthood.

Darwin said...


While it's true that both parties are generally much more flexible at a local level -- I think it's pretty accurate to say that the Dems will current not nominate anyone remotely pro-life to a president or VP slot, nor will the Republicans nominate anyone pro-choice to the presidential slot. (Cheney is fairly pro-choice, from what I understand, but he got through basically by being very quiet about it.) I think Rudy's pathetic performance in this year's primary, however, pretty much shows that the GOP currently won't accept a pro-choicer.

One or both of those facts may change someday, but they sure haven't yet.

Darwin said...

Though I should be clear: If given a choice between a pro-life democrat and a GOP planned parenthood director, I'd vote Democrat (for the first time in my life.) I'm not necessarily a strict one issue voter, but there's no way that I'd vote for a Planned Parenthood director for anything other than banishment.

Katherine said...

Dear Mr. Darwin,

First of all, thank you for your support. I'm glad I can count on your vote should you ever re-locate to my precinct!

Second, not to edit your posts, but I am sure you will agree that you misspoke when you said "fact". One can never call a future event a "fact" for that is the sin of soothsaying. Having said that, I do think we can make reasonable assumptions as to where the presidential candidates will be on life issues. As for V-P, names like Nunn, Zinni, Bayh and Casey are being floated for the Democratic pick and with the GOP, pro-choicers like Dr. Rice and Lieberman. McCain also picked an abortion advocate to chair the Republican National Convention (his only major pick of a high official so far).

As a side issue, my GOP colleague also has served as one of the presidential electors nominated by her party. Should she be in that role again this year, it does create an interesting issues as you may recall from Civics class, technically we vote for electors not presidential candidates.

Darwin said...

Actually, I did think a moment before using the term "fact", though I suppose I'm using it in a somewhat variant fashion.

As far as I can tell, at the national level both parties have (whether they fully realize this or not) landed themselves in a position where they cannot change their position on abortion (or at least, cannot be perceived to change it) without finding a replacement for 5-10% of their current voting block. And given how tight national politics currently, neither party is eager to try this. (Perhaps more importantly, since national nominations are effectively self-correcting through voting, even if they want to try, it's very hard for it to happen.)

There is most certainly a significant pro-choice minority in the Republican party. I think it's probably accurate to concede that the pro-choice faction of the Republican party is rather stronger than the pro-life minority in the Democratic party. Certainly, as a pro-life Republican I don't like that, but things have not got anywhere near the point I'd start to see it being an even issue between the parties. While I'd be mildly impressed if Obama selected a running mate who was nominally pro-life, I must admit that I'd be very, very surprised.

As for the elector's issue: I'm afraid I can't manage to see that as much of a moral issue at all. The electors have been stripped of any real power at this point. It's basically an honorary position. For all intents and purposes, we do vote for the presidential candidate.

Katherine said...

Dear Mr. Darwin,

I think that is a very fair analysis. Certainly we can find merit both in those who press for the GOP majority position on abortion, and those working within both parties to break the unfortunate stalemate we find ourselves in.