Monday, October 6, 2008

Inherent complexity defies reduction

In responding to Suzanne's very interesting post regarding one woman's struggle to factor abortion and various aspects of the church's social teaching proportionately in order to arrive at a prudent judgment, she cites a letter-to-the-editor written by Professor Patrick Lee. As regards the letter, I need to point out contra Prof. Lee, that Abraham Lincoln took a personally opposed, but . . . position on slavery as a congressman, a candidate for the Senate, and running for his first term for President. He was morally opposed to slavery and to the extension of this institution into new states entering the union, but just fine with keeping it where it already existed, primarily for the sake of holding the union together.

Speaking on the subject of repealing the Missouri Compromise, he said: "And, as this subject is no other, than part and parcel of the larger general question of domestic-slavery, I wish to MAKE and to KEEP the distinction between the EXISTING institution, and the EXTENSION of it, so broad, and so clear, that no honest man can misunderstand me, and no dishonest one, successfully misrepresent me." He was worried about being misrepresented because people on both sides of the issue could accuse him of taking the opposite position, which he did not. His was a middle way. Of course, it ultimately failed and justice won out, due in no small part to his Emancipation Proclamation. Before joining the new Republican Party, Lincoln was a Whig and supported that party's position on slavery. As it pertains to abortion, let's not forget church teaching, let's not forget the papal magisterium of JPII. I refer specifically number 73 of Evangelium Vitae:
"A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on. Such cases are not infrequent. It is a fact that while in some parts of the world there continue to be campaigns to introduce laws favouring abortion, often supported by powerful international organizations, in other nations-particularly those which have already experienced the bitter fruits of such permissive legislation-there are growing signs of a rethinking in this matter. In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects."

While I agree with Prof. Lee about the equal dignity of all human life, one has to admit that it is not apparent to many people, perhaps not even most, that having an abortion is akin to shooting a professor, especially early term abortions; the earlier the abortion, the less apparent the equivalency. Again, morally and logically all human life from conception to natural death inherently possesses equal dignity. A larger issue arises from reducing the issue to a simple, banal, analogy. I refer to his direct analogy between abortion and shooting professors. Such an analogy lends itself to the kind of distorted reasoning that makes it okay for people to shoot abortionists, which it clearly is not, either morally or legally. Such a response goes far beyond the conscientious objection called for by the church to unjust abortion laws. John Brown and his kind of violent abolitionist are the analogue to such a distortion in the slavery example, a form of abolition that Lincoln rejected, a form of abolition that helped facilitate the Civil War. With all that in mind, let's take up the analogy a bit more: if a gunman were taking shots at the good professor and I were an armed bystander in a state, like Utah, that legally allows me to walk around packing heat, or a policeman, I would be justified in shooting the gunman, but only with the intention of deterring him him, not killing him. So, I guess I would say that there is a missing premise or two from his argument. In the end, I accept his conclusion, but find his argument lacking and his analogy disturbing as well as very problematic.

Missing premise or not, Prof. Lee's response is too narrow, too abstract, and too prone to misinterpretation to be truly educational- I know a thing or two about being too abstract- and is not likely to persuade anyone who does not already agree with him, namely Kari Lundgren. Who knows, perhaps Ms. Lundgren heard this argument from Prof. Lee himself at FUS? At least she has the benefit of writing about grappling with her own experience and growing beyond a certain narrowness, which narrowness does, indeed, show a lack of true education. Let's hope she discovers the beauty of the both/and, rejecting the false dilemmas that too many people of faith insist upon. The question about life is simple, but the social and political situation in which we must offer the answer is complicated and complex, requiring persons who are truly educated with a deep understanding of the truth, who possess the ability to unequivocally and convincingly communicate it. I think Kari is faithfully dealing with this complexity. I think the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, leads us by his example.

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