Deal Hudson is Back
The recent issue of the conservative Catholic magazine, Crisis, features an article entitled How to Vote Catholic by its former editor, Deal Hudson.
Those who know the biography of Hudson also know that it might be considered ad hominem for me to adress his article by speaking about his background, so I won't (anymore than this sentence does).
I want to engage his article, which is overall not terrible, but can be slightly misleading.
Let me start with a high compliment. His treatment of the very complex issue of bioethics issues, including IVF, cryopreservation of embryos, embryonic stem cell research and human cloning is excellent. He hits all the important issues accurately and in short space.
Overall, heavy quoting and allusion to official teaching documents translates to fairly accurate presentation of much of the Church's official teaching on key issues such as abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide, the aforementioned bioethics, population issues, the death penalty, war, and terrorism.
He adds a section on judicial issues, criticizing the opposition to recent Catholic judicial nominations. This section is weak, because the Church has no official teaching on the role of American federal judges, but it will resonate with many Catholic voters.
The introductory sections of the article address some general principles and the role of faith in informing politics.
It seems that Hudson is trying to relativize certain teachings that do not make it into his article, while also affirming that faith demands something of the Catholic voter.
A primary weakness, therefore, right from the start is that we are not getting the full depth of Catholic tradition as it applies to politics.
Hudson has attempted to distill the tradition to what he feels are the Vatican's and the bishops' highest and clearest priorities - or maybe his own priorities seeking doctrinal support.
Anyone familiar with what the popes and bishops have actually said would find this distillation process, itself, to be disengenuous.
In other words, it is not what Hudson says about abortion or other issues he choses that is necessarily wrong. It is what he doesn't say about other issues he choses not to include that is the most misleading aspect of the article.
This said, it is important to look at the issues he raises - and he will make many Catholics on the left uncomfortable - and often with good reason. I think Hudson is correct that abortion is a "dominant" issue and can often be the deciding factor in a Catholic vote.
This said, I don't like the way Hudson makes it seem that abortion is always and everywhere THE dominant issue. For example, he states the following:
Catholics know that the protection of the unborn is the "dominant issue" among all political issues. Though some have criticized Catholics as being "single-issue" voters, the principle underlying the rejection of abortion extends to other issues, such as bioethics, population, euthanasia, and defense. The mandate to protect life in politics is unconditional and should be our foremost consideration.
In my not so humble opinion, this sentence should read as follows:
Catholics know that the protection of the unborn is a "dominant issue" among all political issues. Though some have criticized Catholics as being "single-issue" voters, the principle underlying the rejection of abortion extends to other issues, such as bioethics, population, euthanasia, and defense. The mandate to protect life in politics is unconditional and should be among our foremost considerations.
Why do I say this is the proper way to frame this sentence?
Imagine that in some furture election, a pro-choice Republican like Arlen Spector is running against a pro-choice Democrat like Howard Dean, and the Green party still offers a pro-choice equivalent of Ralph Nader, and even the Reform party has a pro-choice candidate. Yet, the Neo-Nazi party offers a pro-life candidate.
Must I vote for the Neo-Nazi party simply because they are the only party oppossed to abortion on demand?
Must I abstain if I otherwise agree with Spector or Dean or Nader and/or have reason to fear a Nazi takeover to mass misunderstanding of the Church's teaching?
In trying to show that abortion is THE dominant issue that may sometimes trump economic justice considerations, Hudson correctly points out that the U.S. Bishops pastoral letter, Economic Justice for All
states the following:
We do not claim to make these prudential judgments with the same kind of authority that marks our declarations of principle.
Yet, he conveniently leaves out this quotation from Economic Justice for All
Decisions must be judged in light of what they do for the poor, what they do to the poor, and what they enable the poor to do for themselves. The fundamental moral criterion for all economic decisions, policies, and institutions is this: They must be at the service of all people, especially the poor." [Italics in original]
While the bishops are not telling us specific political solutions to poverty, it is very clear that we must ask the question "How does this help or hurt the poor?" on every policy issue, and in our overall vote.
The bishops see poverty as the highest issue. The letter in question also states:
The fulfillment of the basic needs of the poor is of the highest priority.
