Saturday, May 19, 2007

Miscellaneous Odds and Ends...

The Ascension of Christ
-- Hans Suess von Kulmbach (early 1500s)

I think we all forgot to mention Ascension Thursday this past week. That day, I attended the funeral of the wife of a former co-worker, and the confluence of days was comforting. She was 47.

Winnipeg B has been posting quite bit about presidential candidate Ron Paul over on Reform Catholic lately. In addition, William, who confesses to libertarian leanings, also made note of the fact that Ron Paul had made a strong impression in the first Republican debate. The big news in the second debate of course, happened to circle around that dustup he had with Giuliani over 9/11 and the "blowback" remarks. Sober analysis in the aftermath seems to indicate that he may have been on more solid ground than many initially thought.

Just for the record, I have always hated the libertarian political philosophy with every fiber of my being, but this guy Paul is a little bit interesting to me, especially in light of the fact that not one of the Democratic candidates had anything but negative things to say about the Supreme Court decision upholding the Partial Birth Abortion Ban (not even Dennis Kucinich), and not one of them shows any inclination towards ever getting behind the Democratic-sponsored 95-10 Initiative.

Ron Paul has been creating some buzz in Catholic circles lately for being the only candidate who seems to support the Consistent Life Ethic. Steven Hand posts about Paul's support of the "Seamless Garment" here on TCRNews Musings. Apart from that and the war, I don't know if I care much for his other stands on the issues much. He's a free-trader rather than a fair-trader, but at least he opposes those deals like NAFTA and GATT, which is a good start.

Finally, Joseph O'Leary, who teaches in the Faculty of Letters at Sophia University in Tokyo, has posted a great in-depth review of the Pope's new book on Jesus in his blog Spirit of Vatican II. I'd noticed because he made reference to our remarks in the Kingdom Of God thread.


Steve said...

Jeff, I'm wondering more and more just how much difference it makes to have an anti-abortion president. It feels like this next presidential election is going to once again present me with two bad choices. I know that might sound pessimistic, but I think I'm just being realistic.

The pro- and anti-abortion political lobbies are huge and the money they deliver will sway even the most principled politician. Meanwhile, on the front-lines the tough, messy work of anti-abortion pregnancy counseling centers and things like chastity education programs go on fairly unnoticed. But it's at this front, at this level that I think there is any chance at changing a nation's attitudes regarding abortion (legalized or not).

It will take a long time, in my opinion, for the anti-abortion crowd to accept that they live in a pluralistic world that doesn't, and perhaps never will, agree with them on making abortion illegal.

I'm specifically using anti-abortion as the term here because I have met so many people who are against abortion yet for the death penalty. That's a dichotomy I just don't understand.

Jeff said...


Well, that's an interesting set of points. I get the very real sense that the Republicans would never really want to overturn Roe v. Wade despite the rhetoric of some of the GOP's spokesmen, because they think it would cost them elections. The issue works for them, so they'll hold that carrot out on the end of a long stick in front of the noses of social conservatives as long as they'll still go for it. I'm feeling less and less beholden to playing that game any longer.

In any case, the task of a Christian is to convince, not to conquer. In a pluralistic society such as ours, maybe the emphasis should be, as perhaps it should have been all along, on doing the hard work in counseling, adoption services, etc... as you point out. Convincing rather than conquering takes into account the real suffering, fear, and desperation surrounding each decision more seriously. We shouldn't deal in abstractions.

So much of this issue actually revolves around economics. Paradoxically, the rate seems to go down when Democrats hold office, and up when the Republicans are in office. If we took the "Seamless Garment" approach more seriously, the task to convince would be accompanied by more credibility and might be a bit easier to accomplish.

cowboyangel said...

William, who confesses to libertarian leanings, also made note of the fact that Ron Paul had made a strong impression in the first Republican debate.

Woah, woah, woah, wait a minute. I've never in my life confessed to having Libertarian leanings. I've said I have some Anarchist tendencies, but that's a whole different ballgame, despite any surface similarities between the two philosophies. And I'm only interested in a few aspects of Anarchism that might be used for a broader, healthier socio-political philosophy. I don't particularly like Anarchists, though I may agree with some of them on certain things. I don't like Libertarians at all, and don't recall ever agreeing with them on anything. They've taken all the worst aspects of Anarchism and turned it into a selfish, self-centered, individualistic and Capitalistic philosophy. It has nothing to do with community, creativity, or social justice, which I've found at times among the Anarchists.

