Abortion is the biggest evil, but we still need dialogue


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Gregory Black

Mr. Trainor, I really enjoyed your very provocative column [We all have blood on our own hands, April 20] and was moved to write by your call for a "genuine dialogue" on life issues. Such a dialogue is sorely needed if our society can ever hope to resolve the endlessly divisive "culture wars" which are too often fought with much heat and little light.

Let me begin by stating that I am a Catholic who adheres to the Church's teaching on "faith and morals." I do so not primarily because the Church tells me to but because I have been convinced by reason and its corollary, faith, that the Church holds these positions in order to further the happiness and well-being of individual persons and humanity in general. I am also, however, a Catholic who is plenty disgusted by the Bush administration and the larger Republican party. In my view, the administration's and the party's positions on numerous issues are in serious tension with, or in outright violation of, not only Catholic teachings, but also the teachings of every other religious organization except for the lunatic right-wing element of Christianity, to which the President apparently belongs (and in fact consults on a regular basis).

You mention some of the non-abortion trouble spots in your column?#34;the death penalty, the environment, the war in Iraq, health care, an unquestioning support for corporate America in all of its manifestations. The administration's positions and orientations on each of these issues and many more are, in my opinion, extremely problematic from the perspective of Church teaching. Add to this the obvious lack of curiosity about the rest of the world and the empty-headed arrogance which so clearly characterizes the President's habits of mind and of those of his main confreres, and a thoughtful Catholic voter is in a quandary.

I want to offer for your consideration, however, the possibility that abortion is a more significant evil than the evils caused by the Republican position on the other issues. This is the Church's position, and, in my opinion, the most coherent position on the "life" issues. I came across the web address http://www.interx.net/~mbrumley/moreimportant.htm, which lays it out better and more succinctly than I could. I ask that you please look past the fact that this is a "conservative Catholic" website and just consider the arguments being made.

The author of the site won't affirmatively state that the Iraq war or that capital punishment is unjust; he simply hypothesizes this and goes ahead with the argument. This is OK, but I would go farther. Although respectable arguments can be made in favor of both the war and the death penalty in certain situations, I ultimately think that neither is just and that both have resulted in, as you put it, "blood on our hands."

However, even if I am right about this, the author of the site makes the following compelling point by way of comparison: "Last year, abortion destroyed 1,300,000 human lives. And not in the way, say, thousands of people died as a result of criminal assault?#34;through illegal activity?#34;but as the result of government-approved killing. Legalized abortion is not the consequence of an abuse of policy but the consequence of an abusive policy, one that allows certain human beings to kill other human beings, with the killers' actions backed up by the police power of the state. Where government should uphold the right to life of unborn babies, it intentionally allows over a million of them to be killed each year through abortion."

Again, I agree with you on the issues of health care and the environment?#34;these are "life" issues and the administration's approach to them is deeply troubling. However, these are largely (although not exclusively), issues concerning the quality of life. The author of the site quotes the late Pope in this regard: "The common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights?#34;for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture?#34;is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination (Christifideles Laici, no. 38)." To the extent that deficient health care and injuries to the environment have caused physical injury and death (and of course they have), we again have to consider the magnitude of these problems in comparison with the direct, intentional killing of more than a million defenseless human beings every year.

In the end, however, I accept what I take to be the main thrust of your column. Somehow we need to overcome the "culture wars" and figure out a way to go beyond the pathetic choice that we are given every four years between the two main parties, neither of which is "pro-life." What really impressed me about your column was what you said at the end: "If we all surrender our self-righteousness, arrogance and condescension, maybe we can create a culture of life." I think this is right on. The only way that we can create a civil dialogue on these issues is if everyone involved agrees to check his or her ego at the door (nearly impossible for the fragile creatures that we have become at the start of the 21st century) and to be ready for respectful correction (on smaller or larger points) from someone with whom we fundamentally disagree. This does not mean that one is prohibited from taking a position and doggedly defending it; in fact, real dialogue is only possible where everyone involved cares enough to have reached a tentative conclusion on the available evidence.

On the subject of dialogue, I refer you to a snippet from an article in the May issue of Harper's Magazine (the article is titled "Feeling the Hate with the National Religious Broadcasters" and is one of a two-part article titled "Soldiers of Christ") about the serious threat posed to us all by many right-wing "Christians" in this country. A local "pastor" in an Arlington Heights "church" (who, if what is said about him in this article is true, ought to be ashamed of himself) quoted favorably a theologian who said that "ages of faith are not marked by dialogue but by proclamation." That is false and dangerous pap?#34;the Christian Church at its best lives by both dialogue and proclamation, and tries to make sure that its proclamations are understood. The article in Harper's, by the way, is truly frightening, and sadly, offers many examples of why lots of sane, rational people think Christianity is a religion for ignorant nut-jobs.

I look forward to your thoughts.

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