Monday, July 28, 2014

Pro-life without exception

All faithful Catholics are supposed to be pro-life.  That is, we are supposed to follow the commandment "You shall not kill."  There are exceptions made for self-defense, including just war and the death penalty, but there is no exception whatsoever for killing the innocent.  It's very simple.  You just don't kill innocent people ever, for any reason.  Would you kill a single innocent person to save the lives of every single other person on earth?

I wouldn't, because that would be an evil thing to do.

Of course this sets Catholics up for a lot of conflict with the rest of the world.  Where abortion is concerned, our refusal to make exceptions maddens everyone else.  What if the life of the mother is in danger?  What if the baby wouldn't live anyway?  What if it's only one cell big?  What if its father was a rapist?

And we repeat, like a broken record, "No.  You must not kill the innocent for any reason whatsoever."

However, abortion isn't the only pro-life issue out there.

When innocent people are killed in the course of war, that is also a grave moral evil.  It's bad enough when a non-combatant stumbles into a battlefield and gets killed, completely unforeseeably.  That's a tragedy, and should make us rethink the supposed necessity of warfare, but it can't always be helped.  However, when it can be foreseen that civilians are going to be in a place, and someone makes the choice to attack that place anyway, that's something more than an accident.  It's a disregard for human life that is, to my mind, comparable to using a birth control method that you know to be abortifacient, or driving drunk.  You don't mean to kill someone, but you choose to leave yourself open to the possibility of killing them.

I've been calling out Israel a lot lately for doing this very thing.  If five civilians had died in their attacks, I would call it an accident.  When they have killed over a thousand people and eighty percent of them are non-combatants -- many of them children -- it would be ridiculous to call it an accident.  They have decided it is an acceptable level of collateral damage.  "Collateral damage," like "pregnancy termination," is a word that is used to paper over the fact that you are committing murder.  You have decided that your own goals, whatever they are, are worth more than another person's entire life.

None of this is intended to excuse Hamas.  Since its rockets have hardly managed to hit anything at all, they aren't murderers on the same scale, but it seems their intentions are the same.  I am not attempting to take sides in this dispute; it's enormously complex and at this point there is no solution that would come close to pleasing everyone.  I doubt there will be found any compromise that the sides will both accept.  I find this frustrating and depressing.  My point is simply that it doesn't matter whether your cause is right or wrong -- if you choose to target non-combatants, you are committing murder and should expect no support from civilized people.

The trouble is, they are receiving support from civilized people.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us:

We have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them:
- by participating directly and voluntarily in them;
- by ordering, advising, praising, or approving them;
- by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so;
- by protecting evil-doers.

Many people consider having to pay for someone's birth control is cooperation with evil.  I don't think so, because if we merely follow the law, we are not participating voluntarily; and paying an insurance premium is hardly direct either.  We don't approve in any way of their using it; we prefer they didn't and we may tell them so.  It just happens to be on the list of things their insurance will cover, and so they might -- without our knowledge and consent -- use it.

But you know what is cooperation with evil?  Defending and approving the actions of any country -- including our own -- when they target innocents.  Saying, "They have no choice" (We always have a choice.  Death before sin.) or "Well, perhaps that will make the population stop supporting the enemy"  (Targeting civilians in order to frighten them into acceding to our demands is called terrorism.).  Petitioning Congress, or supporting a certain candidate, because you know they will send money for Israel's weapons.  That is, in my opinion, no less "cafeteria Catholicism" and a violation of the fifth commandment than supporting politicians who favor and fund abortion.

So it just boggles my mind, boggles it all to pieces, that Catholics support this stuff.  Do you like Israel and consider it an ally?  Then you should all the more call them out when they do wrong, just as you should when your own country does it.  I have clearly stated many times that it was morally wrong to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to blitz Dresden, to steal land from Native Americans, to drone civilian areas in the Middle East.  And so it says nothing about my support or disapproval of the nation of Israel that I also condemn its behavior.

(Though, for the record, one should be able to criticize the nation of Israel without being called anti-semitic.  Not all Jews are Zionists, and not all Zionists are Jews.)

Another slightly less grave issue, but one that I also consider part and parcel of being a good Catholic, is immigration.  I find it odd to hear slogans like "How could there be too many children?  That would be like having too many flowers," and "We always have room for one more!" when it comes to having more babies of our own, but when it's someone else's children that are already born, some people are eager to slam the door.  I don't understand it.  Children are children; welcoming them and caring for them is what Catholics do.