And while I did report that Ron Paul seemed to do well among many viewers of the first debate, I also made it clear (I thought) that I myself didn't see the debate, so I don't have an opinion about Paul. I don't know anything about the man, to be honest, other than he's from the Galveston area, is an M.D., and is against the war in Iraq. I jokingly said he would be our next President, poking fun at the idea of a goofy-looking, obscure Libertarian from Texas actually generating enough steam to win the Republican nomination and general election.

As for abortion and presidential politics, well, I tend to agree with Steve, and with some of what you said. It's used to keep people from both parties in line. Though, the Republicans are having trouble with that this time around, a la Rudy. If the two sides really wanted, they could come together and work on solutions that would accomodate both to some degree. As long as it remains about legality, and a dualistic yes/no proposition, there's not going to be any significant change. Because even if you overturn Roe vs. Wade, there would be an incredible battle waged by pro-choice people, and the ugly dynamic would remain. I still people have to work together to change the culture that leads to abortion, and on ways of reducing the number dramatically. But that process isn't going to take place in presidential politics, where the base always wants it leader to fight for their side. There has to be dialogue at another level.

I mentioned to you before that among the Democrats, Obama has made some overtures towards a "reducing the number" theory. And his "seeking common ground" style of politics might make him open to actually dealing with the issue. Maybe. I doubt it.

Though I started out as someone who refused to vote for a politician who supported abortion, I ultimately didn't like being locked in to voting for Republicans who didn't seem to stand for anything else I believed in. It just didn't feel helathy to me anymore to support someone for president over one issue. I have to remind myself of this right now, since the war in Iraq is a huge concern to me.

No answers here, sorry.

Except that I'm not a Libertarian!!! :-)

Jeff said...

Tsk, tsk... There I go swift-boating people again.

I stand corrected. On Liam's blog you described yourself thusly:

I'm a Texas Anarchist-Republican

I should have recalled the distinction, as so aptly pointed out by Michael Palin ("Dennis") while piling up mud in Monty Python and The Holy Grail. King Arthur and I need to learn how to be more precise.

I beg your pardon. :-)

Mike McG... said...

Steve, Jeff and William:

I'm in substantial agreement with all three of you. Can't speak to the Paul phenomenon, but I can hardly imagine that current and prospective Republican leadership could possibly be any further from the whole range of seamless garment issues. I have repeatedly voted Democratic, sometimes enthusiastically and sometimes not, and I expect to carry that practice into the grave absent a credible third party movement.

Moreover, I've long felt that in the last analysis no anti-abortion legislation will deter women determined to abort from doing so. So, yes, we must focus our energies on persuasion.

But here is where I get stuck: Solidarity, Hypocrisy and Passion.

**Solidarity** Steve wrote, "It will take a long time, in my opinion, for the anti-abortion crowd to accept that they live in a pluralistic world that doesn't, and perhaps never will, agree with them on making abortion illegal."

Actually, I don't entirely agree with the last sentence. A majority of Americans believe that abortion should be illegal under certain circumstances. Drawing a line in the sand at some point of gestation may well be political suicide for a Democratic presidential candidate but that doesn't mean it is out of tune with Americans more generally.

But my real question is with identification of the 'anti-abortion crowd' as 'they.' (BTW, Steve, I'm not throwing stones here. I am as eager as the next guy to distinguish myself and my more 'sophisticated' positions from the ones 'they' hold.)

A friend of mine, Maggie Kast, has a wonderful article in the April 30, 2007 edition of 'America' entitled 'Liberal Catholicism.' In an aside, she spoke of growing up in a non-believing household with anthropolgist parents, commenting that they would have found it inconceivable that abortion would be unresticted. We forget that only decades ago there was broad consensus that fetal life deserved legal protection...but now a broad swath of Americans treat those who hold to such beliefs as if they were freaks or fascists. Why are we so eager to disassociate ourselves from those, many of them Catholic, for whom abortion is the touchstone to issues of violence and yet so hesitant to disassociate ourselves from those who villify them?

**Hypocrisy** Steve continues: "I'm specifically using anti-abortion as the term here because I have met so many people who are against abortion yet for the death penalty. That's a dichotomy I just don't understand."

Nor do I. I routinely rail against it. In fact, the hypocrisy charge is a standard critique of those who oppose abortion rights. Another manifestation of the same sentiment: "'They' only care about life before birth." Yet why do we progressives so infrequently sound the contrary themes, e.g. "'They' (meaning prochoice advocates in this case) only care about life after birth," or "Many anti-death penalty advocates are hypocritical because they care about life after a felony conviction but rarely before birth." I guess my question is: why doesn't the hypocrisy charge cut both ways?

