Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Dating God Blog Critiques March for Life: A Voice for American Catholicism to Hear

Brother Daniel Horan

Franciscan brother Daniel Horan has a posting up at his Dating God site which, to my way of thinking, interjects much-needed truth-telling into the Catholic  public discussion of the abortion issue.  And which brings this public discussion to a much-needed level of moral maturity.  Joshua McElwee reports on Horan's posting and adds his own valuable reflections at National Catholic Reporter.

The occasion for Br. Dan's reflection is the so-called March for Life that is taking place today in D.C.  In some Catholic circles, it has become well-nigh obligatory to participate in this annual "pro-life" event.  Many Catholic colleges, notably those on the right end of the political and religious spectrum, send busloads of students to the event annually.  The March for Life event has even entered the narrative of the abuse crisis in the past year or so, when it came out that the priest whom Kansas-City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert Finn sheltered after child porn was found on his computer--Father Shawn Ratigan--had gone with Finn to a March for Life event in D.C. in 2007.

In some Catholic circles today, in the over-heated rhetorical climate created by John Paul II's recurring rhetorical motif "culture of life vs. culture of death," not attending the March for Life can get you into trouble.  Asking critical public questions about the event can cause more trouble for you.  If you want to court grief for yourself as an administrator of a blog commenting on Catholic issues, dare to try to say anything sane and measured about the topics of abortion and contraception, and then watch to see how long it will be before people begin to bombard your blog with crazy counterfactual assertions that "contraceptives are abortifacients" and dare you to prove otherwise.  Dare you to prove that a lie is not the truth . . . . 

And so it's to Brother Dan's credit that he is willing to tackle this issue around which there is so much plain bullying in the Catholic "culture of life" created by John Paul II and Benedict XVI.  Horan's posting tells readers that he's not going to the March for Life and doesn't support it, and it explains why.  

Anyone concerned about the Catholic teaching that life is sacred--anyone who cares about preserving and promoting this teaching--needs to read Horan's (and McElwee's) posting and think carefully about why some faithful Catholics who support this teaching are calling on their fellow pro-life Catholics to stop the bullying and the rhetorical (and very politicized and partisan) overkill about the abortion issue.  Horan provides three critical reasons for his decision to withhold support from the event: 

1. The disingenuousness of its title. 
2. The lack of desired effect and absence of purpose. 
3. The fact that the event has become an exercise in self-congratulatory fanfare.

I won't provide a blow-by-blow summary of either Horan's or McElwee's statement.  I do encourage readers interested in the pro-life discussion to read both of them.  Here's, to my mind, Horan's most insightful observation:

What strikes me as most egregious in this whole extravaganza is the simplistic distillation of an incredibly complex moral and political issue into the binary “good vs. evil” construction. It is not that simple. Furthermore, as stated above, anything in the Catholic tradition that claims to be “pro-life” – person or event – must also include those other important issues of life and dignity, issues that most of these marchers would otherwise prefer to forget: war, poverty, torture, capital punishment, economic inequality, and the like. 
It is sad that a boutique, albeit legitimate, issue in the Catholic moral tradition has been made to be the singular and defining catholicity litmus test for so many. Who is in and who is out is rarely determined by one’s profession of faith and baptism (that is, by the way, what makes someone a Christian), but where they fall in the pseudo-reality of binary moral categories: “pro-life or not?” which always really means: “anti-abortion” – if only nominally, because no one marching who knows anything about the political system in the US actually thinks a president or a congressman or a supreme court justice can overturn such a contentious and constitutionally protected law – “or not?”

A boutique issue that now functions as a litmus test to determine who's in and who's out, in which the issue of abortion has been conveniently unhitched from all the other significant issues of life that have to be considered alongside it if we expect anything we say about the value of life vis-a-vis abortion to be taken seriously: this is extremely important analysis.  It's analysis that needs to be heard by those who are shaping that insider-vs.-outsider, black-white, Manichean worldview that now dominates Catholic thinking about almost any issue at all.

Though I doubt very much that anyone with authority to make necessary changes in this Catholic culture intends to listen seriously to these arguments, because the abortion litmus test has become such a convenient weapon for those in the Catholic community who want to bludgeon their political enemies within the Catholic community into submission to their single-party will.

And more's the pity, if one really does care about maintaining and transmitting the Catholic message of life to the culture at large.

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