By Kieran Raval
On 23 January 2012, one day after the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and on the cusp the March for Life, over 60 prominent Catholic priests, religious, scholars, and activists called on pro-life citizens and lawmakers “to show greater moral leadership and political courage when it comes to confronting threats to the sanctity of life posed by easy access to…” Contraception? Abortion? Try “military-style assault weapons and high capacity magazines.”
Faith in Public Life, self-described as “advancing faith as a powerful force for justice, compassion and the common good,” released the statement calling on politicians to enact stricter gun control measures. That is not objectionable, per se. Political prudence ought to inform a reasoned debate and reasonable and just policies on this issue.
The statement is deeply flawed, however, in its attempt to establish a moral equivalency between the issues of abortion and gun control. The deliberate taking of innocent human life is an intrinsic moral evil. The deliberate taking of over one million innocent lives in the womb each year is intrinsic moral evil on an unconscionably exponential scale. Owning a gun, even a large, fully automatic gun with a high capacity magazine, does not, in itself, violate the natural or divine law. It is not an intrinsic moral evil deserving of the same kind of attention and outrage that even one abortion demands.
Sister Simone Campbell, director of NETWORK, a self-proclaimed Catholic social justice lobbying firm, went so far as to say “If you call yourself ‘pro-life’ you must support gun control.” Setting aside the condescension, it is questionable whether Sister Campbell’s statement would even apply to her own organization. One finds no mention of abortion or the pro-life cause on NETWORK’s website. The same goes for Faith in Public Life. It seems that “justice, compassion and the common good” stop short of the womb.
The statement’s signatories, outspoken and fired-up about social justice as they are, make one small, reluctant nod to acknowledge the “tragedy” (not injustice, outrage, or crime) of abortion. They go on to remind us that “the defense of human dignity extends beyond protecting life in the womb.” The thinly veiled insinuation, of course, is that pro-lifers care little about people once they are born. One wonders, though, how one protects life beyond the womb when that life never gets beyond the womb and the tip of the curette or forceps.
“More than 900 people have been killed with guns since the Newtown tragedy,” the signatories assert. They fail to note that more than 150,000 people have been (legally) killed by abortion in the same time frame. During the 15 minutes that Adam Lanza murdered 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary school, an average of 30 children were murdered in the womb.
This is not to lessen the gravity of the Newtown shooting nor any crimes since, but to give some context and perspective to the legalized holocaust happening in our midst. It goes largely unreported and unmentioned because it is largely unseen. The elites who signed the Faith in Public Life statement offer little in the way of robust condemnation of this scourge. Their silence betrays a certain complicity in society’s radical and deadly prejudice against unborn persons. It is, of course, much easier to go along to get along when it comes to abortion, especially when academic colleagues, tenure committees, MSNBC producers, political friends, and elites in the DNC and Obama administration are watching.
One wonders whether Faith in Public Life and the signatories actually intended the statement to be primarily about gun control, or whether it was just a clever way to disparage the pro-life movement without seeming too obvious. If the statement spent as much time talking about the breakdown of the family and culture as it does talking about the pro-life movement, it might seem more credible. Russell Nieli rightly pointed out that family breakdown is the real issue behind violent crime, and few on the right or the left want to discuss it. Even fewer want to talk about the rights mentality, pioneered by the left and embraced by the right, that simultaneously undergirds a pop-culture that glorifies violence (driven largely by liberals in media and entertainment), an individuated conception of citizenship that precludes any recourse to the common good (driven largely by NRA types), a weak family and marriage culture, and a legal system that allows for the murder of children in the womb. The only solution, therefore, to our inability to rule ourselves is recourse to the state to provide blanket solutions.
The common thread linking these seemingly disparate issues is the modern, liberal turn to favor the individual and his rights, over and against his duties, obligations, mores and the place of marriage and the family within the larger social order. The modern, liberal individual is freed from the constraints and demands of the family, community, and relevant social and religious norms. He is educated by the entertainment industry. Unable to rule himself by putting the stamp of his reason on his actions, he is defined by the whims of his preferences and desires.
Fundamentally, there is a twofold reason for resorting to moral equivalency. On a practical level, it enables those with unshakable political ties and agendas to get a pass on otherwise debatable policy prescriptions. It enables Catholics, in particular, who have so closely allied themselves with the Obama administration and the progressive project, to sugarcoat their political agenda, raising it to a level of real seriousness. Matt Cuff, policy associate for the Jesuit Conference, said of Jesuit students participating in the March for Life, “Our students know that coming to the Mass [for life] and rally isn’t enough, nor is opposition to abortion enough. We need to be advocates for programs that improve the lives of mothers, especially in low-income neighborhoods. In today’s political environment that means opposing cuts to government programs that serve low-income mothers as vigorously as we oppose abortion.” Blink, and you’ve gone from opposing abortion to opposing spending cuts.
On an ideological level, the reality is that many such progressives simply do not see abortion as a crime that cries out for justice. Their ideology and political affiliations may even lead them to support abortion in one circumstance or another. Moral equivalency thus lowers abortion from an intrinsic moral evil to just another policy matter that gets little more than lip service. But with no peace in the womb can we really expect peace in schools?
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[Update 2:29 p.m.: We have included the link to the Faith in Public Life statement]