**Passion** Years ago I was among the founders of Peaceful Solutions, an organization focused on changing hearts and minds...but not laws...on the full range of seamless garment issues. The venture ultimately failed for a variety of reasons. There was the predicable opposition by the Catholic right who feared that their #1 issue would be submerged as well as the decidedly unenthusiastic reception of the Catholic left who feared that the issue that most embarrassed them in progressive circles might somehow be elevated higher than #101 on the list of critical issues. But most of all it failed because holding culturally dissonant positions is costly. We yearn for simplicity rather than nuance in moral and political discourse so both orthodox positions of whatever stipe have great appeal.

Years have now passed since Peaceful Solutions' demise, so it is possible to see where those who once aligned with the seamless garment have landed. My observation: while we may invoke the seamless garment rhetorically (usually as a club against those who don't defer to the supreme importance of our #1 issue), almost all Peaceful Solutions alums have distanced themselves from Bernardin's teachings. The costs were too high in potential estrangement from our close collaborators on other issues. Those more culturally conservative notched down or dispensed with anti-war and anti-death penalty themes and honed in on anti-abortion advocacy, while those more culturally liberal have obscured (right in step with Dennis Kucinich) their former anti-abortion sensibilities in favor of the more mainstream social justice constellation. As I read once (without noting the source, unfortunately): "We come under tremendous pressure to conform ourselves to elite culture and elite opinion and we almost always buckle."

Peace, Mike McG...

cowboyangel said...

I'm a Texas Anarchist-Republican

Didn't I have jazz-lover in there as well? I can see why you would be confused. I believe I was using Republican that time in terms of the Republic of Texas. ? Only vaguely remember. I do tend to go off sometimes and say things half-jokingly. Which, unfortunately, doesn't always work on the internet. All body language being absent.

But just for clarity - I'm not an anarchist or a libertarian. I'm not registered with any political party. When doing polls, I put down Independent.

I am also a jazz-lover, but no one ever asks me about that in terms of my politics. Even though it may relate.

And much of my early political education did come from Monty Python! :-)

Mike, would be curious to hear more about Peaceful Solutions.

Steve said...

Mike - Peaceful Solutions sounds like something I could get behind.

I used 'they' more out of a sense of frustration. I volunteer at a local crisis pregnancy counseling center as chairperson on the board of directors. There are many, many wonderful volunteers there who make a great difference in our community. But most all of them lean towards the far-right part of the political spectrum, and with all the points of view that brings to the table I often don't feel part of that 'crowd'. What keeps me going there is a shared concern for the protection, dignity and advancement for some of the most vulnerable lives in our community - the unborn and their mothers.

Elfriede said...

I can offer two written sources on Peaceful Solutions; the first is a short article published in Contemporary American Religion: An Ethnographic Reader titled "Splitting Interests or Common Causes: Styles of Moral Reasoning in Opposing Abortion." The longer version is my original dissertation published as "Moral Cultures and the Movement Against Abortion" at University of Illinois at Chicago in 1993.

The potential for the PS point of view simmers below the societal surface, but would take heroic efforts to make politically viable. Mike and his colleagues spent several years working towards the goal of presenting complex ideas in this organizational form before reaching group exhaustion.

Elfriede Wedam
Instructor in Sociology
Loyola University Chicago

Jeff said...


Jazz aficionados and political loyalties... One of these days you're going to have to write an essay on that. :-)

Mike and Steve,

Wow, you guys put me to shame in your effort and commitment, and leave me feeling quite callow. Steve, keep up the great work. Mike, even if I can't convince you to start your own blog, you can be a contributing team member here any time you like. Just say the word, and I'll grant you authorization.

I think Mike is correct in pointing out that a majority of Americans believe that abortion should be illegal under certain circumstances, but I've always noticed that the way people ultimately come down on it seems to be framed by the manner in which the question is put to them. Yes, there are many who feel the way Mike describes, or believe that unborn life is sacred, or that they are "personally opposed" or whatever, but I find that in the end, the American embrace of the "Personal Liberty Principle" (or what the Vatican might call "The Dictatorship of Relativism". See David Carlin's definition of the PLP here) trumps everything else, including one's own personally held conviction about whether or not all human life is sacred. The PLP is so embedded, so ingrained in the American consciousness, I was once startled and amazed along with other Youth Ministers and our Parish priest at how strongly it is held by young people, even among those with great respect and appreciation for Catholic social teaching.