Now the disaster of having so many come in all at once is difficult to deal with, and it'll take some doing to handle it.  But we're going to have to find a way.  Ask any Catholic what the sins that cry out to heaven are.  They'll tell you (if they've heard of this concept), "Sodomy, uh ... murder .... um ..... "  But somehow no one ever remembers that failing to care for foreigners, widows, and orphans is also on the list.  (So is failing to pay a just wage -- go figure.)  Why these sins, and not others?  Because these sins can't be avenged on this earth; they are committed against the weak and vulnerable who can't punish you.  Maybe that's why they seems so easy to do.  It's easy to scream at a busload of Hispanic children to go back where they came from.  They can't do anything to you.  That's why it's a cowardly and despicable thing to do.

It does seem that most Catholics understand this, because I haven't heard as much anti-immigration shrieking in my Catholic circles as I used to.  The bishops certainly are on my side with this.  My personal belief is that broader legal immigration will solve a heck of a lot of problems, including the oppression of farm workers, outsourcing of jobs overseas (you can't have free trade and a closed border and not have that happen), and perhaps even our slow economy.  People, after all, are what fuel the economy.  Let people come in with their whole families and they'll spend their money here instead of sending it home.  Anyway, as a libertarian, I can't see that government has a right to restrict who can apply for a job or rent an apartment here simply to protect current residents from competition.  The job of government is just to check everyone over and make sure they're not dangerous criminals.  If they're not, let 'em in, I say.  We could use more hard workers.  There's a good discussion of Catholic political teaching and immigration here -- the entire series is worth reading.

But even if you disagree with me on that, you should agree at least that people ought to be treated like people; that young children are, by definition, innocent and not to be mistreated; that we have a responsibility to the weakest in society; and so forth.  And so it seems clear enough to me that sending these kids right back to the violence and chaos they are escaping would be wrong.

Some people would say this whole post is proof that I am a liberal.  And you know what?  I don't care.  A faithful Catholic, if they really take the Church's teaching seriously, is not going to fit into a political party or an ideological camp.  We are no one's side, because no one is exactly on our side.

When it comes to how to vote or who to support, we are bound to feel conflicted and end up compromising one way or another in the hopes of getting at least something.  But on actual issues, don't be deceived: you can't slavishly stick to a party line and also cleave faithfully to the Church's teaching.  You're going to have to offend pretty much everyone once in awhile.  That's what abiding to an unshakeable moral code is all about.


Alaina said...

I am completely with you on the incongruence of Church teaching and any party line. That's exactly why I've always registered as an independent voter. I could not see any reason to promise allegiance to a political party that I did not completely agree with. I have principles that are more binding than their platforms.

Also, I had to laugh at this post being proof that you're a liberal. Back in my first week of college, I remember being interrogated in the lunch line on my position regarding gun ownership. When it came out that I didn't like guns and had no intention of ever owning one or hunting with one, oh the accusations of being a media-loving liberal! It took several weeks to convince the person in question that I was not, in fact, a stealthy member of the Democratic party on campus.

Sheila said...

The groupthink along the political spectrum is just ridiculous. There's no real connection between, say, believing in a free market and being in favor of fracking, and yet it's almost a point of pride for conservatives to be anti-environment. Or for the same people to be pro-gun and anti-immigration. I guess it's partly because they read and listen to the same stuff. That, and just the tendency of people to form tribes and then back each other up. It's a little lonely not to be in one myself.

entropy said...

I love this post and completely agree with you. Your blog is fun to read because no matter what you stick with your convictions!

'Akaterina said...


By the way, my family I think doesn't know what to do with me. Am I conservative or am I liberal? I don't support abortion but I do want a free Palestine???? WHAA? ;)

This is why, however, the Popes in the early modern period warned against joining political parties. I think they had a point. There has to be a way that as Catholics we can be politically active without being constrained by political platforms.

Anonymous said...

THANK YOU for again hitting it out of the ballpark. (I'm the anonymous commenter from your last post. I enjoy your blog and think you're a great writer.)

I never understood why more of us pro-lifers aren't anti-gun? Why aren't more pro-lifers in favor of laws that protect our water, air and crops? Why aren't more pro-lifers against the death penalty? The Right-to-Life community hasn't spoken out against innocent children being deliberately killed in the Israel / Palestine conflict.

