Friday, February 18, 2011

A distinction without a difference

I wrote this some time ago.

I'm not saying that it is in any way more relevant now to anything or anyone whatsoever than it was before.

"I'm not pro-abortion. I'm pro-choice!" How many times have pro-life advocates come across this indignant exclamation? Vian has here presented the quintessential "liberal Catholic" position (perhaps not unconnected to the secular humanist position), that the best, highest, most moral stance is that there must never, under any circumstances be "confrontation." There is no greater evil than to take an "ideological position." Peace in our time, and at any cost.

It sounds fine, to some, when we are talking about abortion, a subject upon which there is much moral disagreement. But try changing the discussion just a little. Imagine for a moment we are talking about moral evils upon which there is no dispute. Can there be a non-confrontational position on genocide? Imagine for a moment the editor of the Vatican's newspaper praising Barack Obama for his non-confrontational stand on slavery. On rape. On wife battery.

When a person says, "I'm pro-choice," he is trying to find a middle point between two things that are simply opposed, an obvious intellectual squirm.

But let us examine the "pro-choice" assertion. Say a person were to tell you that he is "pro-choice" on slavery. He would say, with a noble lift of the brow perhaps, "I don't like slavery. I don't feel it is right for me to own another human being. But I also don't believe that it is my right to impose my personal beliefs on another. I believe in personal choice. It is between a man and his god whether he should own a slave".

It is obvious, isn't it? The thing chosen must be moral before the concept of being "pro-choice" can also be moral. For Vian to say that Barack Obama is merely "pro-choice," and to imply that this is a position superior to the "ideological" pro-life stand, he is, first, kowtowing to the abortion industry who invented the slogan to soothe troubled consciences, and second, but most importantly, he is saying that abortion is a moral thing to choose.

In championing the pro-life position, we simply say that between life and death, there is no third thing. You are either alive or you are not. Abortion kills or it does not. It is morally permissible or it is not. There are simply some things that do not admit of a "neutral" third position. Between these two opposed possibilities, there can only be "confrontation," distasteful as that may be to some sensibilities.

In fact, Obama's (and presumably Vian's) ideological ancestors did actually make precisely that argument about slavery.

Something that is not, for obvious reasons, widely admitted these days is that it was the Democrats who argued for the continued existence of legal slavery in the Union. I am ready to be corrected by my American readers, but was it not exactly opposition to slavery upon which the Republican party was founded?

The Lincoln/Douglas debates are still famous (among the segment of the US population still interested in reading books) because in it, the Democrat candidate for the presidency, Stephen Douglas, argued that slavery should remain legal on the same principle that would later be used to defend a woman's "choice" to kill her child.

He said, in a nutshell, that while he would not own slaves, and it should not be something that right-thinking people should want, there is no way to judge a man's personal beliefs and to legislate against slavery would be an unjust imposition of the state in his personal affairs. Or an imposition of the federal law into state law, if I recall it correctly.

Douglas proposed "peace in our time" on slavery and lost.

And it is often conveniently forgotten that Lincoln was the Republican candidate.

Not sure how it would go today, however.

You see, slavery was a deeply "divisive" issue, (as our Democrat/liberal Catholic friends would say today)...

"Uniformity in the local laws and institutions of the different States is neither possible or desirable. If uniformity had been adopted when the Government was established, it must inevitably have been the uniformity of slavery everywhere, or else the uniformity of negro citizenship and negro equality everywhere..."

So, if I were, purely hypothetically, examining the pro-choice vs. pro-abortion issue in, say for argument's sake, a civil court, I might ask the self-described personally-opposed-but, "pro-choice" person, "What choice, exactly, are you defending?"

If the person answered, "The choice to have an abortion," I might then be inclined to ask, "But isn't this the thing you have just said you are against?"

"Oh yes, of course, abortion is terrible."

"Why is it terrible?"

"Well...err...ummm...Well, it's, ahhh,






Ingemar said...

"Choice" (in a general sense) is the greatest form of idolatry still existent. It turns the self into the sole arbiter of good and evil, worth and worthlessness and ignores the suffering of others.

Someone (Nietzsche?) once said "Some men would will the void, rather than void the will." How true is that. It also explains the mentality behind euthanasia.

Look at what half a century of "choice" hath wrought!

Kyrie, eleison!

Martial Artist said...

You article is excellent, Miss White. It is refreshing to an old man to read something by someone who uses the capacity for reason and writing that God has given her and she has honed.

Pax et bonum,
Keith Töpfer

Anonymous said...

It is somewhat bizarre to read an article condemning a Roman Catholic functionary for his views on abortion by drawing parallels with slavery, which St. Paul, as those of us who bother to read the Bible know, explicitly endorsed.

A more sophisticated article would also have mentioned that the United States is not a Roman Catholic theocracy, and that other religions and other Christian denominations with many American adherents, do not insist on the outright ban of abortion which for that matter has not always been the teaching of the Roman Catholic church.


