A regular correspondent on our website sent me this priceless paragraph (from NRO) from that noted philosopher George Weigel, commenting on the Pope’s meeting with Nancy Pelosi, with the question: What does this mean?
He told Pelosi, politely but unmistakably, that her relentlessly pro-abortion politics put her in serious difficulties as a Catholic, which was his obligation as a pastor. He also underscored — for Pelosi, Joe Biden, Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Barbara Mikulski, Rose DeLauro, Kathleen Sebelius, and everyone else — that the Church’s opposition to the taking of innocent human life, at any stage of the human journey, is not some weird Catholic hocus-pocus; it’s a first principle of justice than can be known by reason. It is a “requirement of the natural moral law” — that is, the moral truths we can know by thinking about what is right and what is wrong — to defend the inviolability of innocent human life. You don’t have to believe in papal primacy to know that; you don’t have do believe in seven sacraments, or the episcopal structure of the Church, or the divinity of Christ, to know that. You don’t even have to believe in God to know that. You only have to be a morally serious human being, willing to work through a moral argument — which, of course, means being the kind of person who understands that moral truth cannot be reduced to questions of feminist political correctness or partisan political advantage.
The answer is: It means very little. Mr. Weigel is one of many victims of modern Catholic education and the Neo-Thomist ideology that has more to do with Hegelian rationalism than with the traditional teachings of the Church. Obviously, the pre-Christian world included large numbers of morally serious people who believed in god or gods but did not entirely condemn either abortion or infanticide. The argument, then, that all seriously moral people would oppose abortion cannot be true. It is a little like saying anyone remotely interested in science would agree with Newton or Einstein. Obviously, something happened to change the discourse: the Incarnation. A self-described Catholic is supposed to know these things.
Now, there is an element of truth in the argument, which is that just as we do not wish to be killed unjustly, we should not kill unjustly. But what if abortion is not unjust? What if we regard it as, in some cases, a necessity or at least a preferable option? After all, just because we do not wish to be executed does not mean that we necessarily oppose the death penalty. We might even say that were we to commit a cold-blooded murder, we should deserve killing. Thus, if we think life is not worth living without an IQ above 75 or without a reasonably healthy body or without loving parents, we might say that abortion in such cases is reasonable and just and might even, honestly or not, say that we would apply the same criteria to ourselves.
It is also true that most of the arguments used to defend abortion are irrational arguments from analogy, implying that an unborn child is an alien space monster implanted in the womb or merely the seed from which a tree might grow. Like virtually everything said by the Left, the arguments are childish and irrational. But the fact remains that natural reason did not teach the Greeks and Romans that it is wrong to kill an unborn or newborn child, though some thought abortion shameful. There was no prohibition on abortion in Roman law, except where the father was not consulted. In that case, she was guilty of depriving him and his ancestors of an heir. This is, at least, a more wholesome approach than our current abortion law, though it rests not on reason but on family loyalty.
From the beginning Christian women did not kill their babies. This is one of the things we can learn from the early Apostolic Fathers. Christians did not practice either infanticide or sodomy. For both prohibitions, there is ample justification in natural law, as that phrase was understood by Aristotle, Cicero, and St. Thomas. We were not made sexual beings to violate each others’ anuses or to enjoy ourselves while disposing of the fruits of our coition. Mothers, in this tradition, do not have a universal obligation to prevent abortion but a specific obligation not just not to kill their children but to nurture and cherish them. This is not like some corollary deduced from a basic logic axiom: It is a specific duty that arises both from the nature that God created and from God’s love for us.
The real question is not whether abortion is consistent with reason but rather,whether it is right to lie in a good cause. That is, at best, what Weigel has done. Many pro-life arguments I have studied come down to well-intentioned lying, by which I understand not only a conscious and deliberate lie but the reckless disregard for truth engaged in by pseudo-intellectuals who pretend to learning and authority they do not possess.
The most basic error is to cover Christian truth with the tinsel trappings of Enlightenment universalism that makes everyone owe everyone else the same duties. Thus, we hear sweeping claims, expressed in a Kantian idiom, that it is everyone’s duty to prevent a nonChristian female from killing her child, whether she lives in China or Peru. Their arguments frequently rely on misused or misunderstood Scriptural citations, which, if refuted, might unsettle the convictions of a poor Fundamentalist. Among the worst are the utilitarian arguments that tell us we may be losing countless Beethovens and Shakespeares, to say nothing of millions of taxpayers who will pay my Social Security. But what if if turns out that in economic terms, abortion is a net gain, in preventing the birth of millions of welfare-dependent blacks and Mexicans? Would that make abortion a civic duty? Live by bad arguments, die by bad arguments. The cumulative effect of much of the professional pro-life ideology is to distort and deflect the question, away from the really important thing, which is how to convert nonbelievers, who will then be far less likely to kill their babies, toward comparatively trivial legislative policies and judicial agendas.
If everyone is rational enough to understand that abortion is wrong, why is it that so few defenders of the unborn are capable either of entering into a rational discourse or studying history?
Catholics who call themselves Neoconservatives are truly “the kind of person” who reduce truth to questions of “political correctness and partisan political advantage.” They have nothing to offer anyone except conservatives and Christians who wish to sell their birthright for a mess of pottage. If the Holy Father really wishes to clean up the Augean stables of the American Church–as I sincerely believe he does–he might, after excommunicating Pelosi and Biden, move onto the people who claim to speak for him in the USA but have censored and misrepresented his predecessor and continue to defend the immoral war he has explicitly condemned. If Mr. Weigel really believes that anyone can understand the Natural Law, why is he incapable of understanding either Just War theory or his duty of obedience to the Holy Father?