Pro-life means protecting ALL human life. But when I've said that around die-hard Republicans, they call me a liberal, commie, feminazi, etc. no, No, NO! I am not a liberal for wanting all children to eat food free of pesticides.

If we (the pro-life community) speak up for *all* life, we have a stronger argument.

Enbrethiliel said...


Far be it from me to tell the people of another country how they should police their borders . . . I actually have relevant experience with that! Just a few weeks ago, I reapplied for a tourist visa to the US and was denied again. Apparently, I still don't have enough money to be a good risk. =P When another American friend of mine heard the news, he quipped that I should just go to Mexico and walk over the border with Texas.

This also reminds me of an argument a friend and I were having about the "Preppers" you also have over there. I didn't really have a dog in the race, but it was fun to play advocatus diaboli. Anyway, what she didn't like was that Preppers have a lot of weapons. Storing food, water, medicines, and other supplies, she could understand. But weapons? I reminded her of what happened last year, when Typhoon Yolanda devastated our local provinces of Leyte and Samar. People there lacked food, water, shelter, and electricity for days before relief workers could arrive. And I said, "If you had three months worth of food in your vault, and everyone else around you had nothing, don't you think they'd be desperate enough to try to attack you for it?" (Conversely, if you had nothing but knew that your weird neighbour were sitting pretty on some supplies, would you attack him for a share of his stuff?)

Now, my own position on the matter is somewhere between the Catholic teaching that if someone who is starving steals food, he's not really stealing (and that, in fact, the person who is withholding the food--especially if he has more than he himself can eat--is the one at fault) . . . and the natural law that makes me put my family first. I think it is an injustice when poor women must leave their children in order to be nannies to rich women, and I was personally disgusted when I read the story of an activist who left her own kids with a nanny because she couldn't get the plight of some poor rural orphans out of her mind. So I blame neither those who want in nor those who want them out for the sake of their nearest and dearest.

Bl. Teresa of Calcutta had a story about two very poor families. She learned about the second when she brought some food to the first, and was already planning to return with more food. But then she saw the first mother cutting her already meagre ration in half so that she could share it with the second family herself. The first mother was willing to deprive her own children so that the other mother's children could have a little bit to eat. They would all be hungry, but they would all have something. Beautiful, aye? But for me, the kicker is Bl. Teresa deciding NOT to bring more food that day, so that the first mother would fully understand the love that gives until it hurts. (It was this story that made me understand why she has haters, though, of course, I don't agree with them.)

Sheila said...

Political parties are more-or-less despicable to me. At the same time, I recognize that they *are* how you get things done in this country. I have chosen not to join any party, and I petition my representatives individually about certain issues. John, however, has chosen to join the GOP because he knows it's his best bet for getting onto Town Council and making a difference. Another candidate whom I like refuses to seek a party's endorsement, and I fear she's going to come in dead last because of it. I admire the sentiment, but I'd rather have her have a shot at actually representing me. It's a tough call.

Anon, the pro-life community frustrates me. There are truly prolife issues (specifically the death penalty and war) that the prolife movement won't touch, and meanwhile they get all hung up on issues that aren't actually life issues (traditional marriage and birth control). I worry that they alienate some people who actually DO care about human life, and they appear hypocritical when they shrink from other human life issues. It's like they are becoming a mouthpiece for the Religious Right, rather than one for those in danger of death.

E, I wish we had easier immigration so you could come be my neighbor! I don't see why I should be allowed to be here -- being, as I am, almost entirely descended from immigrants -- and other people shouldn't. Shouldn't we all be able to live where we want? I kind of thought that was something we could expect. Certainly when John and I talked about where we would live if we left this country, it was upsetting to learn that almost any place we might like to live was too restrictive for us to have a hope of getting in. How then does anyone have the choice to opt out of a government that doesn't represent them?

I imagine in an apocalyptic scenario, I'd wish I had a gun. (Wish, because I wouldn't have one, because I am the sort of person I am.) There was an episode of Revolution (good show) where a man explains how a gang of thugs came and stole his cache of medications. Then his daughter got tetanus a few weeks later and died. I mean, I would be happy to share what I had with someone in true need, but what about gangs of people who just tried to clean up ALL the supplies they could? In every crisis, there are people who do it .... from the person stockpiling all the bread in the store to the ones who loot stores. It would be a dangerous world to live in.