Good point too about the hypocrisy charge, which should certainly be recognized as cutting both ways. Charges made against anti-abortionists can certainly stick, but at the same time there are plenty of people who are pro-choice AND in favor of the death penalty too. There are certainly many who favor abortion rights, yet care very little about sustaining life before or after birth either. Therefore, those kinds of polemical arguments and accusations usually don't wind up being too helpful.

Holding culturally dissonant positions is indeed costly. Most of us want to be liked, accepted, and valued at the most basic level, and it is easier and less risky to stick to the poles that have already been defined and laid out. Professor(?) Wedam mentions the heroic effort it would take to make Peaceful Solutions viable in a political sense, and describes how a previous attempt led to group exhaustion. I believe it. I find it difficult to pull off without causing considerable dissension and stress in a simple blog.

Ms. Wedam,

Thank you very much for visiting and for your remarks. A quick perusal on the web indicates to me that you have written a great deal about ethnicity, demographics, and religious culture. In a nation in which the largest Christian "denomination" is Catholicism, why would a politically viable movement built around the Seamless Garment or Peaceful Solutions be so difficult to pull off? It wasn't always that way. I wonder at times if the Vatican has erred in reigning in the power and influence of National Bishops Conferences in favor of Roman centralization. In the seventies and early eighties, the American bishops, along with the help of thoughtful moral theologians like J. Bryan Hehir were writing powerful and challenging encyclicals like the one on War & Peace (and nuclear weapons) and the other on Economic Justice for All. Now the Catholic electorate seems divided horizontally within itself rather than verically against other faith groups, as might have happened in the past (and as James Davison Hunter would put it). Entire campaigns are built now around pulling the most crucial "swing-vote" in America - the Catholic vote.

You've probably noticed that the "neo-cons" like George Weigel, Michael Novak, Fr. Richard Neuhaus and some other get criticized a bit for trying too hard to synthesize the "American Project" - American political economy and capitalism as understood by the Republican Party - with Catholic social teaching. Novak once wrote a book that gave a good overview of the history of Catholic social teaching, including the rejection of liberalism, the development of Solidarism, Corporatism, Rerum Novarum, Quadragesimo Anno, and later developments like the writings of JPII on Man as the subject of Work, the priority of labor over capital, etc... Novak attempted to make the case that nowadays the best consonance can be found between liberal social institutions (democracy and free markets) and social justice. When he went to the Vatican on behalf of the neo-cons to make a case for the war in Iraq, however, he was soundly rejected, and the neo-cons, with their motto of “fidelity, fidelity, fidelity” were hoisted on their own petard.

It’s a tremendous source of frustration to me that neither political party represents Catholic social teaching very well, which is why the Catholic vote is being split in every major election, and why Catholic teaching has so little impact in this country relative to our numbers. As far as I can tell, this country is becoming increasingly libertarian (libertine is a better word for it) - conservative on economic issues and liberal on social issues. Nominally Catholic voters are right in lockstep with this trend. Catholic social thought on the other hand, as far as I understand it, tends to be more liberal on economic issues and conservative on social issues (There should be a safety net, but we should do everything we can to keep people from falling into it. A good society is one that makes it easier for people to be good).

Winnipeg Catholic said...

Hi Jeff,

Thanks for mentioning my blog!

Jesus was a Libertarian! Just not a Randian one. Or maybe he was a conservative, just not a puritanical one. Or maybe a socialist, just not an autocratic one. Or maybe he was a liberal, just not a hedonistic one. Nah, scratch all that. Jesus was a Libertarian!

Ron Paul is pure fun for a christian with libertarian leanings, I was just so ... overjoyed I think is the right word... watching him smack the neocons around with the roots of their party. Of both parties really.

But alas. Politics is controlled by fear. Some people fear terrorists, some people fear marijuana and vices, some people fear poverty. People will elect someone who addresses their fears and falsely promises an end to suffering. And we'll scratch our heads at the end of it all and try to like our new head federal salesman.

Winnipeg Catholic said...

PS -

Wouldn't it be better to have a run off between all candidates of either party, then have a second round between the top two candidates? Then party wouldn't matter as two democrats or two republicans could battle it out.

That would never happen of course. It would put the party machines out of business and they kind of like being in business and have a lot of power in the current systems.