Hilary Jane Margaret White said...


is a child in the womb different from a child outside the womb?

In fact, slavery is not a perfect analogy, since the slave owner wants his property to live in order to work.

The aim of abortion is bloody murder, the slaughter of innocents by those with the power to do so, constrained by nothing but their will.

Does it take a Catholic theocracy to condemn this?

Anonymous said...

I personally am opposed to abortion.

That said, I would be hard-pressed to describe fetal cells that have yet to embed themselves into the uterus as "a child," whatever the bureaucracy on the Tiber that has a soft spot for homosexual pedophile rapists may say. (It took my brother years to get over his time with one of them.)

The point I made, however, was a different one: Roman Catholic moral theology is not legally binding in the United States, and different Christian and heathen denominations with largish flocks have different teachings about abortion.

Therefore, an unavoidable consequence of Catholic religious leaders calling for abortion to be forbidden, and much more pointedly when they retaliate against Non-Catholics officials who do not live by Catholic doctrine, is that questions are ineluctably raised about what stand the Catholic church takes on religious freedom, and, to get down to the nub, whether the Roman Catholic faith is compatible with the American tradition of pluralism and separation of church and state. Many, many, American Catholics do NOT want such questions being raised.

It's well and good for you, blogging from your room in sunny Italy and complaining about your lack of funds, to damn the Catholic prelates who make compromises, but trust you me, if they did as you'd like, there would be real hell to pay.

Quite frankly, I do not understand why you, as a non-American, take it upon yourself to jump into controversies that pertain to American politics. The British got mad as hell when Americans aided Northern Irish separatists. Surely Canada and the UK can offer you enough controversies to blog about.

HJW said...

First: I do have one requirement to continue the discussion. Take a look as soon as you may at the commbox rules posted on the sidebar about anonymous posts.

Do this before you post again.


There is so much that is logically incoherent with your assertions above that it is hard to know where to start. But I'm a bit bored with my book for the moment, and I've finished the housework and don't quite feel ready yet to do the shopping, so I'll let loose a little.

I will ignore the foolishness about the Catholic Church. Bored with all that.

I can write about abortion in any country in the world because it is not an issue of "American politics" but one that pertains to being a human. And they kill unborn babies in Italy, Canada and Britain too.

Issues that pertain to human life on planet earth concern me, being a human and all.

Second, to that point: Is there some new international law in place that I was not aware of that prohibits anyone discussing the political situation of a country he doesn't live in? Or perhaps you think that American politics are in total isolation in the world, that, if not every man, at least every country is an island unto itself, afloat in a sea of social, moral and economic isolation?

Or maybe you are simply too stupid to grasp the concept of "universal moral principles"... that apply equally to everyone ... everywhere...

I'm going to guess this latter is the case,judging from the morally incoherent gibberish above...

Nevertheless, this argument is not about American politics.

"Roman Catholic moral theology is not legally binding in the United States"

Neither is it anywhere on earth (not even in Vatican city).

For a moment, I will amuse myself by pretending that you are (presumably "Tim" from above) a rational person, capable of thinking clearly and comprehending a reasoned argument. (I realise the chances of this are relatively slim in our times, but hope is springing with the daffodils today). We will, therefore, examine your assertion that only some kind of mindless adherence to Catholic doctrine could possibly motivate someone to oppose the murder of countless millions of children before they are born, all over the world.

First, what has any of this to do with the Catholic Church? Do you imagine that it is only now and has only ever been the Catholic Church that says killing babies in the womb is wrong? Do you think that the only reason any country would outlaw abortion would be because it is in the grip of a "Catholic theocracy"?

When the Roman Empire started codifying its laws, it included a prohibition against willful murder. Why, do you imagine this? This was before the existence of the Catholic Church. Hammurabi's law code also included this prohibition. As did what we know of the laws of ancient Egypt and China. What could possibly have motivated them to ban killing if there were no Catholic Church to tell them?

Hmmm, I wonder...

hjw said...

But you do bring up an interesting point. Oddly enough, it was indeed the Catholic Church that told Roman fathers that they did not have the right to decide which of their newborn children they may kill.

After the birth of a child in a Roman household, the father would come into the birthing room. The midwife would lay the child on the floor for his inspection. If, for whatever reason, the paterfamilias decided that he did not want that child, (which was often the case if the child was a girl) he would turn on his heel and leave the room. The unwanted child was then taken out to the countryside and left to die or be eaten by wild animals.

If he wanted the child, he would pick it up and name it his.

Under Roman law, there was no concept of "legal person". The father or male head of the household was the absolute owner and ruler of his family. He had the legal right of life or death over his wife and children, as well as his slaves. This was, of course, hemmed around with various restrictions. But in essence, he was the master of all he owned and had the power to dispose of his property as he saw fit.

This was what the civilised world considered acceptable before the Church came along to say that all human life is sacred, whether it is wanted or not, and that no human being can be owned or killed at random by another.