Just like in our everyday society. I don't want anyone to have guns, but if some people have them (and with our porous border and many other reasons, some people are always going to have them) wouldn't it be better if all of us had them?

And yet ... and yet ... I can't see even touching a handgun, ever. Because the only purpose it has is to shoot people, and I cannot imagine a situation in which I would be capable of that.

I have been meaning to write a post about guns for awhile. I should really do it ... but I'm afraid I'll disappoint everyone, because it's one issue where I am utterly conflicted and will have nothing clear to say.

Belfry Bat said...

There's an important difference, I think, between being an immigrant vs. being descended from immigrants, in that if you've grown up in a place, then you know how to get on in that place, and your neighbors more-or-less know how to get on with you. Mostly. Sort-of. I know En. has had this sort of conversation before, so the short version is: immigration doesn't work by magic, but by changing the migrant.

Sheila said...

Yes, but for me to get here, somebody had to let my ancestors in. My own mother-in-law wouldn't have made it in 40 years ago with the immigration laws we have today.

A lot of people don't realize this, when they shout "get in line" or "we got in legally, so should you," but immigration law has gotten a lot stricter lately. If you are a poor Mexican or Filipino, you basically can't come in at all. From other countries we have a quota, but all of those quotas are so much lower than the number of people who want to come. You might be waiting 10 years or longer -- even if you have family members here.

The system is so broken.

But considering how I get on with some of my neighbors, it's no wonder I don't believe much in "cultural identity." We're all white Americans, and it doesn't appear to help. ;)

Enbrethiliel said...


Sheila, I would love to be your neighbour! =)

But perhaps I shouldn't have said that because now the rest of this comment might be stained with self-interest. ;-) LOL!

Now, cultural identity isn't a 100% compelling reason to me--not because I find it unimportant, but because change is simply inevitable. (Remember the State of Fear readalong and the sobering evidence that trying to preserve an ecosystem by unnatural means actually wrecks havoc in the long run?) Yet I do respect locals' right to have their community be a certain way and "to enforce" that culture through traditions and day-to-day norms. It's a natural form of democracy. And a bunch of new "voters" moving into the neighbourhood and bring their own traditions and norms with them would be a little disruptive--to put it lightly! =P

Riffing off of what Bat said, something I've always believed is that if you're going to make a conscious decision to emigrate to a new country, then you have the obligation to adapt to its culture. This doesn't mean checking your brain at customs, but it does mean admitting that you moved because your new home is, in an objective sense, better than the place that you left. It would might also mean being as grateful for your new culture as you are homesick for your old.

Sheila said...

Your point about ecosystems is exactly what troubles me about the "cultural purity" argument. Cultures are in constant shift, and in my opinion they are enriched by new people. I mean, just compare the food available in 1950's America (burgers, fries, hot dogs) compared to the dozens of ethnic and fusion foods available today. It's enriched, not diluted.

And yes, culture can't be preserved anyway. I just finished Second Nature, by Michael Pollan, in which he makes a similar argument about ecosystems. He says that all of our interactions with the environment should be on the model of a garden, because when we assume that "the wild" is actually wild, we often destroy it because our very existence (putting out fires, not allowing wolves, whatever) throws the entire system out of whack anyway. And even without us, ecosystems are never stable.

As far as what level of cultural assimilation is best, I am not sure I'd agree that you have to think the new place is better. Perhaps that it's better for you, now, or that it's better in some ways. People who flee bad situations in their old country can be forgiven if they still hanker for their old country, as it used to be. That doesn't mean they shouldn't still be grateful and make a real effort to put down roots. It's what I've done moving here to Virginia. I realized it was unfair what we did in Philadelphia -- taking advantage of the friendship of others and expecting them to open their circles to us, when we had no real intention of staying for any length of time. We stayed just long enough for everyone to be sad when we left .... not very nice, when I think about it. To partake in the goods of community here in Virginia, it feels like part of the deal that we should commit to making this our real home, to acknowledge the culture that's already here (hence, no whining about the constant country music our neighbors blast -- everyone appears to like it but us), and to give back to the community as well as take.

Though really this is instinctive. My neighbor today gave me an armful of sweet corn and a pound of homemade sausage. I suppose it was out of the generosity of his heart, but I feel a strong sense of obligation. I had better bake him bread or something ... I have such an unshakable impulse that it would be *wrong* to just say thanks and go on my way. It isn't neighborly.