It is not my intention to downplay abortion.
Indeed, one could argue that the unborn are the poorest or most vulnerable among us, and the basis for our concern for the poor is the dignity of the human person, which entails a right to life.
Frequent readers know that I wholeheartedly support a constitutional amendment protecting the right to life from the moment of conception until natural death.
I am not opposed to, and even support the idea of incremental restrictions on abortion in the meantime.
Knowing that there is not a large enough pro-life consensus to pass a right to life amendment, I would also seek to reduce abortions through economic justice initiatives that decrease the demand for abortions.
This is probably an easier sell in the current political climate in a pluralistic society.
I would add that we must support women's rights in other areas to have credibility on abortion.
Indeed, I am convinced that unless we do this, we cannot build a consensus around a right to life amendment, and economic justice and human rights are a moral imperative anyway.
Thus, reducing the abortion rate through economic justice may be a priority over restrictions for now
, though I believe restrictions are inevitably the goal.
I agree with Hudson that abortion is a dominant issue in our voting.
Being unsure of the effect of some specific legislation on behalf of the poor, I am like many social conservatives is seeing that an effective restriction on abortion is more important than a specific minimum wage bill that may not seem effective to me.
Yet, if a candidate or party is opposed to abortion while being clearly calloused towards the poor, or worse, proposing a platform that will clearly harm the poor, I do not owe that party unqualified support.
Life issues can be legitimately seen as "foundational" in a certain sense. If a person is hungry, but not literally starving to death, I may be able to do something for him or her tommorow that I cannot do today. Yet, I can do nothing tommorrow for the unborn child aborted today.
In that sense, protecting innocent human life from harm will always have a certain precedence or "dominance" in the heart of a Catholic voter, and Democrats would do very well to understand the urgency and importance of this issue to people of faith.
Simply put, many of us Catholics feel that abortion is legalized murder!
The Church doesn't officially teach the precise moment after conception that a human being becomes a human person or has a soul, but we Catholics presume personhood where there is doubt.
I am firmly convinced that the Democrats have lost millions of Catholic votes over this issue, and probably deservedly.
The answer for Democrats does not lie in trying to change Catholic convictions on this subject, nor in attempts to trade off another issue for abortion. That simply isn't going to happen.
Nor is the answer in Democrats adopting religious rhetoric. Voters can smell insincerity, and even if one is sincere, one can be wrong.
If the Democrats want to recapture the Catholic votes they once had locked up, the Democratic party must change direction on abortion. It is that simple.
That said, Catholics do not need to feel obligated to vote Republican, and nobody should ever claim we are morally obligated to make abortion the most important issue always and everywhere, because such a claim is simply false.
I am not trying to minimize abortion so much as point out that even when we say life issues are dominant - and particularly the life of the innocent and vulnerable - this dominance cannot lead to single issue voting around a specific solution.
There is more than one way to reduce abortion, and more than one life issue on the table.
If people are hungry but not starving to death today, effective restrictions abortion may trump their immediate concern.
Yet, if people are
literally starving to death today
, their lives are no less valuable than the unborn.
Moreover, if we wage an unjust war causing the collateral death of civilians, that takes the life of innocent and vulnerable human beings no less valuable than the unborn.
Indeed, we could argue, as I have, that our material cooperation with evil as voters is more immediate or proximate to the acting moral agent when state authority is used to kill unjustly than when private citizens take innocent human lives.
We often unfortunately but justifiably feel that the best we can do is add up some sort of sum total of a candidate's positions to determine which is more pro-life overall than the other.
This is especially true for sincere consistent ethic of life voters who care about economic justice and the environment too.
Abortion is very important issue - a
dominant issue for the Catholic voter. Sometimes, it is the deciding factor in a particular voting decision.
Deal Hudson and I can agree upon that.
Yet, abortion can never be considered THE dominant issue at the exclusion of other sanctity of life issues in an absolute sense. Hudson is wrong to imply that.
Hudson states the following:
The Church teaches very clearly that the political order is not separate from the divine order revealed by faith ( Gaudium et Spes , 74).
I read GS 74 three times after reading this line, and I don't quite see how it says "the political order is not separate from the divine order revealed by faith".
