Monday, October 11, 2004

Conscience vs. Religion

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Contributor: Voting Our Conscience, Not Our Religion

Mark Noll explains why good Catholics don't have to oppose abortion at the ballot box:

During the eight years of the Reagan presidency, the number of legal abortions increased by more than 5 percent; during the eight years of the Clinton presidency, the number dropped by 36 percent. The overall abortion rate (calculated as the number of abortions per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44) was more or less stable during the Reagan years, but during the Clinton presidency it dropped by 11 percent.

There are many reasons for this shift. Yet surely the traditional Democratic concern with the social safety net makes it easier for pregnant women to make responsible decisions and for young life to flourish; among the most economically disadvantaged, abortion rates have always been and remain the highest. The world's lowest abortion rates are in Belgium and the Netherlands, where abortion is legal but where the welfare state is strong. Latin America, where almost all abortions are illegal, has one of the highest rates in the world.

Got that? Bill Clinton actually fought abortion by doing absolutely nothing to restrict abortion, including partial birth abortion. He also spent considerably less on the welfare state than President Bush. So why again does Clinton deserve credit? Note also that all that matters to Noll are the raw numbers, not the effect on a Christian, democratic society of having judges designate child murder as a hollowed touchstone of civil government.

Noll also has one of the worst summaries of Just War theory that I have ever read. Noll should and probably does know better -- he's a philosophy professor at Notre Dame. He also makes it sound like the Kyoto treaty and socialized medicine were mentioned in Humanae Vitae, right before that stuff on contraception. The issue of deliberate killing of innocent children is equated with prudential questions concerning criminal punishment, stewardship of economy and ecology, etc.

Noll's title alludes to a conflict never mentioned in the article: "conscience" vs. "religion." My impression was that conscience was, in the Catholic view, to be formed and informed by faith. This title plays much more to the Times audience, who assume that good Catholics are torn between their enlightened modern consciences and their medieval popery.

The New York Times has found another subservient Catholic who puts loyalty to party line above clarity on doctrine. (Richard McBrien and Andrew Greeley must have been out of town.) The rest of you have to learn, in the words of a New York Times editor as cited by Richard John Neuhaus, "how we do things here."

(Hat tip: Pat Schuchman.)


Mike Aquilina sends me a link to this piece: Commonweal : Catholics, Politics & Abortion. It's an article by Kenneth Woodward taking on Mario Cuomo, whose 1984 speech at Notre Dame on the subject has become the rhetorical model for most Catholic pro-abortion politicians. Cuomo also responds to Woodward. Haven't finished it myself, but both men are generally worth reading.
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