That's kind of far from immigration, isn't it? But the neighborhood is a microcosm of everything. When a nation welcomes you, you ought to be sensible of the debt. And yet, I've never met an immigrant who wasn't. It seems to be our nature to feel it.

Enbrethiliel said...


Although it is impossible to preserve culture perfectly, I think that it is nonetheless prudent to keep the numbers of new immigrants low. This is to keep things from changing too drastically in a short time and to help the new arrivals to assimilate faster. We see over and over again that when there are enough new strangers in a place to form their own micro-community, they become a self-conscious minority rather than joining the larger community they supposedly came over to be part of.

This was why nobody really liked the Chinese students at my New Zealand university (not even the other international Asians--LOL!), with the feeling being mutual. It's also why the Filipinos and South Koreans at the high school where I was teaching couldn't stand each other during the year when the principal decided to admit so many of the latter that they made up an unprecedented 15% of the student body. (Even the Filipino teachers, many of us tenured, thought that the policy changes made to accommodate our international students were ridiculous. Since when do newcomers get to call so many of the shots?)

I truly believe that the full blow of culture shock--and the catharsis which comes from accepting that you can only live in one culture at a time--are necessary for people who want to live in a foreign country without taking advantage or being bad neighbours.

This doesn't mean that the ones who already live there shouldn't reach out to newcomers with kindness, but that some things which seem like kindness might really be making things worse. When I hear, for instance, of immigrants living in a new country for nearly a decade and still being unable to speak the language, I get quite upset at the locals for letting the immigrants be so isolated. (Would you go for a decade without talking to the people next door?) I'm glad that many European countries are now setting language requirements for immigrants. It might seem "discriminatory," but it's for the entire community's good.

Belfry Bat said...

Another way to put a very similar thing; Britain more-or-less conquered half the world by moving into poorer places and acting like rich Brits; the pattern was called "Effortless Superiority", by the English themselves. Yes, gunpowder and blast furnaces helped, but all the gunpowder in China couldn't kill all of India. The British Empire devolved into the British Commonwealth exactly when Britain got tired of being various sorts of British, everywhere.

Allowing, or even encouraging, the reverse process (nonintegrative immigration) is simply asking to be conquered.

Enbrethiliel said...


Bat, you raised a point I never thought about before! When I said that immigrants should admit to themselves that their new culture is "better," I didn't mean in the sense of its total superiority, but in the sense of taking responsibility for their own choices. But I didn't see that this refusal to embrace a new culture could have a twin in an imperialist's refusal to do the same. Yet the parallels are perfect!

When talking about immigrants, we can't still call it "imperialism." And "racism" is too narrow a category. Oh, erudite pteropine wordsmith, what term should we use for what we now mean???

Belfry Bat said...

Now, that's tricky. Your raising the question makes me think of both ghazw (what I looked up was "razzia", but wikipedia likes us to think it knows better about everything...) and on the other hand pressura, which was how the Asturias gradually re-‘conquered’ Spain after the Moorish period, though no-one was thinking of conquest for most of it.

Ghazw definitely means an armed escapade, so pressura is probably closer to the mark, except for stuff...

Sheila said...

Hm, I don't know. Culture changes fast regardless of the pace of immigration. But I do see that in Europe, a big block of immigrants all from the same places has caused a whole subculture, at odds with the native culture. I don't care about preserving traditional French culture, whatever that is, but what they've got now is rioting and violence and *that's* hardly good.

I do think it's natural to be a bit bitter in one's homesickness, especially when one really would rather have stayed home if not for political or economic conditions. And of course one likes to think of oneself as superior to everyone else. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother gave me that thought -- it was a lot of "see, this is why the Chinese are better." Which made me want to ask the author, "What about your husband? Doesn't he manage to be a wonderful person without that perfect Chinese upbringing?"

One oughtn't to be big-headed or superior. One doesn't have to be self-deprecatory and abject either. Balance is good.

Should the numbers of immigrants be kept low? I don't really think so ... but perhaps if the native population has a tiny birthrate like Europe has, it will drive a level of demographic turnover that isn't very healthy. You want to bring new people into a flourishing country, not a fading, aging one. (But, of course, if your birthrate *is* that small, you kind of have no choice.)

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