What GS 74 seems to say to me is that the political order is not separate from the moral order discerned by natural reason as the natural law written on the human heart.
There is only a single sentence in the passage saying that just resistence to despotic political authority is limitted by natural law "and the gospels", which is about as close the entire section comes to a reference to revelation.
The distinction I am making here is that while natural law never contradicts "the divine order revealed by faith", the former is a small subset of the latter.
Natural law is available to even an atheist, and can be debated rationally without any appeal whatsover to revelation if necessary.
What GS 74 is saying seems to me the opposite of what Hudson is saying.
GS 74 is saying that if you cannot back up your platform with natural reason, you are very likely imposing your religious values on others in an illegitimate way.
I am not suggesting we cannot also
appeal to the language of faith in politics to inspire action.
As Barak Obama stated in an article I posted yesterday, it is foolhardy for politicians not to appeal to the language their constituents use to make decisions.
However, this needs to be done cautiously lest we take the Lord's name in vain, violating the second commandment.
If one cannot appeal to natural reason for one's politics, it is even highly possible that an appeal to the language of faith is a misuse of religious language bordering on idolatry, violating the first commandment.
Revelation should never be appealed to in politics divorced from reason. The moment it is, flags should go up in the mind and heart of the Catholic believer that he or she is being manipulated or deceived.
Further, GS 76 very clearly makes a distinction between Church and state and sets forth as doctrine a legitimate autounomy between the two.
We could add this that GS 28 affirms the primacy of conscience and warns against judging others, while GS 43 warns against confusing a specific political solution with the teaching of the Church.
Further, the entire document adresses a wide range of issues of economic justice, peace, the environment, as well as issues regarding the sanctity of human life. Single issue voting is not encouraged by Gaudium et Spes.
While it is true that faith will set forth principles that inspire and inform all political decisions, the Church does not and will not ever specifically tell us how to vote or try to establish any sort of theocracy ruled by the pope.
Hudson states the following:
Those who treat abortion as just one of many issues are misleading Catholic voters. Abortion is unique among policy issues because it is not a matter of prudential judgment. [Italics in original]
This is true in a certain context, but very doctrinally misleading the way Hudson states it.
Some Catholics have tried to downplay the gravity of abortion to justify voting for a pro-choice politician who they supported for a reason that is not proportionate to abortion.
Nevertheless, before he was made Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger clearly stated that one could have a proportionate reason to vote for a pro-choice candidate you would otherwise not support.
What does Hudson mean when he says that abortion "is not a matter of prudential judgment"?
What Hudson seems to be referring to is the principle that abortion is called an "intrinsic evil" which means that it is immoral "always and everywhere" - semper et pro semper
(see Veritatis Splendor
There is no room to justify direct abortion by intentions or circumstances as a prudential choice.
On the other hand, a war may be just or unjust depending on circumstances and intentions. War allows for prudential judgment under strict conditions.
Abortion is not the only act VS or the CCC define as intrinsically evil. Torture is another.
Indeed, deliberately acting with foreknowledge in such a manner that one will take an innocent human life is intrinsically evil, raising questions in the mind of Pope Benedict whether any modern war can be called morally licit given the collateral damage caused by war.
He has explicitly stated this concern in nearly those exact words before he was elected Pope!
Abortion, torture, and unjust war are all very serious issues - what the Church calls "grave matter".
War is not "intrinsically evil", but an unjust war is gravely evil - more grave than the intrinsic evil of masturbation.
Not every "intrinsic evil" is as grave as these issues.
Though masturbation can be a mortal sin in Church teaching, and is considered grave and intrinsically disordered, nobody, not even the most conservative theologian, would argue we need a law against masturbation, or that it is as serious or grave as murder or pedophilia.
Again, it is not my intention to downplay abortion as an important issue.
My intention is point out that we cannot jump from saying that there is no wiggle room - no room for "prudential judgment" - on an issue to the conclusion that the issue in question trumps all others.
In a popular Catholic voter guide issued during the 2004 election, abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, and gay marriage were described as "non-negotiables" because they refer to five issues the Vatican has defined as "intrinsic evils".