It took a long time to get rid of slavery, but by the end of the 19th century, this had finally been accomplished, by the Christian inheritors of the Catholic moral, legal and philosophical patrimony of the previous two millenia.

Of course, America is not and never has been a Catholic country. But this ethic, the ideas that the law must protect the life and liberty of all persons, that all people are created equal in the sight of God and the law, come from that ethic, laid down and developed, and finally codified by the Catholic Church through the course of the middle ages and into the modern age.

HJW said...

In the 18th century, a new set of ideas started seeping upwards into law and government. These "Enlightenment" ideas (cf: Bentham, Mill, Hume, Locke) denied the ancient Judeo-Greco-Roman-Catholic assumptions and installed instead what has in our time developed into modern materialist utilitarianism, the ethic that currently rules the world. It is this new ethic that has asserted that there is no such thing as universal moral principles, that there is no such thing as human nature, that there is no such thing as a universal "right to life". It has taken us right back to our pre-Christian roots. The only difference is that now, it is not the father, but the mother who has absolute power over her children.

Nevertheless, there is another reason why the United States, and all countries that want to consider themselves civilised should, and must, utterly outlaw abortion as a horror and an abomination.

We have this thing in law, a concept (that was recognised and named by medieval Catholic theologians, but not invented by them) called the "Natural Law". This is the idea that there is such a thing as a natural, objectively existent moral law that everyone, and every society, knows. The concept, simply stated is "Do good; avoid evil". One of the things that is (or was) universally recognised as something no one could ever do, is kill innocents.

But the new post-Christian ethic has wiped that out. The new ethic says that we may decide who lives and dies, and all according to our own lights.

This is the law now, not just in the US, but in Canada, Britain, Italy, and nearly all of Europe. As well as all the non-Christian places where the post-Christian "Englightenment" ethic has taken hold, like China, Japan and South Korea.

We are left with the paradox that it is only in the Islamic countries, who have no qualms at all about killing for ideological/religious motives, that the concept "It is wrong to kill your own child" still has at least a nominal grip.

I don't know about you, but I can't think of an organised society in human history before our time, that did not contain in its legal system, no matter how primitive, a prohibition against the willful murder of innocents. Whether this prohibition was more recognised in the breach than the observance, is a matter open to discussion. But as far as I know, we ("The West" and our cultural colonies like Japan and China) are the only ones to abandon in principle and law the concept that innocents must be legally protected from death.

Or maybe you would like to argue from science and philosophy whether the product of sexual realtions between two human beings is itself a human being?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for graciously overlooking my oversight in inadvertently posting without a name.

You are right to claim that the question of abortion need not be discussed in a religious context. But when you discuss it in a religious context, quoting a bigwig working with the Pope's organ, and should know full well that American bishops tell their flock that they risk eternal damnation if they vote for a pro-choice candidate, even if he winds up committing war crimes that get hundreds of thousands killed, then it's bizarre and perhaps even astounding that you complain that your thoughts on abortion are analyzed in a religious context.

I would be most grateful to you if you could show me where I insinuate "that only some kind of mindless adherence to Catholic doctrine could possibly motivate someone to oppose [abortion]." Given that I wrote that I am against abortion, but don't quite have the air of a goose-stepping Catholic, I don't see where that came from. Pray do tell.

My argument with you, if you read what I wrote (it always helps), is NOT over abortion but with your trying to have it both ways. "Spiritual leaders" like JP2 and his successor who harbor and honor a bastard like Bernie Law on whose watch multiple serial homosexual pedophile rapists were protected, should butt out of American politics; we don't need people like you to impart sanctimonious and hypocritical bilge about sexual ethics and our political system.

It is a matter of manners and breeding that one doesn't publicly inject one's self in a foreign country's internal affairs, other than to perhaps (discretely) support individuals taking a stand.

It's also astounding that you can offer the long discourse you do about the history of natural law etc, etc, without also going into the history of human fertility, and explain how even 100 years ago, epidemics, wars and emigration routinely culled double digit percentages of countries' populations. You can ban contraception and abortion, but when mothers routinely knock out 5 to 10 kids, you're either going to have some extremely well-stocked nunneries and monasteries, or and maybe even then have wars to wipe out hungry people. War is also against Natural Law, even if Benedict XVI celebrates his birthday with political leaders who waged wars of aggression, i.e. who have ordered the murder of innocents and who are war criminals, like you know who.


Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

Keep reading Tim. There are answers to your assertions out there, and they all make perfect sense.

But they're not my job.

Mark S. Abeln said...


Are you personally opposed to pedophilia?

You appear to be against international warfare. Are you also against violent revolution?

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...


don't feed the trolls please.

Mark S. Abeln said...

Back in the days of the Soviet Union, I used to ask peace activists the revolution question. Invariably, they thought that violent revolution was completely acceptable. "You can't make an omelet without cracking a few eggs" was a common answer.

Anonymous said...


If I sent you pictures of the pedophile rapist priest who almost destroyed my brother after I got through working him over with a baseball bat, would it answer your questions?


Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

This isn't the place, Tim.