Even if we accept that these five issues are "grave and intrinsic evils" it does not follow that one or all of them is more important than other issues.
Indeed, in that list, the four life issues are more important than the issue of gay marriage, even according to the Vatican.
And there are plenty of theologians who question the Vatican on whether gay unions or gay marriage is really intrinsically evil in the first place.
Even if all five are "intrinsically evil", it still does not follow that they "non-negotiable".
These issues are not "non-negotiable" in any technical sense. As we will see, even Deal Hudson, based on Pope John Paul II, admits we can take an "incremental" approach to issues like abortion.
An incremental approach means, by definition, negotiation!
If we chose a different and more precise term than "non-negotiable", it simply does not follow that all grave and intrinsic evils take precedence over injustices that are recognized in prudential judgment.
Part of the reason it does not follow is that there are many things defined by the Church as "grave and intrinsic evils", and not all of the things on the list need to be dealt with by legal remedies.
I mentioned masturbation, and most American Catholics probably do not believe that we need laws against the sale of contraception, which is also called a grave and intrinsic evil (Hudson would seem to favor such laws).
The Vatican would clearly place the evil of an unjust war above the evil of masturbation.
According to John Paul II, the list of intrinsic evils includes fornication, adultery, blasphemy and idolatry (VS 81).
Laws against such things may be impractical or infringe on a higher value, such as legitimate religious liberty or the value of mercy in a compassionate society that does not stone adulterers or put a scarlett letter on their clothing.
The list of what the Vatican calls grave intrinsic evils also includes "whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat labourers as mere instruments of profit, and not as free responsible persons" (VS 80)
I seldom hear my fellow pro-lifers or other social conservatives speaking as passionately about degrading working conditions, treating labourers as mere instruments of profit, or subhuman living conditions as they speak on abortion - and there is no room for "prudential judgment" on these issues - they are "intrinsically evil".
Hudson states the following:
The Church allows support for politicians "whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known" and who take an "incremental" approach to restoring the culture of life ( Evangelium Vitae, 73).
In other words, it's permissible for a Catholic voter to vote for a politician who attempts to pass, for example, the ban on partial-birth abortion. The support for such a ban is not to be construed as political indifference to the millions of other abortions.
The partial birth abortion ban was struck down in federal courts.
It was predictable that it would be, because it did not contain very specific language that the Supreme Court had already mandated prior to its passage regarding protection of the life of the mother.
Don't misunderstand me. Polls showed that eighty percent of the American people wanted the practice of late term partial birth abortions banned. It is an abhorrent practice that would never be medically necessary.
I oppose partial birth abortion along with most Americans.
Passing the bill was an important symbolic victory for the pro-life movement, but everyone in Congress who voted for it knew this was not a law that would ever be enforced.
This was not an "incremental" restriction on abortion. It was political theater.
There is no moral obligation on the Catholic politician or the Catholic voter to support an illegal law or a law that one believes will never be enforced, no matter how theatric or how symbolic the effect.
Hudson is engaging in some political spin here, and perhaps tacitly taking a swipe at Catholic Democrats like John Kerry, who opposed the ban because it contained (by ommission) language the courts already ruled as unconstituional.
Whatever we think of Kerry, or some other Catholic Democrat, it is important to realize that being pro-life is more than kicking around a political football through symbolic gestures with no real teeth.
We are not obligated to vote for laws that cannot or likely will not be enforced.
If Republicans really want to keep the pro-life Catholic votes they have gained in recent decades, they better pay attention to what conservative Catholics are starting to grumble already - that we're on to the game, and we won't be used.
Either pass an enforceable and meaningful restriction on abortion, or stay out of the game.
If restrictions that can be enforced are not passed, we have no alternative but to look to the Democrats with their 95/10 plan to reduce abortion through economic justice.
The Democrats have recently proposed two bills aimed at this, one with a contraception package, and the other without. The bishops support the latter.
Any Republican who resists these initiatives already in the house out of partisan bickering should feel the wrath of the Catholic voter.
It is interesting that Hudson explores the morality of the death penalty and concludes that it is immoral in the United States of America. Good for him.
He elaborates by saying the following:
However, what is true in the United States and other developed countries may not be true in less developed parts of the world where prisons provide security for neither those on the inside nor the outside. Prudential judgment is required to apply this teaching to circumstances.
On the one hand, I want to pat Hudson on the back for opposing the death penalty in America.
Yet, I cannot help wondering if his effort to imply that it may be moral somewhere is an attempt to downplay the importance of this grave life issue involving the use of state authority to kill.
John Paul II did not hesitate to say that situations where the death penalty would be moral today are "very rare, if not practically non-existent."
I take "practically non-existent" to mean "in practice, not existent today, if existent in theory in another age".
On war, Hudson states the following:
The Church has never taught pacifism as an option for those in charge of the common good, only for individuals in certain circumstances...In certain cases, war can be a moral duty. [Italics in original]
It may seem like quibbling with linguistics, but the Church does not
teach that "war can be a moral duty".
What the Church teaches is that those vested with responsibility for the common good have a right and duty to impose the obligations necessary for the national defense, while they must respect the rights of those who remounce violence for the sake of the gospel.
My point is that the duty towards "national defense" does not automatically translate to "war", and regardless, the duty of national defense never means a pacifist or practioner of active non-violence must be forced to take up arms.
If the Church acknowledges that there are those who renounce violence for the sake of the gospel, and that their decision is "legitimate" and a witness to "evangelical charity" to be honored by public authorities (paragraphs 2306 and 2311 of the CCC), it is simply not possible that a universal duty
to wage war is incumbent on all citizens capable of serving in the military.
If an entire society (such as the Amish) refused to take up arms, the duty for national defense would likely entail some sort of collective effort at non-violent conflict resolution.
A duty to act to protect the innocent is
universal. Waging war as the means of acting to protect the innocent is not ever a clear duty.
Just war doctrine is to be interpreted with a presumption against war (CCC paragraph 2308).
The conditions for just war that Hudson quotes verbatim from the CCC in his article clearly imply aggression is in progress when legitimate military defense is invoked.
As Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) stated in early 2003 prior to the invasion of Iraq, "preventive war is not in the Catechism of the Catholic Church."
This brings me to the following sentence in Hudson's section on dealing with terrorism after his attempt to trivialize the bishop's direction to deal with terror by adressing social justice issues:
In short, the best defense against aggression combines three elements: first, a military prepared to implement a proportionate and effective response; second, international diplomacy that identifies and resolves the causes of conflict before military action becomes necessary; and third, a foreign policy that seeks to correct social conditions that foster aggression and terrorism, through international cooperation.
Hudson has the priorities in the exact reverse of what I believe the Church actually teaches, and he leaves out important caveats.
The sentence should read as follows, with my added caveats in italics:
In short, the best defense against aggression combines three elements: first, the highest priority must be placed on a foreign policy that seeks to correct social conditions that foster aggression and terrorism through international cooperation; second, international diplomacy that identifies and resolves the causes of conflict before military action becomes necessary; and third, a military prepared to implement proportionate and effective response to agression in progress, after non-violent conflict resolution has failed, and without foreseeably causing civilian casualties under any circumstances.
Finally, let me conclude by repeating what I have said in recent weeks that is consistent with Economic Justice for All
I know this speculative, but it seems intuitively on the mark to me.
If we are to view policy decisions with an eye to how the poor are effected as "the highest priority", and we are to embrace a consistent ethic of life, it seems clear to me that spending over $300 billion dollars on killing people in Iraq is not as effective as spending $300 billion on saving lives.
If, instead of waging war in Iraq, we were tackling poverty at home and abroad, maybe abortion rates would be down.
If abortion rates were down, maybe we Catholics could begin to dialogue with radical feminism about ways to join forces to promote women's liberation, such as ending sex trafficking.
If radical feminist felt they had an ally in the Church in a world where abortion is seen as unnecessary, maybe we could pass a right to life amendment.
And if America were leading the world in international development, maybe terrorist would not be supported by states that currently feel threatened by us, and the war on terror could be waged through limitted international police actions.
To me, it is all interconnected. Where you spend your money, there your heart is. Budgets are moral documents.
That discernment should have an impact on how we vote as Catholics.